The Van Trump Report

How a Small Group of Farmers from North Dakota Made it Big in Breakfast

Who knew what started as one man just trying to feed his family would turn into one of America’s greatest breakfast phenomenons of the early 20th century. I suspect there are readers who could share stories from their younger days sitting around the breakfast table while enjoying some of that “farina porridge,” or what is better known today as Cream of Wheat.  

I didn’t know the association, but Firina was actually the whitest part of the wheat and the section North Dakota farmer Tom Amidon would take home from the Grand Forks Diamond Flour Mill and serve to his family, which is where it all started on this day back in 1893. 

Because his family loved it so much, Tom Amidon pitched the idea of a new cereal to the owners of the flour mill who had been struggling financially leading up to the economic fallout of 1893. To Tom’s delight, they jumped on board with the idea. In fact, the Diamond Milling owners George Bull, Emory Mapes and George Clifford Sr. loved it so much they agreed to let Amidon pack some of the cereal and ship it to their New York brokers, Lamont Corliss & Company. Keep in mind, the company was barely afloat so Amidon had to cut the cardboard for the cartons by hand, label the packages himself, and crate them in wooden boxes he made up from waste lumber. I should also mention, it was George Clifford’s brother, Fred, who came up with the name “Cream of Wheat” because the product was so white.

With the decision made, the team sent 360 boxes by rail to New York, and incredibly within three hours of the shipment’s arrival brokers sent a telegram to the Grand Forks mill stating, “Never mind shipping us your flour. Send us a carload of that Cream of Wheat.” Immediately a new plan was hatched to fill the order of nearly 2000 boxes with even larger shipments expected in the future, pushing the Mill to create a new strategic plan that entailed renaming their enterprise the Cream of Wheat Factory and packaging the cereal in assembly-like fashion as well as to hire Melvin Brannon, a biology professor at the University of North Dakota who had developed an electrolysis treatment to eliminate contaminants and provide longer shelf life for the cereal. 

In my opinion, the most significant early decision that the team made was in identifying where they were positioned on the customer continuum. In simple terms, they knew that in order to sell a high turnover, low-profit margin product like cereal they would clearly be in a “transactional business” and needed to advertise aggressively to stay in front of their customer. 

Spending as much as possible on advertising was mostly implemented by placing the company name on anything that made sense at the time like cups, bowls, dolls, and children’s woodblocks. Another strategic move that paid dividends was their placement of full-color ads in Ladies’ Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post. For those of you growing up back in the days, you’ll remember how well Cream of Wheat sold the image of wholesomeness, family, home, and security a message which was repeated many times in print ads and painted by well-known artists. 

Let’s just say their business plan worked well. The company sold 554 cases of cereal in 1896, increasing to over 15,600 cases in 1897. The Cream of Wheat Company outgrew its facilities in Grand Forks by late-1897 and moved to Minneapolis. It quickly grew to a 110-person staff and 8,000 stockholders. George Bull died that same year, and his son, Daniel led the company from 1919 to 1960, then grandson David became CEO. Cream of Wheat remained a one-product company for 64 years until it was sold to the National Biscuit Company (now Nabisco) in 1961. Bull retired as senior vice president at Nabisco in 1978 after leading many of the firm’s major divisions. What a great success story! (Source:, news.minnesota, bismarktribune)

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