He was born in Saltcreek township, Holmes County, Ohio, the fifth son of Daniel Jefferson Perky (ca. 1808-?) and Magdalena Drushel (ca. 1812-?), both of Pennsylvania. He married his wife Susanna Melissa Crow (1845-?) on 3 August 1865 in Mount Hope, Ohio. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in Nebraska. He was elected to the Nebraska State Senate in 1868 when only twenty-five years old (although other sources suggest he represented the eighth district from 1874–1876). The couple lived at Omaha, Nebraska and Wahoo, Nebraska before 1880. Henry went to Colorado for his health in 1880 where he was an attorney for the Union Pacific Railroad. Sue followed from Wahoo later that same year and, in Denver, Colorado, she gave birth to their only surviving child, Scott Henry Perky (1880-?).
Scott H. Perky went on to be a writer; the life of his father was the subject of one of his books. In 1920, he developed a round shredded wheat cereal, which he named Muffets. The Muffets Corporation was sold to the Quaker Oats Company in 1927.
Steel Car Company
In 1884, the assets — a patent and a half-finished car — of the bankrupt Robbins Cylindrical Steel Car Company were acquired by Byron A. Atkinson (1854-19?? ), a well-to-do Boston furniture dealer with some background as a machinist. To promote his cylindrical steel rail passenger car, Atkinson hired Henry Perky, who had quite a reputation for making money during times that ruined other businessmen. Their firm was the Steel Car Company.
While the railcar was being built, Perky was busy trying to find a place to build a huge plant for building steel cars. He first proposed Chicago, Illinois, but when this did not generate significant interest, in 1888 he proposed Lincoln, Nebraska, and there the car would be named the "City of Lincoln". This idea too failed to catch on, so Perky moved on.
Perky finally found backing in St. Joseph, Missouri and there, in late 1888, at a cost of some $70,000, he erected a building on a large plot of land east of the city "beyond Wyatt Park". He also organized an exposition, to be called the National Railway, Electric and Industrial Exposition, but more popularly known as the "New Era Exposition". The exposition was set up on the grounds of the Steel Car Company, with the western portion of its building as the main hall of the exposition.
On the night of 15 September 1889 a fire swept through the main building of the exposition. The ten cars being built, the Steel Car Company plant, all the assets of the Steel Car Company were a total loss. Perky, not one to be easily discouraged, took the original Robbins car (that had been outfitted as a private car for Atkinson's personal use) for a transcontinental tour. Though it attracted a good deal of attention, it attracted no orders.
The cylindrical car was shown at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois, but again attracted no orders. Although almost $40,000 had been spent on it, when the exposition closed, the railcar was abandoned on the fairgrounds and later sold by the firm that dismantled the Exposition.
Shredded Wheat Company
Sometime in the early 1890s, at a Nebraska hotel, Perky — who suffered from diarrhea — encountered a man similarly afflicted, who was eating boiled wheat with cream. The idea cooked for a while in Perky’s mind, and in 1892, he took his idea of a product made of boiled wheat to his friend, William H. Ford, in Watertown, New York — a machinist by trade. Here they developed the machine for making what Perky called "little whole wheat mattresses", known worldwide as shredded wheat. They presented the machine at the 1893 Columbian Exposition, probably while Perky was trying to drum up buyers for his cylindrical steel rail passenger car.
His original intention was to sell the machines, not the biscuits. He returned to Denver and began distributing the biscuits from a horse-drawn wagon in an attempt to popularize the idea. There he founded the Cereal Machine Company. In 1895, Perky received United States Patent Number 548,086, dated 15 October 1895.
The biscuits proved more popular than the machines, so Perky moved East and opened his first bakery in Boston, Massachusetts and then in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1895, retaining the name of The Cereal Machine Company, and adding the name of the Shredded Wheat Company.
Whether he developed his ideas on nutrition before the machine or after, Perky was a food faddist who believed the fundamental issue was how to nourish a man so that his condition will be natural. Although John Harvey Kellogg and Charles William Post are better known, Perky was a pioneer of the "cookless breakfast food" and it was he who first mass-produced and nationally distributed ready-to-eat cereal. By 1898, shredded wheat was being sold all over North and South America and Europe.
In 1901, drawn by the idea of inexpensive electrical power for baking, and the natural draw of a popular tourist attraction, he hired Edward A. Deeds to build a new plant at Niagara Falls, New York. Deeds became a director of the National Food Company. Perky invited a large number of notables to a special luncheon. Canadian author Pierre Berton describes the bill of fare: "...a Shredded Wheat drink, Shredded Wheat biscuit toast, roast turkey stuffed with Shredded Wheat, and Shredded Wheat ice cream". The factory itself was called the "Palace of Light", and was white-tiled, air-conditioned, well-lit with floor to ceiling windows, and equipped with showers, lunchrooms (a free lunch for women – men had to pay 10¢), and auditoriums for the employees. It even had a roof garden with a view of the falls. A representation of the factory appeared on the Shredded Wheat boxes for decades.
