Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Shot at Puffiness

If I told you there was a time rice and wheat were shot from a cannon, would you believe me? How 'bout if I told you flying kernels of rice and wheat showered visitors to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904? Would you find that strange? I must admit, there's something about exploding food cells which does arouse a certain amount of attention, which of course is exactly the point. Let's add a few more flurries of granules.

A Blast

It seems, during the winter months of 1901-1902, a gentleman by the name of Dr. Alexander Pierce Anderson, who also happened to be born on November 22, 1862, (else why this post:) developed a technique for breaking down the starch in rice and wheat grains. He managed to do this by "puffing" them. Now, we are not talking cream puff here. We're talking more like quick short steam blasts that explode into a blizzard of puffed grains filling a scientific laboratory. Picture 115,000,000 steam explosions-(one for every food cell) in every grain exploding to eight times its normal size. That's Puffed Rice! Yes, puffed rice, or wheat; the cereal we sometimes induge for breakfast. By subjecting the tiny grains to intense heat and enormous pressure in a large "gun" like machine Anderson had developed the first steam-injected drum, which came to be known as the "puffing cannon." Anderson had also created a nourishing unique and explosive digestible cereal. Below is an explanation from the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame:

Anderson was a botanist, educator, and the inventor of the process for making puffed cereals. His interest in starch grains began as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota studying the chemistry and physical structure of starch. His initial research dealt with the effect of heat and pressure on the free hygroscopic moisture in starch granules. For his first experiment, he took six glass tubes, sealed one end of each tube, placed them in an oven and heated them until the contents began to change color from white to a slight yellowish brown. The tubes were taken out of the oven and cracked with a hammer. As each tube was cracked, a sharp explosion, much like a gun shot, took place. On examination, he found that the corn starch granules in one of the tubes had exploded into a white, puffed mass.

A few days later, rice was treated in the same way and puffed into a product now as Puffed Rice. Likewise, wheat, barley, buckwheat, millet, and many other seeds. A thousand or more glass tubes were sealed up, heated and exploded. Almost every seed known was tried during the winter of 1901-1902.

Needless to say, Dr. Anderson was elated. In fact, he was so fired up about his findings that he filed an application for a patent (#707,892) on February 12, 1902.

...He immediately patented the process and eventually received 25 patents on the puffing process and the machinery used to manufacture it. A retort gun used in 1902 that demonstrated the process used for puffing rice is on display at the Goodhue County Historical Museum, in Red Wing, Minnesota. (as in Red Wing pottery) Anderson Center History
...He made a fortune on the theory that the nucleus of a starch granule contains a miniscule amount of water-so that when he heated it, it would explode, the tiny amount of condensed water in the granules flashing into steam during the explosion and turning the mass of expanded granules into a porous puffed mass. He tasted the stuff, pronounced it good (even better with sugar and cream) and received 25 patents on the process as well as a retort gun that he demonstrated at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904

Although Dr. Anderson immediately set up The Anderson Puffed Rice Company in 1901, the success of puffed rice, as a breakfast cereal, was not immediate. He decided to ask the assistance of The American Cereal Company (which became Quaker Oats in 1906.) He presented his laboratory success to Henry Crowell, president of the company and convinced him to finance the development of the commercial process needed to expand his market.

...The company hired Alexander Pierce Anderson, made his company a subsidiary and moved him to Chicago. There they set up a laboratory on Dearborn street and contracted with the Empire Mill much farther down the street. In producing the stuff, he made so many explosions that the city of Chicago was angered. So Quaker moved Anderson together with his business to Quaker’s plant in Akron, Ohio. There it was languishing until the governor of Ohio (who was at the same time a Quaker director, the era not being too touchy about mixture of government and business) came to watch the explosions from the puffing machine built on Anderson’s patent. Anderson would fire the charge and a spray of puffed wheat would fall into a net-but the Akron neighborhood was complaining and Anderson’s hearing was failing. source

The Boost

After The Anderson Puffed Rice Company became a subsidiary of the Quaker Oats Company, advertising pioneer Claude C. Hopkins was approached by the president of Quaker Oats. In his book My Life in Advertising published in 1917, Hopkins describes the encounter. (the book is available @ google books and the story of Puffed Grains and Quaker Oats can be found in chapter 13.

