11 Facts for Thomas Paine's Birthday

Born on February 9, 1737 (according to the Gregorian calendar), Paine was a brilliant essayist whose polarizing pen brought him praise and scorn on both sides of the Atlantic. Here are a few things you might not have known about the man John Adams once called “a mongrel between pig and puppy, begotten by a wild boar on a bitch wolf.”

1. HE ARRIVED IN AMERICA WITH A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION FROM BEN FRANKLIN.

The first half of Thomas Paine’s life was marred by setbacks and sorrow. Born and raised in Norfolk, England, his formal education consisted of a five-year stint at Thetford Grammar School which ended when he began apprenticing under his father—a stay-maker—at age 13. By the time Paine turned 38, he’d suffered the death of his first wife and child, parted ways with his second one, and had twice been dismissed from his post at the English Excise Service. But around that time, Paine was introduced to Benjamin Franklin by their mutual friend, mathematician George Lewis Scott. Franklin encouraged Paine to emigrate to the American colonies, and in 1774, Paine set sail for Philadelphia with a letter of recommendation from Franklin. It instructed Paine to show the document to Franklin's son-in-law, Pennsylvania businessman Richard Bache.

“The bearer, Mr. Thomas Paine, is very well recommended to me as an ingenious worthy young man,” Franklin wrote. “He goes to Pennsylvania with a view of settling there. I request you give him your best advice and countenance, as he is quite a stranger there. If you can put him in a way of obtaining employment … you will do well, and much oblige your affectionate father.”

At the end of a long and arduous journey, Paine arrived in the new world on November 30, 1774. As instructed, he showed the letter to Bache, who obligingly found him a tutoring job. The following year, Paine was hired as the executive editor of Pennsylvania Magazine, a monthly periodical, and within three months, Paine’s provocative essays on various social issues had driven the number of subscribers up from 600 to 1500.

2. JOHN ADAMS WAS RUMORED TO BE THE REAL AUTHOR OF COMMON SENSE.

Paine is primarily remembered, at least in the U.S., for writing Common Sense. Released on January 9 or 10, 1776 (sources differ), the essay championed the idea of American independence and the establishment of a New World republic—two subjects which, by and large, hadn’t been taken seriously in the colonies. Paine later said that the pamphlet sold anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 copies, but modern historians doubt that.

At first, Common Sense was published anonymously, which led to speculation about who the author might be. In Boston, it was rumored that John Adams had penned the manifesto—but Adams didn’t fully agree with the premise of Common Sense, which he once referred to as a “poor ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, Crapulous Mass.” His biggest criticism involved the author’s call for a new American republic overseen by a unicameral (i.e.: “one-house”) legislature. To rebut Common Sense, Adams anonymously published a pamphlet of his own, titled Thoughts on Government, which advocated the creation of a bicameral legislature as one component of a three-pronged governmental system that would also include a judiciary branch and an elected governor. (Sound familiar?) Paine's identity as the author of Common Sense was revealed on March 30, and Adams, who instantly regretted publishing his tract anonymously, also attached his name in later printings.

3. HE (BRIEFLY) WORKED FOR THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS.   

Specifically, Paine was brought onboard in April 1777 to serve as the organization’s Secretary to the Committee of Foreign Affairs. Paine was paid $70 a month, and his job consisted of maintaining the committee’s records and drafting letters to American diplomats stationed overseas. But he continued to write essays in support of the revolution on the side, which got him into serious trouble when he publicly mentioned top-secret negotiations with the French. He also made some powerful enemies by accusing diplomat Silas Deane of war-profiteering. In January 1779 Congress began taking steps to remove Paine from his position, but Paine voluntarily resigned.

4. PAINE ONCE DESIGNED AN EXPERIMENTAL KIND OF BRIDGE.

Like Franklin, Paine loved tinkering and was known to invent the occasional product (for example, a “smokeless candle”)—and when the Revolutionary War ended, he turned the world of infrastructure upside down with an inspired new bridge design.

