In 1924, a scientist at a General Mills lab accidentally spilled gruel on a hot stove. The resulting crispy flakes were dubbed Washburn's Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes. A year later, the name was changed to Wheaties.
That was the company's first smart move. The second was to create a promotional campaign around popular athletes. Over the years, the "Breakfast of Champions" has featured hundreds of sports celebs on its boxes. To celebrate the cereal's 75th anniversary, General Mills ran a campaign last winter asking consumers to choose their favorite pitchmen from 75 names conveniently listed on the back of its familiar orange boxes. The choices ranged from tennis star Ellsworth Vines (1934) to the 1998 U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey Team. More than 200,000 ballots were cast.
The voting showed that among the 10 most popular Wheaties champions are two Stanford athletes -- quarterback John Elway and golfer Tiger Woods. Elway, '83, who appeared on the box five times (first in 1993), played 16 years and won back-to-back Super Bowls for the Denver Broncos before announcing his retirement in March. Woods, who left Stanford following his sophomore year in 1996, made the box in 1998 after becoming the youngest-ever Masters Tournament champion. They join the likes of Lou Gehrig, Walter Payton, Mary Lou Retton and Michael Jordan. Not a flake among them.