Ypsilanti’s Failed Breakfast Cereal

June 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Columnists

An ad for Wheat Hearts appeared in the August 12, 1909 Ypsilanti Daily Press.

An ad for Wheat Hearts appeared in the August 12, 1909 Ypsilanti Daily Press.

Ypsilanti once had a chance of becoming an empire of breakfast cereals, like Battle Creek.

In 1909, electricity was still making inroads into the city. Only some houses were “wired.” Most were heated with coal. Cars were uncommon. Most women were homemakers, and most men’s commute consisted of a walk from home to another part of the city.

Many families got their flour from the Ypsilanti Milling Company on Cross Street near the river. The mill’s ad in the March 2, 1909 Ypsilanti Daily Press read,

“The Ypsilanti Mill is now running and turning out a STRICTLY HIGH GRADE FLOUR.

“Our BLUE LABEL brand is gaining new friends every day. Last week it was just a youngster. This week it is older and you will probably like it better.

“Further, we want you to try our ‘TIDAL WAVE’ brand. It’s a strictly high class patent and worthy of a little assistance from its friends in the way of trial orders.
“We have on hand BRAN MIDDLINGS, COTTON SEED MEAL, LINSEED MEAL, CALF MEAL, WHEAT HEARTS and GRAHAM.

“Our wagon is still running [for home delivery] and we want you to phone your orders in AT ONCE OR SOONER.”

The hydro-powered mill was an old one, dating from the 1830s. A feature article in the May 23, 1874 Ypsilanti Commercial gave an overview of the city businesses of the time. The piece mentions the city mill.

“[The mill stands] on the east bank of the Huron, above Cross Street bridge. It, or rather the mill of which this is an enlargement, was built in Territorial days [before Michigan became a state in 1837]. In 1865 it came into the possession of the Ypsilanti Woolen Mill Company, and by this company was sold to T. C. Owen, Esq., a nephew of E. B. Ward of Detroit, who is also an interested party. The mill is an immense structure. It contains seven run of stone, and at present is turning out 250 barrels of flour per day. It, in addition, grinds 30,000 bushels of grain per year, for the farmers of the vicinity.  . . A side track from the Michigan Central Railroad runs to the door of the mill.” The side track ran approximately where Rice Street is today.

Ypsilanti poet-farmer William Lambie raised wheat on his farm just north of town. In his poem “A Harvest Hymn,” published in his 1883 book “Life on the Farm,” he lauded the grain:

We see the God of nature in bounteous love bestowing,
In every year of life we reap the seed we have been sowing,
Till our barns are filled with plenty and cups are overflowing,
As we are marching on.
We have entered on a calling that will never know defeat,
For honor and for daily bread we work in summer’s heat,
Ever reaping golden harvests of the finest of the wheat,
When summer days are long.

1909 was a good year for local wheat production. The Ypsilanti Milling Corporation decided to put some of that wheat into a new venture. It milled it into a breakfast gruel similar to Cream of Wheat.

On August 6, 1909 the first ad for “Wheat Hearts” appeared.

“WHEAT HEARTS

“What are they? Well, we’ll tell you. They are our new breakfast food made from the very best wheat grown; viz, that around Ypsilanti, and ground fresh every day. Why buy breakfast foods made away from home when you can get something here which you know is fresh and which will cost you less money. Ask your grocer for Wheat Hearts.
“The Ypsilanti Milling Co.
“East Cross St. Phone 171.”

The ad ran again on August 10, 12, and 16.

Several local grocers also ran ads during that summer, often listing their goods and specials in the ads. Some listed oatmeal and cornflakes.

None listed Ypsilanti Wheat Hearts.

The Ypsilanti Milling Company’s ads for Wheat Hearts vanished by September of 1909. Perhaps no one wanted a hot breakfast gruel in August. Possibly a fall launch of the cereal might have helped it to succeed. At any rate, Wheat Hearts vanished from the scene. The Ypsilanti Historical Museum holds no packaging artifacts of this forgotten cereal.

Had it caught on, Wheat Hearts might have made Ypsilanti a breakfast cereal empire, renowned from Mackinac to Monroe. Trains could have shipped the cereal to cities around the nation. Citizens could have been humming the catchy Wheat Hearts jingle, perhaps along the lines of:

From the fertile Ypsilanti
To the pantry of my auntie,
It’s Wheat Hearts!
For some good starts!

Alas, it wasn’t to be. Wheat Hearts vanished from the 1909 papers and presumably from local stores—if indeed it had ever been stocked.

The only people who remember our failed foray into the breakfast cereal arena are local hermits poring over crumbling newspapers.

And they’re no help in promoting Wheat Hearts. They usually  have just a miserly cup of coffee—black, no sugar—for breakfast.

Laura Bien is the author of “Tales from the Ypsilanti Archives.” Catch her free talk with local historianJames Mann at Ypsilanti’s Senior Center Wednesday, July 7 at 7:30 p.m.. Have an old-time Ypsi story? Contact Laura at ypsidixit@gmail.com.

Comments

2 Comments on "Ypsilanti’s Failed Breakfast Cereal"

  1. And the Wind Says…Ypsalveo : YpsiNews.com — All Things Ypsilanti on Mon, 1st Nov 2010 12:23 am 

    […] is the nation’s birthplace of the Automatic Toast-Butterer, the breakfast cereal Wheat Hearts, and an improvement in stilts. All of these received patents. Though they may not have survived to […]

  2. itsme_3000 on Sun, 10th Mar 2013 1:14 am 

    I remember it very well. It was quite popular here in El Monte (suburb east of Los Angeles located located in the San Gabriel Valley) and was found in most markets. It was so popular Quaker Oat Meal ran third in sales behind Cream of Wheat (2nd) and Wheat Hearts (1st). In the late 1970’s, rumors began flying that Quaker was paying extra to have Wheat Heart removed from shelves in an effort to save themselves — these rumors were supported by the sudden disappearance of Wheat Heart from store shelves, the inability of women (who did most grocery shopping in those days) to locate Wheat Hearts for purchase, or the unwillingness of stores to provide the product. Eventually most people gave up, and until recently when I spotted a box in a popular Mom and Pop market in an upscale neighborhood, it was believed the product no longer existed. (FYI, the box was not old.)

    Whether, or not, the rumors were true, we both know to what extremes big business will go in order to corner its specific market. Moreover, if the company had ceased to exist so early after its founding (as some report) why did it have enough money to successfully produce one of the most popular children’s cartoons of the 1960’s and 70’s (which this child eagerly viewed). All I know is Wheat Hearts would find no better time to re-introduce it’s product to the National market due to health concerns (which was a second reason Wheat Hearts were superior to Quaker Oats Meal and Cream of Wheat). We all want “healthy”, “great tasting” breakfast.

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