Where Wheaties Got Its Start
Reeves sketched a Wheaties box, paused, and then wrote: "Wheaties-The Breakfast of Champions".
That began one of the iconic and enduring marriages between sports and product. Soon, nearly 100 radio stations were carrying Wheaties-sponsored broadcasts of minor league baseball. So it was natural in 1934 to put Triple Crown-winner Lou Gehrig, pictured finishing a powerful swing and seemingly watching the ball fly out of the park, on the back of a Wheaties box. By the 1939 All-Star game, 46 of the 51 players had endorsed the cereal.
In the decades that have followed, one legendary athlete after another has graced the orange box, names like Ted Williams, Larry Bird, Bob Feller, Ervin "Magic" Johnson, Dan Marino, Lee Trevino and Chris Evert Lloyd. The choices are a barometer on the country's fascination with sport. While baseball players dominated the early years, stars from other sports including football, basketball and eventually women's soccer and snowboarding become part of the mix, the face of a new brand of champion. The cover above is the latest Wheaties box, with Olympians Michael Phelps and Misty May-Treanor gracing the cereal aisle.
What follows are 11 things we bet you didn't know about Wheaties boxes:
The First Wheaties Cover Model Wasn’t Even Real
The first character to be featured wasn't an athlete or even a real person. It was Jack Armstrong, the "All American boy" and star of a fictional radio show sponsored by Wheaties that began in 1933. In the stories, Armstrong was a popular athlete at Hudson High School who traveled the world plunging into one adventure after another, recovering lost uranium, rescuing passengers from a sinking ship and being trapped in a cave of mummies.
Lou Gehrig Was the First Athlete on the Box
Lou Gehrig became the first athlete on a Wheaties box in 1934, appearing on the back. It was a pretty good year for the Iron Horse. He won the Triple Crown with a .363 average, 49 home runs and 165 RBI. Wheaties also featured him in print advertisements. “I believe any man who wants to go places in any sport has to keep in good physical shape," he said in the ad. "I always watch my eating pretty closely and make it a point to put away a good breakfast in the morning. But I want my food to taste good, too. And there’s nothing better than a big bowl of Wheaties with plenty of milk or cream and sugar. That’s a ‘Breakfast of Cham- pions’ you want to try. You’ll be glad you did.”
The First Woman on the Cover Was a Famous Pilot
The same year Gehrig became the first athlete on a Wheaties box, Elinor Smith became the first woman to have that honor. Smith had been named the best female pilot of 1930, beating out Amelia Earhart. She set the solo endurance record, flying more than 13 hours in an open cockpit in zero degree weather, then reset the same record a few months later, flying more than 26 hours. She also set the world's altitude record and flew her plane under the four bridges of New York's East River, a feat that has never been duplicated.
A Circus Troupe Tightrope-Walked Its Way to a Wheaties Box
There Wasn’t an Athlete on the Front of the Box until 1958
Before He Was a Kardashian, Bruce Jenner Was the Iconic Wheaties Cover Boy
It Took ‘Til 1984 to Put a Female Athlete on the Wheaties Box
Another Olympian, Mary Lou Retton, became the first female athlete on the cover of the box in 1984 after her stunning victory in the all around competition scoring perfect 10s in the floor exercise to edge Ecaterina Szabo of Romania.
Sweetness Was the First Pro Football Player on the Cover
The First Team to be Featured on the Box Isn’t Who You Think It Would Be
Michael Jordan Has Been on the Cover 18 Times
The king of the flakes is Michael Jordan, who has appeared on Wheaties boxes 18 times, whether solo dunking the ball or with his Chicago Bulls teammates. Air Jordan first appeared in 1988, becoming the seventh athlete honored on the cover. His last appearance came in 1999 after he retired for a second time (he would return in 2001 before retiring for good after the 2002-3 season).