So one day Mr. Crowell called me to his office and said something like this: "We have our long-established advertising connections, and they are satisfactory. But we have many lines not advertised. If you can find one which offers opportunity, we will experiment with you. We will spend $50,000 or over to prove out your ideas." I looked over the line, and I found two appealing products. One was called Puffed Rice; the other was called Wheat Berries. The Rice was selling at 10 cents then, and the Wheat was advertised at 7 cents. The sales had been declining. The makers were convinced that the products could not succeed. I selected those products because of their unique appeals. I urged them to change the name of Wheat Berries to Puffed Wheat, so we could advertise the two puffed grains together. I asked them to change prices, so that Puffed Rice sold at 15 cents and Puffed Wheat at 10 cents. This added an average of $1.15 per case to their billing price. That extra gave us an advertising appropriation. I was sure that extra price would not reduce the sale, in view of our advertising efforts. And it gave us a fund to develop new users.
"Make a man famous and you make his creation famous"
...I went to the plants where these puffed grains were made. Professor A. P. Anderson, the inventor of puffed grains, accompanied me. During nights on the train and days in the factories we studied the possibilities. I learned the reason for puffing. It exploded every food cell. I proved that it multiplied the grains to eight times normal size. It made every atom available as food. I watched the process, where the grains were shot from guns. And I coined the phrase, "Foods shot from guns." That idea aroused ridicule. One of the greatest food advertisers in the country wrote an article about it. He said that of all the follies evolved in food advertising this certainly was the worst. The idea of appealing to women on a "Food shot from guns" was the theory of an imbecile. But that theory proved attractive. It aroused curiosity. And that is one of the greatest incentives we know in dealing with human nature. The theories behind this puffed-grain campaign are worthy of deep consideration. It proved itself the most successful campaign ever conducted on cereals. They made Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice the largest money-earners in the field of breakfast foods...

Not even the marketing strategy first devised by Hopkin's succeeded to eject puffed rice into the ranks of the top competitors of the time. Corn Flakes had just been introduced to the market and puffed grains were marketed as a cereal to compete with corn flakes. Once again from Mr. Hopkin's book:

I combined every inducement, every appeal which these food products offered. Puffed grains had been advertised for years and with increasing disappointment. Advertised as one of countless cereal foods. Nothing was cited to give them particular interest or distinction. The new methods made them unique. They aroused curiosity. No one could read a puffed grain ad without wishing to see those grains. And the test won constant users. But we made and corrected numerous mistakes. We spent large sums in newspaper advertising, which on that line could not pay. Newspapers reach all the people. This expensive food line appealed only to the classes. Nine in ten whom we reached by newspapers could not afford puffed grains. So we finally proved that magazine advertising was our only possibility. Then we distributed millions of samples promiscuously. The samples themselves did not win many users. We had to first establish an interest, a respect. So we stopped giving samples to uninterested people. Then we published ads in tens of millions of magazines, each with a coupon good at any grocery store for a package of Puffed Wheat or Puffed Rice. The people first read our story. If they cut out the coupon, it was because our story had interest.

It wasn't until the company packaged Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat with the slogan "Shot from Guns!" that consumers began to take notice to the new breakfast cereal. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, The American Cereal Company operated a concession stand introducing puffed rice at the Universal Exposition of 1904 in St. Louis. The gross receipts of the concession grossed more than $8.000. The Minnesota Historical Society website also has an assortment of vintage ads used to tout the benefits of Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat.

Puffed Rice was introduced to the public in 1904, when a battery of eight guns was set up at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. All that summer Dr. Anderson shot large quantities of puffed rice from the guns which were distributed to the curious by pretty girl attendants. The novel method of manufacture naturally aroused intense interest. A poster at the Fair described Puffed Rice as "The Eighth Wonder of the World." Among Fair visitors the product won popularity as a confection. People at first classed it with pop corn. Large quantities were sold to candy manufacturers. But, after a year of extensive advertising, the public was educated to eat puffed rice for breakfast with cream and sugar. With clever advertising as "the food shot from guns," Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat quickly became very popular and commercially profitable ready-to-eat breakfast cereals. source


You know, it isn't unusual to discover fascinating shreds of history enveloped deep inside the innovation of invention. Take Alexander Pierce Anderson, the son of Swedish immigrants, who perfected a way to make puffed rice cereal. He sold the process to the Quaker Oats Company and became a very wealthy man. But Anderson was more. "He was a man filled with a great deal of intellectual curiosity, a great deal of energy, and obviously, inventiveness," says his grandson Robert Hedin at the Anderson Center. He was a farmer, scientist, inventor, educator, poet, botanist and zoologist. Also a chemist, he was a meticulous record keeper and the notebooks from his experiments were donated to the New York Botanical Gardens by his family.

