This Week in History: Discovering Shredded Wheat!
In 1892 Henry Perky patents the machine that makes Shredded Wheat ... and set the stage for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that would re-define trademark and patent law. Go figure!
By: Les Heintz
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In 1892, Denver Attorney Henry Perky discovered the health benefits of whole wheat and, together with William Henry Ford, developed a machine that could press whole wheat into tiny shred-like strips.
Perky went on to open a restaurant featuring Shredded Wheat in every item on the menu from mashed potatoes to cakes, ice cream and even coffee!
Realizing the potential of Shredded Wheat biscuits, Perky established plants in the USA. In 1904, Perky opened the first Canadian plant in Niagara Falls, Ontario called the Canadian Shredded Wheat Company. To this day, Shredded Wheat is prepared in Niagara Falls!
Supreme Court Battle!
Shredded Wheat had originally been invented by Perky and the National Biscuit Company (later called Nabisco). He was issued utility patents in 1895 on both the shredded wheat and on the machine.
John Kellogg tasted a sample and commented that they were like "eating a whisk broom." Nevertheless, the cereal became successful, and Perky's company, the Shredded Wheat Company, continued to manufacture the product after he retired.
The Kellogg Company started manufacturing shredded wheat cereal in 1912 after Perky's patents expired; after the Shredded Wheat Company objected, Kellogg stopped manufacturing their version in 1919.
In 1927, the Kellogg Company resumed manufacturing shredded wheat, prompting a lawsuit which was ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Court ruled that the Kellogg Company was not violating any trademark or unfair competition laws when it manufactured its own Shredded Wheat breakfast cereal, which had originally been invented by the National Biscuit Company (later called Nabisco). Kellogg's version of the product was of an essentially identical shape, and was also marketed as "Shredded Wheat"; but Nabisco's patents had expired, and its trademark application for the term "Shredded Wheat" had been turned down as a descriptive, non-trademarkable term.
The Court therefore "forcefully applied the principle that once a patent has expired, its benefits are to be freely enjoyed by the public." Kellogg has been called possibly "the Supreme Court's most versatile and influential trademark decision." It had a direct impact on the structure of the Lanham Act and is a "routine starting point for analysis in trademark opinions in lower courts."
Interestingly enough, Nabisco no longer produces Shredded Wheat.