During the late 18th century, the average bridge was constructed mainly out of stones and wood and was typically built with half-circle arches that allowed tall ships to pass beneath them. Unfortunately, steep arches like that forced architects to steeply incline both ends of the road on top of the bridge—a major inconvenience for pedestrians and carriages. It was possible to construct a bridge with support piers in the middle of the span, but ice routinely destroyed these bridges.

Paine came up with a radical alternative. In 1787, he sketched out the blueprint for a bridge with an incline free road made possible by an underlying arch that didn’t curve upwards so sharply. And for resiliency’s sake, he designed the whole thing to be made of iron. Since visual aids are always helpful, Paine built a 13-foot model that he showed off to Pennsylvania statesmen. Hoping to generate more interest, Paine returned to his native England, where he received a government patent for the design.

5. IN THE U.K., SEVERAL PRINTERS WERE ARRESTED FOR SELLING COPIES OF RIGHTS OF MAN.

When France's revolution began in 1789, Paine—who had returned to England—vocally supported the uprising. But of course, not everyone shared his enthusiasm. In 1790, Irish-born politician Edmund Burke released the widely-read pamphlet Reflections on the Revolution in France, wherein he denounced the revolution as a risky and destructive political gamble. In response, Paine began working on Rights of Man, a fervent defense of the rebel cause. (The two-part essay was published in 1791 and 1792.) With its anti-monarchical sentiments, the treatise infuriated Britain’s government—so much so, in fact, that the authorities actually jailed printers who sold The Rights of Man within Great Britain. The prison sentences for guilty parties ranged from a couple of days to seven years in length.

6. THE AGE OF REASON WAS PARTIALLY COMPOSED IN A (RATHER LUXURIOUS) PRISON.  

Controversial as it was in Britain, Rights of Man was wildly popular in France. So when Paine fled there in 1792, he was greeted with open arms—at first. Shortly after his arrival, Paine was elected as a member of the country’s National Assembly, but he was soon stirring up controversy. Paine spoke out against guillotine usage and King Louis XVI’s execution, and on December 28, 1793, the political thinker was charged with treason, probably because of his stance on capital punishment (though the rationale behind this accusation remains unclear). Paine was taken to Luxembourg Prison, a palace-turned-jail where he was given a spacious room and free rein to explore the rest of the building during daylight hours. Inside, he busied himself with a new pamphlet he’d begun writing before his arrest: The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology.A critique of organized religion. The two-part document questioned the Bible’s legitimacy and made the case for Deism, the belief in a creator-God who doesn’t interfere with world affairs or the lives of individual people. Naturally, the text triggered passionate debate on both sides of the Atlantic, and still does so today.   

7. HE OPENLY CRITICIZED THE WASHINGTON ADMINISTRATION.  

James Monroe, then America’s minister to France, arranged to have Paine released from the Luxembourg in November 1794. While in prison, Paine had developed a grudge against President Washington, whom he’d admired during the American Revolution. As Monroe informed James Madison, “He thinks the president winked at his imprisonment and wished he might die in gaol [jail], and bears his resentment for it; also he is preparing an attack upon him of the most virulent kind.”

Just as Monroe said, Paine wrote a blistering open letter to Washington in 1796. Lambasting the president for not interceding on his behalf when the French seized him, Paine went on to accuse America’s chief executive of being a closeted monarchist. “Monopolies of every kind marked your administration almost in the moment of its commencement,” the pamphleteer charged. “The lands obtained by the Revolution were lavished upon partisans; the interest of the disbanded soldier was sold to the speculator … In what fraudulent light must Mr. Washington’s character appear in the world, when his declarations and his conduct are compared together!”

Americans of just about every political stripe were outraged by Paine's statements. Combined with a strong backlash to The Age of Reason, the anti-Washington tirade brought Paine’s popularity to an all-time low in the states.