In 1902, Perky retired from the company and disposed of his interest. He published a book on nutrition and oral hygiene, Wisdom vs. Foolishness, that went through at least ten editions. Having made his fortune, the following year Perky arrived in Glencoe, Maryland and began purchasing large tracts of land in the region. His dream was to build a boarding school for men and women that would offer an innovative curriculum of scientific farming and domestic science subjects free of tuition. The main building was completed, elaborate brochures were printed and a few students had enrolled. The plans for the dedication were in place when Perky died days before the grand opening and the Oread School never opened.
Henry D. Perky died on June 29, 1906 at his farm in Glencoe. His obituary stated that he had been ill for a long time and that a fall from a horse a month earlier had hastened his death. He is buried in Glencoe, Maryland.
Shredded Wheat Company sold to Nabisco
In 1908, the company again took the name of the Shredded Wheat Company, and another factory was built in Niagara Falls. A third plant was added in Niagara Falls, Ontario in 1904, known as the Canadian Shredded Wheat Company. By 1915 the Pacific Coast Shredded Wheat Company had been added in Oakland, California, and by 1925, a factory in Britain, in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, had joined the family.
In December 1928, the company was sold to the National Biscuit Company. The product name changed to Nabisco Shredded Wheat around 1941. Production of Shredded Wheat was begun in Naperville, Illinois in 1970. All the other plants remained in operation, until 1954, when the original "Palace of Light" was shut down.
- U.S. Patent 502,378 — Machine for the Preparation of Cereals for Food, granted August 1, 1893
- U.S. Patent 520,496 — Machine for the Manufacture of Food Products from Cereals, granted May 29, 1894
- U.S. Patent 521,810 — Machine for the Manufacture of Food Products from Cereals, granted June 26, 1894
- U.S. Patent 532,286 — Receiving-Trough and Cutter for Cereal-Reducing Machines, granted January 8, 1895
- U.S. Patent 532,481 — Perforated-Roll Machine for Reducing Cereals for Food, granted January 15, 1895
- U.S. Patent 532,697 — Roll-Machine for Reducing Cereals for Food, granted January 15, 1895
- U.S. Patent 532,698 — Groove-Roll Machine for Reducing Cereals for Food, granted January 15, 1895
- U.S. Patent 533,551, U.S. Patent 533,552, U.S. Patent 533,553, U.S. Patent 533,554 — Roll-Machine for Reducing Cereals for Food, granted February 5, 1895
- U.S. Patent 533,555 — Machine for Reduction and Preparation of Cereals for Food, granted February 5, 1895
- U.S. Patent D24,688 — Design for a Biscuit, issued September 17, 1895
- U.S. Patent 548,086 — Bread and Method of Preparing Same, granted October 15, 1895
- U.S. Patent 548,087 — Apparatus for Preparing Grain for Reducing-Machines, granted October 15, 1895
- U.S. Patent D25,318 — Design for a Cereal Cup, issued March 31, 1896
- U.S. Patent 571,284 — Machine for Reducing and Preparing Cereals for Food, granted November 10, 1896
- U.S. Patent 571,285 — Machine for Reducing Cereals, granted November 10, 1896
- U.S. Patent 575,983 — Coffee-Roaster, granted January 26, 1897
- U.S. Patent 598,745 — Roll Reducing-Machine for Preparing Food, granted February 8, 1898
- U.S. Patent D28,785 — Design for a Wafer, issued June 7, 1898
- U.S. Patent 611,504 — Game Apparatus, granted September 27, 1898
- U.S. Patent 614,338 — Machine for Reducing Cereal Food Products to Form for Use, granted November 15, 1898
- U.S. Patent 618,288 — Apparatus for Making Folded Wafers, granted January 24, 1899
- U.S. Patent 625,696 — Machine for Reducing and Baking Cereals in Form, granted May 23, 1899
- U.S. Patent 667,892 — Apparatus for Manufacturing Cereals into Forms of Food or Bread, granted February 12, 1901
- U.S. Patent 678,127 — Machine for Reducing Food Material to Form and Distributing Same, granted July 9, 1901
- U.S. Patent 678,625 — Pneumatic Panning or Distributing Machine, granted July 16, 1901
- U.S. Patent 681,655 — Continuous Heating and Baking Machine, granted August 27, 1901
- U.S. Patent 681,656 — Continuous Cutting-Machine, granted August 27, 1901
- U.S. Patent D35,511 — Design for a Carton-Blank, issued December 31, 1901
- U.S. Patent D36,007 — Design for a Stove, issued August 12, 1902
- U.S. Patent 713,795 — Filamentous Cracker, granted November 18, 1902
- U.S. Patent 746,145 — Continuous Motion Heating and Evaporating Apparatus, granted December 8, 1903
