The Great American Cereal Book: exclusive preview

I ate a lot of cereal growing up. When I was six years old I'd wake up before my parents, fill a large aluminum mixing bowl with Cap'n Crunch and milk and park myself in front of the TV (black and white) to watch Beany and Cecil. By the time I got to the bottom of the bowl, the roof of my mouth had been scraped raw.

I always wanted my parents to buy Apple Jacks, but for some reason it was a lot more expensive than other cereals, so they wouldn't buy it.

Today, I wouldn't dare put a spoonful of these corn-flavored sugar nuggets in my mouth (I don't buy sweetened cereal for my kids, either). But I greatly admire the packaging of old cereal boxes, and so I was delighted to receive an advance copy of The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch, by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis. The publisher, Abrams Image, kindly gave me permission to run an excessive preview of the book, below. Enjoy!

Great American Cereal-Cover
Americans love their breakfast cereal, which is second only to milk and soda in supermarket spending. Cereals and their cartoon spokescharacters are some of the most enduring pop-culture icons of the 20th century. The Great American Cereal Book is the definitive compendium of breakfast cereal history and lore, celebrating the most recognizable brands and packaging, such as Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs, Frosted Flakes, Grape-Nuts, and Trix. Award-winning writer Marty Gitlin and co-author Topher Ellis provide behind-the-scenes stories about the creation of these iconic kitchen-table companions, with 350 images of cereal boxes, vintage ads, and rare memorabilia.

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Brought to you by: General Mills

First poured: 1941

Milked until: Still crunching

What's in it for you: Whole-grain oats

Cerealineage: Cheerioats (1941)

Varieties: Honey-Nut Cheerios (1978); Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (1988); Cheerios to Go (1990); Multi-Grain Cheerios (1994); Frosted Cheerios (1995); Team USA Cheerios (1996); Team Cheerios (1997); Berry Burst Cheerios (2003); Strawberry, Strawberry-Banana, Triple Berry, and Cherry- Vanilla Cheerios varieties (2005); Cinnamon Cheerios (year unknown); Strawberry Yogurt Burst Cheerios and Vanilla Yogurt Burst Cheerios (2005); Fruity Cheerios (2006); Cheerios Oat Cluster Crunch (2007); Banana Nut Cheerios (2009); Chocolate Cheerios (2010)

All in the family: Millenios (1999)

Notable spokescharacters: Cheeri O'Leary (1942); the Cheerios Kid and Sue (1953); Bullwinkle (1964); Cheeriodle (1977); Buzzbee (c. 1978); Joe Cool, a.k.a. Snoopy (1985)

Slogans: "It's a honey of an O; it's Honey-Nut Cheerios." "The big G stands for goodness." "Toasted whole grain oat cereal."

Crunch on this: Cheerioats, created in 1941, was the first ready-to-eat oat cereal. The name was changed to Cheerios in 1945 because of a trade name dispute with the Quaker Oats Company. By 1954 it was General Mills' bestselling cereal. And by 2005, one in eleven cereal boxes sold in America was a Cheerios product.

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Brought to you by: General Mills

First poured: 1937

Milked until: Still crunching

What's in it for you: Corn puffs

Cerealineage: Corn Kix (year unknown)

Varieties: Berry Berry Kix (1992), Honey Kix (2009)

Notable spokescharacters: Kixie and Nixie (1950s); Pajama Boy (1964); Klyde the Beatnik (1965); Swerdloc, Gzorpe, Zilch, Colodny, and Booby (mid-1960s)

Slogans: "Stay[s] crisp in cream until the very last spoonful." "Kix are like round cornflakes." "Kid tested, mother approved."

Crunch on this: Kix was the first ready-to-eat puffed corn cereal, and the second overall cereal that General Mills introduced. It was created by inventor and Minnesota physicist Lester Borchardt, who also created Cheerioats (later Cheerios) in 1941.

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Brought to you by: Kellogg's

First poured: 1965

Milked until: Still crunching

What's in it for you: Three-grain (corn, wheat, and oat flour) O's sweetened with apple and cinnamon flavoring

Varieties: Racing Apple Jacks (2000), The Haunted Apple Jacks Manor (year unknown), Holiday Apple Jacks (year unknown), Apple Clones (2010)

Notable spokescharacters: Apple Jack the Apple Head (1965), Snuffles the Dog (1974)

Slogan: "A is for Apple, J is for Jacks. Cinnamon toasty Apple Jacks!"

Crunch on this: Apple Jacks started out as orange O's, then green shapes were added in the mid-nineties.

This Apple Jacks bowl and mug issued by Kellogg's in 1967 featured Apple Jack the Apple Head.

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Brought to you by: The Quaker Oats Company

First poured: 1965

Milked until: Still crunching

What's in it for you: Saucer-shaped sweetened corn

All in the family: Quake (1965), Quangaroos (1971)

Notable spokescharacter: Quisp the alien

Slogan: "Vitamin-powered sugary cereal, quisp for quazy energy."

Crunch on this: Quisp and Quake were the brainchild of Jay Ward, who also brought us Rocky and Bullwinkle, Dudley Do-Right, and other enduring cartoon characters. Quisp was voiced by Daws Butler, who worked primarily for Hanna-Barbera.

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Brought to you by: General Mills

First poured: 1954

Milked until: Still crunching

What's in it for you: Fruity, sweetened corn puffs

Varieties: Trix Fruit Shapes (1992), Reduced Sugar Trix (75% Less Sugar) (2004), Trix Swirls (2009)

Notable spokescharacters: Stick Figure Boy (1950s), the Trix Boys (year unknown), the Trix Rabbit (1960)

Slogan: "Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids!"

Crunch on this: Trix was the first fruit-flavored cereal on the market. Advertising executive Joe Harris created the Trix Rabbit and the cereal's slogan one Sunday night in August 1959. In both 1976 and 1990, special commercials were run in which kids were encouraged to mail their box-top votes to General Mills to see if the Trix Rabbit should be allowed a bowl of Trix. After the votes of the "Let the Rabbit Eat Trix" contest were tallied, it was decided with an overwhelming "yes" that the Trix Rabbit should enjoy a bowl of Trix.

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Brought to you by: General Mills

First poured: 1972

Milked until: 1983

What was in it for you: Frosted chocolate corn puffs

Varieties: Strawberry Crazy Cow (1972)

Crunch on this: Crazy Cow was only available in test markets from 1972 to 1976. It went national in 1977. On the back of the box, kids were instructed to stir the milk until it turned chocolate (or strawberry, in the case of Strawberry Crazy Cow).

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Brought to you by: Ralston

First poured: 1971

Milked until: 1977 (reincarnated 1987–88, as Space-Surfing Freakies)

What was in it for you: Sweetened corn, oats, and wheat rings

Varieties: Cocoa Freakies (1973), Fruity Freakies (1975)

Notable spokescharacters: The Freakies: Boss Moss, Cowmumble, Gargle, Goody-Goody, Grumble, Hamhose, Snorkeldorf

Slogan: "We are the Freakies. Oh, we are the Freakies. And this is our Freakies tree. We never miss a meal, 'cause we love our cereal."

Crunch on this: The Freakies were based on people who creator Jackie End knew at the ad agency Wells Rich Greene.

Text and images Copyright 2012 by Marty Gitlin and Topher Ellis. Published by Abrams Image. Used by permission.

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