Like many other American institutions, "Cream of Wheat" started in a very small way but with a sound idea and the vision and determination to build a worthwhile business.
One almost–victim of the Panic of 1893 was a small flour mill in Grand Forks, North Dakota, owned and operated by a group of men headed by Emery Mapes, George Bull and George Clifford. These men had fought to keep their milling business alive during the dark days of the Panic and had come through with little operating capital remaining.
About this time, it happened that head miller Tom Amidon was able to sell his partners on the idea of producing for profit a “breakfast porridge” which he had used at home and had found much to his family’s liking. Amidon’s “porridge” was that part of the wheat taken from the first break rolls of the flour mill. Referred to as “the top of the stream,” this is the source of flour of the highest grade. Amidon called it “Cream of Wheat.” The partners agreed to let him pack some of this cereal and ship it in a carload of flour going to the firm’s New York brokers, Lamont, Corliss & Company.
The funds of the milling company were now so low that Amidon had to cut the cardboard for the cartons by hand, label the packages himself, and crate them in wooden boxes made up from waste lumber. With no money to spend for a package design, Mapes, who had once been a printer, found among his stock of old printing plates a suitable illustration to brighten up the package. It revealed the figure of a black chef holding a saucepan over his shoulder and was the ancestor of the company’s present-day widely known trademark.
Within twelve hours after the arrival of the first shipment of “Cream of Wheat” in New York, a telegram was received from Lamont, Corliss saying…”Never mind shipping us any more of your flour, but send a carload of “Cream of Wheat.”
In 1897 the demand for “Cream of Wheat” had completely outgrown the producing capacity of the small plant at Grand Forks and the business was moved to Minneapolis, then the best source of necessary raw material and a good shipping point with advantageous freight rates to other parts of the country. The original Minneapolis plant was soon outgrown too, and in 1903 the company moved to a new building at First Avenue North and Fifth Street, a familiar Minneapolis landmark which housed the “Cream of Wheat” plant until 1928.
During these early years, a national ad campaign was launched that, considered a daring innovation at the time with its heavy use of four color printing, is today even more remarkable for its rich legacy of illustrative art. Many of the most famous American artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration” were commissioned by the Cream of Wheat Corporation. Happily their paintings remain not only as examples of fine art but as a charming reflection of family life during the early twentieth century.
In 1962 Cream of Wheat became a part of Nabisco’s Grocery Division. At that time Nabisco was known as the National Biscuit Company, a title that changed in 1971 to Nabisco and to Nabisco Brands in 1981 when the company merged with Standard Brands. Nabisco Holdings was acquired by Kraft Foods' parent company, Philip Morris Companies, Inc., in 2000. In 2007, Cream of Wheat was acquired by B&G Foods, Inc., manufacturer and distributor of several breakfast favorites including Maple Grove Farms of Vermont, Vermont Maid and Polaner.
Throughout the years, Cream of Wheat has maintained its position as one of the nation’s leading hot breakfast cereals. Original, cook-on-stove Cream of Wheat is the same nutritious product that has been a standby in homes for over 90 years. Instant varieties of Cream of Wheat were gradually added, providing consumers on the run a healthful, hot breakfast.