Although many inventions and products originally came from Nebraska, many have become such national icons that their origins are lost in the dustbin of history. The ideas of 911 emergency phone numbers, the Runza and a universal method of numbering airport runways were products often not remembered, even locally, as Nebraska ideas.
As the depression of 1893 tightened enrollment at Union College, ways of controlling costs and raising money became a necessary reality. Dr. John Henry Kellogg, who earlier had established the first Adventist sanitarium at Battle Creek, Mich., became interested in establishing such an institution near or on the college’s campus in College View. An agreement was reached, and in 1895 what would later be called the Nebraska Sanitarium was opened in a leased portion of North Hall, then the boys' dormitory. As the sanitarium prospered, it took over the entire building in 1900.
Dr. Kellogg, who also gave the world the cornflake, introduced at the sanitarium the manufacture of a new cereal, which he called Granola. At that point in time, a large percent of Union College’s students worked at one of the school-owned businesses that made items as diverse as ironing boards, wooden furniture and brooms. It was, therefore, only natural that the college bakery should make and sell Granola as well. Although Kellogg had not bothered to patent the name or formula of Granola, he intended that the profits from the cereal’s sales should go to the sanitarium, not the school. Ultimately, the college was allowed to make and sell Dextro, with the same ingredients as Granola, but only outside the village of College View. This compromise proved awkward for both parties and ultimately they merged as the Sanitarium Food Co.
This health food of a century ago bore little resemblance to today’s Granola, being baked to the consistency of a brick then ground into pellets. Dr. Kellogg and his brother Will began a more concerted manufacture and marketing plan for Granola with the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Co., which they incorporated in 1906.
It would, most probably, take a lot of milk and sugar to sell today, but Granola did have a start in Lincoln.
After living in Omaha and Wahoo and serving in the state’s Senate, attorney Henry Drushel Perky was traveling in Nebraska about 1890 when he chanced to see a man eating boiled wheat in a hotel dining room. The man told Perky he ate the cereal for his heartburn, a malady that Perky shared.
Perky, who was an inventor, saw the potential in not the cereal, but a machine to make it. In 1892, he approached William Ford, and together they came up with a machine to manufacture “little whole wheat mattresses.” The following year, the machine was introduced at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The Cereal Machine Co. was not a success but the product was, and in 1895 the name Shredded Wheat Co. was introduced, and the cereal patented as the first ready-to-eat, no-cooking-required cereal. Shredded wheat became an instant success and by 1898 was known everywhere.
In 1901, a new state-of-the-art plant was built at Niagara Falls, N.Y., and the name Triscuit was added. Although sold to the National Biscuit Co. in 1928, the baked shredded wheat biscuits have changed very little over the decades.
The American Legion Club in St. Paul, Neb., was managed by Dorothy Lynch and her husband in the 1940s. It was at that site that her famous French-like salad dressing was born. Dorothy sold the dressing directly for years before selling the concept and recipe to Columbus-based Tasty-Toppings Co. in 1964. Later, a new factory was built at Duncan, Neb., but the original recipe salad dressing and its spinoffs still are made and distributed from Nebraska.
In 1966, Professor Roger Mandingo began teaching at the University of Nebraska. Working with a National Pork Producers grant in 1972, Mandingo perfected a method of shredding and compressing pork bits into what is now known as the McRib. Another Nebraska Department of Agriculture food product was the Nebraskit, a crackerlike biscuit of compressed grain that was aimed at the then-popular bomb shelter as it had an incredibly long shelf life. However, I thought they also tasted a bit like the shelf as well.
The process for chocolate coating ice cream was perfected in Onawa, Iowa, but named the Eskimo Pie in Nebraska by later candy manufacturer Russell Stover.
The Reuben sandwich is often claimed by the Schimmel’s Blackstone Hotel in Omaha but other sources are New York City grocer/delicatessen owner Arnold (Arthur) Reuben or Reuben Kolakofsky, whose Reuben sandwiches supposedly dated from 1914. We do know that the Blackstone did develop butter brickle ice cream, so perhaps I will back off the Reuben sandwich claim. Who then invented the Rachael, which substitutes coleslaw and pastrami for sauerkraut and corned beef?
I’ve dealt with the Runza, Kool-Aid and TV dinners in previous articles, but it's good to know Nebraska still lays claim to a wide variety of foods known nationwide and even worldwide.