|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||New York City|
|Created by||George H. Hoyt|
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, while Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations do not.
In the media
In the early 1930s, Wheatena sponsored Wheatenaville on NBC's Pacific network. The program debuted September 26, 1932. The cast included Tom Hutchinson, Roberta Hoyt, "who is making her first radio appearance", Elizabeth Mallory and Eddie Firestone, Jr., "also radio novices", Harold Peary, "who is doing several parts", Wilda Wilson Church, Bobbe Deane, and Bert Horton, with Nelson Case as announcer.
Wheatena sponsored 87 episodes of the thrice-weekly Popeye the Sailor radio program on NBC's Red Network, from its Tuesday, Sept.10, 1935, premiere 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 Keech 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 (now WCBS-AM) 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 "Down In The Dumps" of the TV show Mama's Family, Thelma is trying to save her neighborhood from being turned into the new location of the town dump. Speaking on the phone to a neighbor, Thelma exclaims, "Don't you think that saving our homes is more important than your Wheatena getting cold???"
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 "Operation Friendship" of the TV show M*A*S*H, speaking about going to breakfast, Hawkeye asks if there are "any volunteers for this suicide mission?" To which Colonel Potter responds, "Not I. I'm going to dine alone in my tent. Mildred sent me some Wheatena."
In the episode "Gone Quiet" of 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.
In a deleted scene from the episode "The Chinese Woman" of the TV show Seinfeld, after hearing about his parents divorcing, George laments over a box of Wheatena, remarking how Estelle would make it for Frank every morning, but could never get it quite right, to which Jerry responds, "Wheatena's tough."
"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". Homestat Farm. n.d. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- "The Story of a Pantry Shelf: An Outline History of Grocery Specialties". The Golden Heart of the Wheat. New York: Butterick Publishing. c. 1925. pp. 219–221. Archived from the original on September 17, 2010.
- "FDA: Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products". Archived from the original on April 3, 2009.
- Heller, Lorraine (July 31, 2006). "Cereal maker sued for acrylamide under Californian law". Food Navigator USA. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011.
- "Wheatena" (PDF). Broadcasting. October 1, 1932. p. 22. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- Goodwin, Danny (n.d.). "Selling Stuff During the Golden Age of Radio: 'Comic Strip Character Changes Diet for Radio Show'". Old-Time.com. Archived from the original on February 14, 2008. Additional WebCitation archive on March 3, 2011.
- Shults, Bruce C. "Spotlight on the Popeye Radio Show". Popeye's Thimble Theatre Homepage. Archived from the original on May 15, 2016. Additional WebCitation archive on March 3, 2011.
- "Memory Lane: 'Popeye Loves Wheatena!'". Homestat Farm. n.d. Archived from the original on March 3, 2011. Retrieved December 10, 2016.
- "'Other' Cereals: Cereals from Lesser-Known Manufacturers". Topher's Breakfast Cereal Character Guide. n.d. Archived from the original on December 10, 2016.