8. HE CALLED FOR AN EARLY VERSION OF SOCIAL SECURITY.

Paine spent the winter of 1795-'96 at Monroe’s home in Paris, where he authored what’s often considered his last great pamphlet, Agrarian Justice. In it, he recommended the establishment of a “National Fund” financed by 10 percent tax on inherited property. Money from this fund would then be redistributed: All citizens (of both genders) above the age of 50 or with disabilities were to receive a yearly stipend. Furthermore, every single citizen could also expect a one-time payment of 15 pounds sterling upon turning 21. “It is not a charity but a right,” Paine declared, “not bounty but justice.”

9. MOST OF HIS REMAINS ARE UNACCOUNTED FOR.

In 1802, at the invitation of President Jefferson, Paine returned to the U.S. For a time, he resided at a 277-acre farm in New Rochelle that had been gifted to him by the New York State Legislature in 1784. Unhappy with his life there, Paine relocated to Manhattan, where he died on June 8, 1809.

Paine was laid to rest on his New Rochelle farm without much fanfare; in fact, the service may have been attended by as few as five people. Strangely, though, Paine’s travels hadn’t ended yet. In 1819, a British admirer by the name of William Cobbett snuck onto the property and dug up the dead author’s body. Believing that Paine deserved to be buried in his birthland, Cobbett boxed up bones and took them back to London. But after years of trying to build a suitable memorial, Cobbett died himself. Paine’s bones were gradually sold off, and their current whereabouts remain a mystery. (However, the Thomas Paine Museum in New Rochelle does have a few strands of his hair under lock and key, and his mummified brain stem has been buried there in an undisclosed location.)

10. MARK TWAIN WAS AN ADMIRER.

Despite his contributions to the country’s revolution, most Americans held Paine in low regard throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. When he died, the New York Post Evening Post helped set the tone with a eulogy that read “he had lived long, done some good and much harm.” Other posthumous statements about Paine were even less charitable: Theodore Roosevelt famously called him a “filthy little atheist.” In the Gilded Age, he was so widely disliked that when a freethinking sculptor gifted Philadelphia’s Independence Hall with a marble Paine bust in 1876, the city refused to accept it.

Nevertheless, he still maintained an underground fan base in those days. One of the most famous Paine enthusiasts of all time was Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. A celebrated critic of organized religion, Clemens was particularly keen on the ever-controversial Age of Reason. In his words, “It took a brave man before the Civil War to confess he had read” the pamphlet. Paine’s pro-deism treatise made an appearance in Those Extraordinary Twins (1894), one of Twain’s manuscripts that centered on a pair of conjoined brothers with wildly different personalities. To help accentuate their dissimilarities, the very first chapter sees one of them reading Christian devotionals while his counterpart flips through The Age of Reason.

11. THOMAS EDISON HELPED BREAK GROUND ON THE THOMAS PAINE MEMORIAL MUSEUM.   

In 1884, the Thomas Paine National Historical Association was founded, and in 1925, Edison became vice president of the group. “Paine’s teachings have been debarred from schools everywhere and his views of life misrepresented until his memory is hidden in shadows, or he is looked upon as of unsound mind,” Edison said. “We never had a sounder intelligence in this Republic [than Paine]. He was the equal of Washington in making American liberty possible. Where Washington performed, Paine devised and wrote. The deeds of one in the Weld were matched by the deeds of the other with his pen.”

Today, the association maintains the cottage Paine owned in New Rochelle along with the nearby Thomas Paine Memorial Museum. Construction on the latter began in the spring of 1925—and once the project broke ground, it was Edison who had the honor of turning the first shovel of dirt. Since then, Paine’s reputation in America and elsewhere has considerably improved. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan both admiringly quoted him in their presidential addresses. A golden Paine statue has been erected in Thetford, England. And in 2002, he was ranked number 34 on the BBC’s list of the 100 greatest Britons of all time. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
14 Facts About Mathew Brady
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images
Henry Guttmann, Getty Images

When you think of the Civil War, the images you think of are most likely the work of Mathew Brady and his associates. One of the most successful early photographers in American history, Brady was responsible for bringing images of the Civil War to a nation split in two—a project that would ultimately be his undoing. Here are some camera-ready facts about Mathew Brady.

