Henry Drushel Perky was born December 7, 1843 in Ohio.
Perky studied law and was admitted to the bar in Omaha, Nebraska.
In 1880, Perky and his family left Nebraska and headed to Denver, Colorado for health reasons, where he became an attorney for the Union Pacific Railroad.
Shredded Wheat Company
Sometime in the early 1890s, at a Nebraska hotel, Henry Perky — who suffered from diarrhea — encountered a man similarly afflicted, who was eating boiled wheat with cream.
The idea bounced around for a while in Perky’s mind, and then in 1892, he took his idea for a product made of boiled wheat to his friend and machinist, William H. Ford, in Watertown, New York.
Together, they developed a machine for making what Perky first called “little whole wheat mattresses”, known worldwide today as shredded wheat.
They presented their machine at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
His original intention was to sell the machines, not the biscuits.
Perky returned to Denver and began distributing the biscuits from a horse-drawn wagon in an attempt to popularize the idea.
Soon, Perky founded The Cereal Machine Company.
Then in 1895, Perky received United States Patent Number 548,086, dated October 15, 1895.
His biscuits proved more popular than the machines, so Perky moved East and opened his first bakery in Boston, Massachusetts and then another in Worcester, Massachusetts, retaining the name of The Cereal Machine Company, and adding the name of The Shredded Wheat Company.
Whether Perky developed his ideas on nutrition before the machine or after, Perky was a food faddist who believed the fundamental issue was how to nourish a man so that his condition would be natural.
Although John Harvey Kellogg and Charles William Post are better known, Perky was a pioneer of “cookless breakfast food” and it was Henry Perky who first mass produced and nationally distributed ready-to-eat cereal.
By 1898, Shredded Wheat was being sold all over North and South America and Europe.
In 1901, drawn by the idea of inexpensive electrical power for baking, and the natural draw of a popular tourist attraction, he hired Edward A. Deeds to build a new plant at Niagara Falls, New York.
Perky invited a large number of notables to a special luncheon.
Canadian author Pierre Berton described the bill of fare:
“…a Shredded Wheat drink, Shredded Wheat biscuit toast, roast turkey stuffed with Shredded Wheat, and Shredded Wheat ice cream”.
The new factory itself was called “The Palace of Light”, and was white-tiled, air-conditioned, well-lit with floor to ceiling windows, and equipped with showers, lunchrooms (a free lunch for women – men had to pay 10¢), and auditoriums for employees. It even had a roof garden with a view of the Falls.
A representation of the factory appeared on Shredded Wheat boxes for decades.
In 1902, Perky retired from the company and disposed of his interest.
He went on to publish a book on nutrition and oral hygiene, Wisdom vs. Foolishness, that went through at least ten editions.
Having made his fortune, the following year Perky arrived in Glencoe, Maryland and began purchasing large tracts of land in the region.
His dream was to build a boarding school for men and women that would offer an innovative curriculum of scientific farming and domestic science subjects free of tuition.
The main building was completed, elaborate brochures were printed and a few students had enrolled. The plans for the dedication were in place when Perky died days before the grand opening and the Oread School never opened.
Henry D. Perky died on June 29, 1906 at his farm in Glencoe.
His obituary stated that he had been ill for a long time and that a fall from a horse a month earlier had hastened his death.
Perky is buried in Glencoe, Maryland.
Now WE know em