A box of Wheatena from 2006
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|George H. Hoyt|
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Wheatena is an American high-fiber, toasted-wheat cereal that originated on Mulberry Street in New York City, New York, circa 1879, when a small bakery owner began roasting whole wheat, grinding it, and packaging it for sale under this brand name.
Wheatena was created by George H. Hoyt in the late 19th century, when retailers would typically buy cereal (the most popular being cracked wheat, oatmeal, and cerealine) in barrel lots, and scoop it out to sell by the pound to customers. Hoyt, who'd found a distinctive process of preparing wheat for cereal, sold his cereal in boxes, offering consumers a sanitary appeal.
Hoyt advertised the cereal in newspapers as early as 1879 and sold the business six years later to Dr. Frank Fuller, a physician with an interest in nutrition, who had founded the Health Food Company. Fuller adapted Hoyt's method to his own process for preparing a wheat cereal, and moved manufacturing to Akron, Ohio, close to the wheat supply. A.R. Wendell bought Health Foods in 1903, and incorporated it as The Wheatena Company that year. In 1907, the company moved to a new plant, dubbed "Wheatenaville", in Rahway, New Jersey. By the mid-1920s, millions of boxes were sold each year.
In the early 1960s, the Kansas City, Missouri-based Uhlmann Company, owner of the Standard Milling Company, purchased both the Wheatena corporation and Highspire Flour Mills, which for several years had been supplying the 100% cracked wheat used in the cereal. Uhlmann moved Wheatena manufacturing to Highspire, Pennsylvania in October 1967. The company began leasing its flour-milling facilities to the agribusiness giant ConAgra Foods in early 1987, and sold the cereal manufacturing operation to American Home Food Products in April 1988. Uhlmann retained rights to the Wheatena brand until shortly after International Home Foods acquired American Home Foods in November 1996 and then bought the brand name from Uhlmann. International Home Foods was in turn acquired by ConAgra in August 2000.
Entrepreneur William Stadtlander bought the brand and the Pennsylvania manufacturing plant on October 31, 2001, under the newly formed Homestat Farm, Ltd. of Dublin, Ohio, which as of 2006 manufactures Wheatena and fellow vintage cereals Maypo and Maltex.
In mid-2006, the State of California sued Homestat under California Proposition 65 (1986), which requires labeling for food containing acrylamide, a potential carcinogen created when starch is baked, roasted, fried or toasted. Homestat was in compliance with federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, which do not require warning labels on foods containing acrylamide.
In the media
Wheatena sponsored the thrice-weekly Popeye the Sailor radio program that premiered on NBC's Red Network on Tuesday, Sept.10, 1935, sponsoring it for 87 episodes through March 28, 1936. The product was integrated into the narrative as a source, in addition to spinach, of Popeye's superhuman strength. Announcer Kelvin Beech would sing, to composer Sammy Lerner's "Popeye" theme, "Wheatena is his diet / He asks you to try it / With Popeye the sailor man". Wheatena reportedly paid King Features Syndicate $1,200 per week.
After this initial run, the show was broadcast Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7:15 – 7:30 p.m. on WABC from August 31, 1936 to February 26, 1937, for an additional 78 episodes. Once again, sung references to spinach were conspicuously absent. Now Popeye would sing, "Wheatena's me diet / I ax ya to try it / I'm Popeye the Sailor Man".
In the episode "The Young and the Restless" of the TV show M*A*S*H, Radar tries to coax a depressed Col. Potter out of bed by telling him that they are serving Wheatena in the mess tent. "They've got Wheatena, and it's warm and everything. But you've got to hurry."
In the episode "Gone Quiet" from the TV show The West Wing, Joshua Lyman's assistant Donna Moss, describing a run-in with some visiting senior citizens, mentions that one of them poured Wheatena on her keyboard.
"Nutrition Facts" required by California's Proposition 65:
"Nutrition Facts" as they appear on a 2007 box:
Ingredients: toasted crushed whole wheat, wheat bran, wheat germ and calcium carbonate. Serving Size: 1/3 cup (dry) Amount Per Serving:
- Calories 160
- Calories from Fat 10
- Total Fat 1
- Cholesterol 0 milligrams
- Sodium 0 mg
- Potassium 190 mg
- Total Carbohydrate 32g
- Dietary Fiber 5.5g
- Sugars 0g
- Protein 5g
- Vitamin A 0%
- Vitamin C 0%
- Calcium 20%
- Iron 10%
- Riboflavin 4%
- Niacin 10%
- Phosphorus 20%
"Nutrition Facts" as they appear on 2006 box
Serving Size: 1 cup (141 grams) Amount per Serving
- Calories - 503
- Calories from Fat - 37
- Total Fat - 4.1g
- Saturated Fat - 0.6g
- Polyunsaturated Fat - 2.1g
- Monounsaturated Fat - 0.6g
- Cholesterol - 0 mg
- Sodium - 18 milligrams
- Total Carbohydrates - 106.6g
- Dietary Fiber - 18.0g
- Sugars - 2.3g
- Protein - 18.5g
% Daily Value, based on a 2000-calorie diet
- Vitamin A - 1%
- Vitamin C - 0%
- Calcium - 4%
- Iron - 28%
- National Association of Manufacturers: "Cool Stuff Being Made: How Cereal Is Made - Wheatena": video by the Pennsylvania Cable Network
- Memory Lane: "A Century of Wheatena", HomeStatFarm.com, n.d. WebCitation archive.
- "The Golden Heart of the Wheat" chapter, The Story of a Pantry Shelf: An Outline History of Grocery Specialties (Butterick Publishing, New York, c. 1925, pp. 219-221. WebCitation archive.
- "FDA: Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products".[dead link]
- Heller, Lorraine. "Cereal maker sued for acrylamide under Californian law", Food Navigator USA, July 31, 2006. WebCitation archive
- "Bill Targets State Food Label", Townhall.com, August 20, 2006.[dead link]
- Goodwin, Danny. Selling Stuff During the Golden Age of Radio: "Comic Strip Character Changes Diet for Radio Show", Old-Time Radio Commercials, n.d. WebCitation archive.
- "Spotlight on the Popeye Radio Show", Thimble Theatre Homepage. WebCitation archive.
- Memory Lane: "Popeye Loves Wheatena!", HomeStatFarm.com, n.d. WebCitation archive.
- "'Other' Cereals — Cereals from Lesser-Known Manufacturers", Topher's Breakfast Cereal Character Guide, n.d. WebCitation archive.