1. HIS EARLY LIFE MIGHT BE AN INTENTIONAL MYSTERY.

Most details of Brady’s early life are unknown. He was born in either 1822 or 1823 to Andrew and Julia Brady, who were Irish. On pre-war census records and 1863 draft forms Brady stated that he was born in Ireland, but some historians speculate he changed his birthplace to Johnsburg, New York, after he became famous due to anti-Irish sentiment.

Brady had no children, and though he is believed to have married a woman named Julia Handy in 1851, there is no official record of the marriage.

2. HE TOOK PHOTOGRAPHY CLASSES FROM THE INVENTOR OF MORSE CODE.

When he was 16 or 17, Brady followed artist William Page to New York City after Page had given him some drawing lessons. But that potential career was derailed when he got work as a clerk in the A.T. Stewart department store [PDF] and began manufacturing leather (and sometimes paper) cases for local photographers, including Samuel F.B. Morse, the inventor of Morse Code.

Morse, who had learned the early photographic method of creating Daguerreotypes from Parisian inventor Louis Daguerre in 1839, brought the method back to the United States and opened a studio in 1840. Brady was one of his early students.

3. HE SET UP SHOP IN NEW YORK AND BECAME THE GO-TO PHOTOGRAPHER.

Brady eventually took what he learned from Morse and opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844, earning the nickname “Brady of Broadway.” His renown grew due to a mix of his knack for enticing celebrities to sit for his camera—James Knox Polk and a young Henry James (with his father, Henry James Sr.) both sat for him—as well as a flair for the dramatic: In 1856, he placed an ad in the New York Daily Tribune urging readers to sit for a portrait that warned, “You cannot tell how soon it may be too late.”

His rapidly-expanding operation forced him to open a branch of his studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in 1849, and then move his New York studio uptown to 785 Broadway in 1860.

4. HE ACHIEVED WORLDWIDE FAME.

In 1850, Brady published The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a collection of lithographs based on his daguerreotypes of a dozen famous Americans (he had intended to do 24, but due to costs, that never happened). The volume, and a feature profile [PDF] in the inaugural 1851 issue of the Photographic Art-Journal that described Brady as the “fountain-head” of a new artistic movement, made him a celebrity even outside of America. “We are not aware that any man has devoted himself to [the Daguerreotype art] with so much earnestness, or expended upon its development so much time and expense," the profile opined. "He has merited the eminence he has acquired; for, from the time he first began to devote himself to it, he has adhered to his early purpose with the firmest resolution, and the most unyielding tenacity.” Later that year, at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London, Brady was awarded one of three gold medals for his daguerreotypes.

5. HE PHOTOGRAPHED EVERY PRESIDENT FROM JOHN QUINCY ADAMS TO WILLIAM MCKINLEY ... WITH ONE EXCEPTION.

The one that got away was William Henry Harrison—he died only a month after his inauguration in 1841.

6. ONE OF HIS PORTRAITS INTRODUCED HONEST ABE TO THE COUNTRY.

When Abraham Lincoln campaigned for president in 1860, he was dismissed as an odd-looking country bumpkin. But Brady’s stately portrait of the candidate, snapped after he addressed a Republican audience at Cooper Union in New York, effectively solidified Lincoln as a legitimate candidate in the minds of the American populace. (After he was elected, Lincoln supposedly told a friend, “Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president.”) It was one of the first times such widespread campaign photography was used to support a presidential candidate.

7. HIS STUDIO’S WORK ENDED UP ON TWO VERSIONS OF THE $5 BILL.

A researcher holding one of America's most priceless negatives, the glass plate made by famous civil war photographer Mathew Brady of Abraham Lincoln in 1865 just before he was assassinated.
Three Lions, Getty Images

On February 9, 1864, Lincoln sat for a portrait session with Anthony Berger, the manager of Brady’s Washington studio. The session yielded both images of Lincoln that would go on the modern iterations of the $5 bill.