In 1876, a 13-year-old farmboy gave water and directions to seven strangers on horseback looking for Northfield. The riders were the James and Younger gang, whose fortunes were about to dip; the boy was Alex P. Anderson, who would ascend to fame as a scientist and inventor, and who would offhandedly describe his encounter with the outlaws in an essay about Silurian fossils - an odd fusion typical of Anderson. Raised a farmer, he studied phrenology, the science of reading character by feeling the bumps of the skull. Later as a botany professor, he researched tornadic winds. He was a poet and memoirist who published a 600-page collection of his work, yet is remembered for what happened in this room - a marriage of steam and grain that produced America's breakfast. source
Puffed Rice is a creamy rich dainty treat.
It digests readily.
Turns to energy in a hurry.
The Quaker Oats Company

Puffed Recipes

Puffed snacks are prepared in many different ways in many different places. In India, puffed rice is mixed with a natural sweetener called jaggery and made into nice round balls called Chikki. Murmura or Kurmura is puffed rice, or crispy rice Indian Style. It is crunchy and it is used as a snack. It is sautéed in a little bit of oil with chili pepper and other spices to make a savory party snack. In Japan, you can buy individually shrink-wrapped rice cakes that can be seasoned, fried and broiled. I'm not sure but they may be called Pon-Gashi. Puffed rice or other grains are occasionally found as street food in China and Korea, where peddlers implement the puffing process using an integrated pushcart/puffer featuring a rotating steel pressure chamber heated over an open flame. The great booming sound produced by the release of pressure serves as advertising to attract customers. Toong mai is a crunchy Chinese puffed-rice cake experienced at many celebrations.

Puffed grains are popular in American breakfast cereals. If you have ever eaten sweetened puffed breakfast cereal like Sugar Smacks, Golden Crisp, Kix, Sugar Pops, rice cakes, cheese puffs, or that crispy Indian snack bhelpuri then you have Alexander Anderson to thank.

Much like popcorn, puffed grains can be pumped up with other ingredients to form whimsical shapes. Together with your kids, you can create a Popcorn Ball Turkey for Thanksgiving or Quick Popcorn Ball Wreaths for Christmas with a less expensive brand of popcorn. Puffed rice sold under a store brand name is usually less expensive and just fine for this Santa's Sleigh made from puffed rice, one of the recipes included in the Quaker Oats Booklet pictured.

I'm also including scanned recipes for chocolate filled marshmallow bars (no not more Mallomars:) which uses puffed rice and puffed popcorn, puffed candy balls and nibble bait all recipes which use both puffed rice and puffed wheat. Enjoy and PLAY!

  • 1. Dr. Alexander Pierce Anderson
  • 2. Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame
  • 3. ad for puffed rice and puffed wheat the food shot from guns
  • 4. Claude C. Hopkins
  • 1. Strawberry-Banana Popcorn Ball Recipe
  • 2. Child's Favorite Popcorn Ball Cake
  • 3. Choco-Mallow Rice Balls
  • 4. Puffed Wheat Balls (Laddu)
  • 5. Puffed wheat snack (vegan)
  • 6. Quaker Puffed Rice Balls
  • 7. The Japanese Visitor's blog explains Pon-Gashi. I found it quite interesting
  • 8. Bhel (Curried Puffed Rice)


  1. A puffed rice CANNON? That's brilliant. I have friends who joke about building trebuchets... maybe I should suggest this to add to their to-do lists. :)

  2. It is quite the interesting concept, I would certainly pass it along:)

  3. Check my Saturday post! You won something!

  4. Oh Blonde Duck thank you so very much for the award. I'm heading back to New York. I'll read the post and more about the award when I get back there.

    I really appreciate you thinking of me:)

  5. This is one of the most interesting food articles I've read so far...Now I know who invented my favorite puffed cereals..Thanks to Dr. Anderson...and to you as well!

  6. How funny to have run into you here Dennis, I just left you blog.

    So, another secret is revealed, you are a Puffed Rice gentleman. We both have Anderson to thank:)

  7. You amaze me with thse posts. My favorite type of ceral. You need to write a book.

  8. Thanks for visiting Courtney. No books for me, I have all to do to keep up with these blogs:)

  9. Well, someone had to invent everything that doesn't grow on trees, and this is a great example. I love Honey Smacks, I've eaten them since I was a child when the Quaker boxes all said "Shot From Guns" (which I guess they still do). Great post.

  10. Thanks for dropping by Mae,
    I guess when you think about it, you're right. I'm pretty fond of Honey smacks myself although lately, I've been on a hot cereal kick.


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