- U.S. Patent 747,475 — Stove, granted December 22, 1903
- U.S. Patent 797,604 — Machine for Preparing Food, granted August 22, 1905
- U.S. Patent 878,154 — Machine for Manufacturing Cereal Biscuit, granted February 4, 1908
- U.S. Patent 898,777 — Apparatus for Continuous Cooking, granted September 15, 1908
- U.S. Patent 912,976 — Machine for Reducing Grain Products to Composite Forms of Food, granted February 16, 1909
- U.S. Patent 913,671 — Reducing Disk Machine for the Manufacture of Cereal Products, granted February 23, 1909
- U.S. Patent 916,365 — Machine for Manufacturing Grain into Form for Food, granted May 23, 1909
- U.S. Patent 987,088 — Manufacture of Food from Cereals, granted March 14, 1911
- U.S. Patent 987,089 — Variegated Corn Filament, granted March 14, 1911
- U.S. Patent 989,999 — Machine for Manufacturing Grain into Form for Food, granted April 18, 1911
- U.S. Patent 1,019,831 — Process of Manufacturing Grain into Form for Food, granted March 12, 1912
- U.S. Patent 1,021,473 — Reducing Ground Grain to Elongated or Filament Form, granted March 26, 1912
- U.S. Patent 1,022,501 — Machine for Manufacturing Grain into Form for Food, granted April 9, 1912
- U.S. Patent 1,026,047 — Food from Grain and Method of Making the Same, granted May 14, 1912
- U.S. Patent 1,060,702 — Form of Food from Grain and Method of Manufacturing the Same, granted May 6, 1913
- U.S. Patent 1,064,164 — Process of Manufacturing Cereal Food, granted June 10, 1913
- U.S. Patent 1,095,024 — Compound Forms, granted April 28, 1914
- U.S. Patent 1,143,311 — Means for Reducing Cereal Products to Form, granted June 15, 1915
- U.S. Patent 1,145,918 — Machine for Manufacturing Grain into Form for Food, granted July 13, 1915
- U.S. Patent 1,147,263 — Machine for Manufacturing Grain into Form for Food, granted July 20, 1915
- United States. Census Office. 7th census, 1850. Census of population, 1850.
- United States. Census Office. 8th census, 1860. Census of population, 1860.
- United States. Census Office. 10th census, 1880. Census of population, 1880.
- United States. Census Office. 12th census, 1900. Census of population, 1900.
- United States. Census Office. 13th census, 1910. Census of population, 1910.
- United States. Census Office. 14th census, 1920. Census of population, 1920.
- International Genealogical Index;Sealings for the dead, couples and children 1943-1970; heir indexes, 1943-1968. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Logan Temple.
- "Destroyed by Fire - The New Era Exposition at St. Joseph, Mo., Burned", The New York Times, 17 Sep 1889, p. 5.
- "The Natural Food Company Incorporated at Albany with Capital Stock of $10,000,000", The New York Times, 15 Dec 1900, p. 13.
- "Consider Employes Welfare", New York Times, 30 Jan 1904, p. 9.
- "Perky Leaves Food Company – Wishes to Devote Entire Time to O’Read Institute Venture", The New York Times, 31 Jul 1904, p. 16.
- "Henry D. Perky Dead – He was an Advocate of Vegetarianism – End Hastened by Fall"., The New York Times, 30 Jun 1906, p. 7.
- US Patent and Trademark Office (see Patents above)
- Kellogg Co. vs. National Biscuit Company, 305 U.S. 111, 1938
- August Trivia Quiz 2005
- Price, Gregory, “Cereal Sales Soggy Despite Price Cuts and Reduced Couponing” Food Review, May-August 2000.
- August 1 Food History[unreliable source?]
- Berton, Pierre: Niagara A History of the Falls. Toronto, Ontario: Anchor Canada, 2002, 504 pages
- White, John H. (1978). The American Railroad Passenger Car. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 124. ISBN 0801819652. OCLC 2798188.
- 700 Famous Nebraskans
- Williams, Edward Theodore, Niagara, queen of wonders : a graphic history of the big events in three centuries along the Niagara frontier, one of the most famous regions in the world : including early explorations, early fascinating literature, early wars, and the first and greatest electrical power development : a discussion of and data pertaining to the large subject of the conservation of natural resources, of nation-wide interest, together with the creation and development of the city of Niagara Falls. Boston: Chapple Pub. Co., 1916, 236 pgs. p. 104-110
- Anonymous, The Worcester of eighteen hundred and ninety-eight: fifty years a city: a graphic presentation of its institutions, industries and leaders. Worcester, Mass.: F.S. Blanchard & Co., 1899, 808 pgs. p. 518-521
- Perky, Scott H. Letter to the Editor, TIME Magazine, January 21, 1929.