The first, from a three-quarter length portrait featuring Lincoln seated and facing right, was used on the bill design from 1914 to 2000. When U.S. currency was redesigned that year, government officials chose another image Berger took at Brady’s studio of Lincoln. This time, the president is seen facing left with his head turned more to the left.

According to Lincoln historian Lloyd Ostendorf, when the president was sitting for portraits, “Whenever Lincoln posed, a dark melancholy settled over his features. He put on what Mrs. Lincoln called his ‘photographer’s face.’ There is no camera study which shows him laughing, for such an attitude, unfortunately, was impossible when long exposures were required.”

8. OTHER PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SOME OF HIS BEST-KNOWN WORK.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Brady decided to use his many employees and his own money to attempt to make a complete photographic record of the conflict, dispatching 20 photographers to capture images in different war zones. Alexander Gardner and Timothy H. O’Sullivan were both in the field for Brady. Both of them eventually quit because Brady didn’t give individual credit.

Brady likely did take photos himself on battlefields like Bull Run and Gettysburg (although not necessarily during the actual battle). The photographer later boasted, “I had men in all parts of the army, like a rich newspaper.”

9. HE HAD BAD EYESIGHT.

Brady's eyes had plagued him since childhood—in his youth, he was reportedly nearly blind, and he wore thick, blue-tinted glasses as an adult. Brady's real reason for relying less and less on his own expertise might have been because of his failing eyesight, which had started to deteriorate in the 1850s.

10. HE HELPED REVOLUTIONIZE COMBAT PHOTOGRAPHY.

War photographer Mathew Brady's buggy was converted into a mobile darkroom and travelling studio, or, Whatizzit Wagon, during the American Civil War.
Mathew B Brady, Getty Images

The group of Brady photographers that scoured the American north and south to capture images of the Civil War traveled in what became known as “Whatizzit Wagons,” which were horse-drawn wagons filled with chemicals and mobile darkrooms so they could get close to battles and develop photographs as quickly as possible.

Brady’s 1862 New York gallery exhibit, "The Dead of Antietam,” featured then-unseen photographs of some of the 23,000 victims of the war’s bloodiest day, which shocked American society. “Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war," a New York Times reviewer wrote. "If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.”

11. HE USED A FREEBIE TO CONVINCE GENERALS TO LET HIM PHOTOGRAPH THE WAR.

Brady and his associates couldn't just wander out onto the battlefield with cameras—the photographer needed to obtain permission. So he set up a portrait session with Winfield Scott, the Union general in charge of the Army. The story goes that as he photographed the general—who was posed shirtless as a Roman warrior—Brady laid out his plan to send his fleet of photographers to tell the visual story of the war unlike any previous attempts in history. Then the photographer gifted the general some ducks. Scott was finally convinced, and he approved Brady’s plan in a letter to General Irvin McDowell. (Scott's Roman warrior portrait is, unfortunately, now lost.)

12. HE WAS BLAMED FOR UNION BATTLE LOSSES.

Brady’s first foray into documenting the Civil War was the First Battle of Bull Run. Though he had approved of Brady's plan, General McDowell did not appreciate the photographers' presence during the battle.

Brady himself was supposedly near the front lines when the fighting began, and quickly became separated from his companions. During the battle, he was forced to take shelter in nearby woods, and slept there overnight on a bag of oats. He eventually met back up with the Army and made his way to Washington, where rumors swelled that his equipment caused a panic that was responsible for the Union’s defeat at the battle. “Some pretend, indeed, that it was the mysterious and formidable-looking instrument that produced the panic!” one observer noted. “The runaways, it is said, mistook it for the great steam gun discharging 500 balls a minute, and took to their heels when they got within its focus!”

