10 Facts About America's Most Popular Breakfast Cereals


Cereal companies may be turning to healthier formulas and trendy ingredients these days, but in terms of overall sales, it’s the sweet, sweet legacy brands that continue to dominate. Here are a few notable facts about America’s most beloved cereal brands.


Introduced in 1979, this Cheerios offshoot soared in popularity thanks in part to its cartoon bee mascot. But for more than two decades, he didn’t have a name. In 2000, General Mills launched a national naming contest, eventually landing on the name "BuzzBee" or "Buzz" for short [PDF].


Frosted Flakes were introduced in 1952, and its popular mascot, Tony the Tiger, was voiced by Thurl Ravenscroft for more than 50 years. A Nebraska native who left for Hollywood as a teenager, Ravenscroft provided voiceovers for many Disneyland rides, including the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. He also sang, uncredited, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" in the famed cartoon film, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.


Vernon J. Herzing, a manager at Post’s Battle Creek, Michigan cereal production facility, designed this kid and adult favorite using ingredients from the cereals already being manufactured at his facility—including Toasties, Sugar Sparkle Flakes, and Grape-Nuts Flakes. Working at home with his teenage daughter in the late 1980s, he finally hit on the winning combination of flakes, granola, and honey, which he originally called "Battle Creek Cereal."


CTC, as it’s known by cereal aficionados, debuted in 1984 and gained widespread attention with three cartoon bakers that appeared in its ads, named Wendell, Bob, and Quello. In 1991, the company did away with Bob and Quello, leading to some wild speculation, though in truth, parent company General Mills pulled the two because they weren’t testing well with audiences. Wendell, the fan favorite, remained on CTC boxes until 2009, when the brand replaced him with the Crazy Squares.


Lester Borchardt, a physicist working for General Mills, spent many months and more than $150,000 trying to get a puffing machine to quickly turn out grain cereal. His bosses told him to pull the plug, but Borchardt pressed on, and finally got the machine to make tasty little "o"s. Cheerioats, as they were first known, hit shelves in 1941. After Quaker Oats claimed trademark infringement, General Mills changed the name to Cheerios.


Introduced in 1963, Froot Loops originally only came in three colors: red, orange, and yellow. The additions of green, purple, and blue didn't happen until the '90s, and sadly these various colors don’t indicate flavor variations: Kellogg recently admitted all Froot Loops are made from the same flavoring concoction, known as "Froot."


When they were introduced in 1969, the original mini wheats were much larger than today’s version. In 1988, Kellogg came out with a bite-sized variety that was so popular, it became the de facto Frosted Mini-Wheats. Years later, Kellogg would introduce the original mini wheat size as "Big Bites."


Charged with developing a one-of-a-kind cereal for General Mills, developer John Holahan came up with a prototype that combined Cheerios with circus peanuts. The circus peanuts became marshmallows—or "marbits"—and the cereal adopted a leprechaun mascot named Lucky, who has been the face of Lucky Charms for more than 50 years—with one exception. For a brief spell in 1975, Waldo the Wizard graced the boxes of Lucky Charms in the New England market.


This household favorite might have a different name but for a key legal ruling. In 1944, Skinner’s Raisin Bran, which came out 20 years earlier, sued Kellogg for trademark infringement. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled that a company could not trademark a name that was essentially describing the product’s ingredients.


An ad from 1972. Jamie via Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The brand that began in 1955 as a humble rice and wheat cereal has become a dieting empire. Special K’s hot streak started when it introduced the Special K Challenge, a weight loss program Kellogg initially developed as a way for Kellogg to save money over broadcast advertising.

Begins and Ends: European Cities
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.


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