13. HE DIDN’T JUST PHOTOGRAPH THE UNION SIDE.

Before, after, and occasionally during the Civil War, Brady and Co. also photographed members of the Confederate side, such as Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Pike, James Longstreet, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E. Lee after he returned to Richmond following his surrender at Appomattox Court House. “It was supposed that after his defeat it would be preposterous to ask him to sit,” Brady said later. “I thought that to be the time for the historical picture.”

14. HIS CIVIL WAR PHOTOS ALSO MADE HIM POOR.

Union troops with a field gun during the American Civil War.
Mathew Brady, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“My wife and my most conservative friends had looked unfavorably upon this departure from commercial business to pictorial war correspondence,” Brady told an interviewer in 1891. Their instincts were right.

Brady invested nearly $100,000 of his own money in the Civil War project in hopes that the government would buy his photo record of the war after it was all said and done. But once the Union prevailed, a public reeling from years of grueling conflict showed no interest in Brady's grim photos.

After the financial panic of 1873 he declared bankruptcy, and he lost his New York studio. The War Department eventually bought over 6000 negatives from Brady’s collection—which are now housed in the National Archives—for only $2840 total.

Despite being responsible for some of the most iconic images of the era, Brady never regained his financial footing, and he died alone in New York Presbyterian Hospital in 1896 after being hit by a streetcar.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
General Mills
10 Winning Facts about Wheaties
General Mills
General Mills

Famous for its vivid orange boxes featuring star athletes and its classic "breakfast of champions" tagline, Wheaties might be the only cereal that's better known for its packaging than its taste. The whole wheat cereal has been around since the 1920s, becoming an icon not just of the breakfast aisle, but the sports and advertising worlds, too. Here are 10 winning facts about it.

1. IT WAS INVENTED BY ACCIDENT.

The Washburn Crosby Company wasn't initially in the cereal business. At the time, the Minnesota-based company—which became General Mills in 1928—primarily sold flour. But in 1921, the story goes, a dietitian in Minneapolis spilled bran gruel on a hot stove. The bran hardened into crispy, delicious flakes, and a new cereal was born. In 1924, the Washburn Crosby Company began selling a version of the flakes as a boxed cereal it called Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, after a company-wide contest, the company changed the name to Wheaties.

2. ITS JINGLE FEATURED A SINGING UNDERTAKER AND A COURT BAILIFF.

Wheaties sales were slow at first, but the Washburn Crosby Company already had a built-in advertising platform: It owned the Minneapolis radio station WCCO. Starting on December 24, 1926, the station began airing a jingle for the cereal sung by a barbershop quartet called the Wheaties Quartet. The foursome sang "Have You Tried Wheaties" live over the radio every week, earning $15 (about $200 today) per performance. In addition to their weekly singing gig, the men of the Wheaties Quartet all also had day jobs: One was an undertaker, one was a court bailiff, one worked in the grain industry, and one worked in printing. The ad campaign eventually went national, helping boost Wheaties sales across the country and becoming an advertising legend.

3. WHEATIES HAS BEEN TIED TO SPORTS SINCE ALMOST THE BEGINNING.

Carl Lewis signs a Wheaties box with his image on it for a young boy.
Track and field Olympic medalist Carl Lewis
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Wheaties has aligned itself with the sports world since its early days. In 1927, Wheaties bought ad space at Minneapolis's Nicollet Park, home to a minor league baseball team called the Millers, and in 1933, the cereal brand started sponsoring the team's game-day radio broadcasts on WCCO. Eventually, Wheaties baseball broadcasts expanded to 95 different radio stations, covering teams all over the country and further cementing its association with the sport. Since then, generations of endorsements from athletes of all stripes have helped sell consumers on the idea that eating Wheaties can make them strong and successful just like their favorite players. The branding association has been so successful that appearing on a Wheaties box has itself become a symbol of athletic achievement.

4. WHEATIES HELPED KICK-START RONALD REAGAN'S ACTING CAREER.

In the 1930s, a young sports broadcaster named Ronald Reagan was working at a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, narrating Wheaties-sponsored Chicago Cubs and White Sox games. As part of this job, Reagan went to California to visit the Cubs' spring training camp in 1937. While he was there, he also did a screen test at Warner Bros. The studio ended up offering him a seven-year contract, and later that year, he appeared in his first starring role as a radio commentator in Love Is On The Air.

5. ATHLETES' PHOTOS DIDN'T ALWAYS APPEAR ON THE FRONT OF BOXES.

Three Wheaties boxes featuring Michael Phelps
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Although a Wheaties box wouldn't seem complete without an athlete's photo on it today, the cereal didn't always feature athletes front and center. In the early years, the boxes had photos of athletes like baseball legend Lou Gehrig (the first celebrity to be featured, in 1934) on the back or side panels of boxes. Athletes didn't start to appear on the front of the box until 1958, when the cereal featured Olympic pole vaulter Bob Richards.

6. THE FIRST WOMAN ON A WHEATIES BOX WAS A PILOT.

Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Former Track and Field Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersey stands with a poster of her new Wheaties box after it was unveiled in 2004.
Stephen Chernin, Getty Images

Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton became the first woman to appear on the front of a Wheaties box in 1984, but women did appear elsewhere on the box in the brand's early years. The first was pioneering aviator and stunt pilot Elinor Smith. Smith, whose picture graced the back of the box in 1934, set numerous world aviation records for endurance and altitude in the 1920s and 1930s.

7. IT USED TO HAVE A MASCOT.

Though we now associate Wheaties with athletes rather than an animal mascot, the cereal did have the latter during the 1950s. In an attempt to appeal to children, Wheaties adopted a puppet lion named Champy (short for "Champion") as the brand's mascot. Champy and his puppet friends sang about the benefits of Wheaties in commercials that ran during The Mickey Mouse Club, and kids could order their own Champy hand puppets for 50 cents (less than $5 today) if they mailed in Wheaties box tops.

8. MICHAEL JORDAN IS THE WHEATIES KING.

Of all the athletes who have graced the cover of a Wheaties box, basketball superstar Michael Jordan takes the cake for most appearances. He's been featured on the box 18 times, both alone and with the Chicago Bulls. He also served as a spokesperson for the cereal, appearing in numerous Wheaties commercials in the '80s and '90s.

9. FANS ONCE GOT THE CHANCE TO PICK A WHEATIES STAR.

MMA star Anthony Pettis on the front of a Wheaties box.
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The public hasn't often gotten a chance to weigh in on who will appear on the Wheaties box. But in 2014, Wheaties customers got to decide for the first time which athlete would be featured nationally. Called the Wheaties NEXT Challenge, the contest allowed people to vote for the next Wheaties Champion by logging their workouts on an app platform called MapMyFitness. Every workout of 30 minutes or more counted as one vote. Participants could choose between Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper, motocross rider Ryan Dungey, mixed-martial-artist Anthony Pettis, lacrosse player Rob Pannell, or soccer player Christen Press. Pettis won, becoming the first MMA fighter to appear on the box in early 2015.

10. THERE WERE SEVERAL SPINOFFS THAT DIDN'T CATCH ON.

Three different Wheaties boxes featuring Tiger Woods sitting together on a table
Tiger Woods's Wheaties covers, 1998
Getty Images

Faced with declining sales, Wheaties introduced several spinoff cereals during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Honey Frosted Wheaties, Crispy Wheaties 'n Raisins, and Wheaties Energy Crunch. None of them sold very well, and they were all discontinued after a few years. The brand kept trying to expand its offerings, though. In 2009, General Mills introduced Wheaties Fuel, a version of the cereal it claimed was more tailored to men's dietary needs. Wheaties Fuel had more vitamin E and—unlike the original—no folic acid, which is commonly associated with women's prenatal supplements. Men didn't love Wheaties Fuel, though, and it was eventually discontinued too. Now, only the original "breakfast of champions" remains.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios