C. W. Post was an inventor. His imagination ran the gamut—designing better farm implements, improving digestion with breakfast foods, creating a model town, and making rain by detonating dynamite—a genius who lived before folks talked about bipolar. They called him peculiar.
Born in 1854, Post grew up in Illinois, attended two years of college at the future University of Illinois, and at seventeen dropped out of school to work as a salesman and manufacturer of agricultural machines. He married at twenty, had a daughter, Marjorie Merriweather Post,
and during the next fifteen years, he secured patents on farm equipment such as cultivators, a sulky plow, a harrow, and a hay stacker. The periods of intense work, followed with bouts of depression, led in 1885 to Post suffering his first nervous breakdown.
Leaving his stressful manufacturing occupation, Post moved his family to Fort Worth in 1886 where he bought a 200-acre ranch, began a real estate development company that laid out streets, built homes, and constructed a woolen mill and a paper mill. A second breakdown came in 1891 followed by extensive travel in search of a cure. Post entered a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, run by John Harvey Kellogg, a medical doctor who used holistic treatments that focused on nutrition, enemas, and exercise. Dr. Kellogg, along with his brother, invented corn flakes as a breakfast cereal. Following Dr. Kellogg’s regime, Post soon recuperated, and because he decided that coffee was poison, he devised a breakfast cereal drink called Postum. In 1897 he created Grape Nuts cereal, and in 1904 he called his new corn flakes Elijah’s Manna until the religious community complained. The name soon became Post Toasties.
Post and his wife, after living apart for several years, divorced the same year that Post Toasties hit the market, and Post remarried before the year was out. His breakfast foods business was raking in millions. Advised by his doctor to move to a drier climate, Post bought 225,000 acres of ranchland in the Texas Panhandle that sprawled onto the Llano Estacado, which was known as the Caprock, one of the largest mesas on the North American Continent.
In 1907, he platted his vision of a model community at the foot of the Caprock. Calling his new town Post City, he threw himself into his new business. He charged the Double U Company (meaning double utopia) with fulfilling his grand plan—a place where ordinary families could purchase a home or a farm site at a reasonable price and finance the place with little money down and low monthly rates. Although Post hired a manager for the enterprise, he directed every minute detail of the new town from his homes in Michigan and later in California. For three years he raced back to Post to solve each problem, bouncing eighty miles from the nearest railhead over unpaved ruts in mule-drawn hacks to reach his flourishing village. The Santa Fe Railroad finally reached Post City in 1910. Meantime, the new town had to be built from scratch on the semi-arid plains. Post purchased two-dozen freight wagons and mules to haul the supplies for building the infrastructure and constructing every home and business. He provided plans for the houses, mostly bungalows, which he favored, and for the aesthetics, including shade trees planted thirty feet apart on each side of the highway for two miles leading in and out of town. He built a school, churches, and a department store. He took great pride in the hotel, insisting that Postum and Grape Nuts be served at every breakfast. He tried, unsuccessfully, to force the workmen whom he hired from the surrounding ranches to eat his special breakfast diet. He paid excellent wages, but he was demanding, expecting the same perfection from those who worked for him as he required of himself.
Parks sprouted over town, Bermuda grass covered the lawns, and orchards began producing fruit. Determined to keep out the bad element, Post hired someone to see that his model community did not serve alcohol in any establishment, and if a business did not follow the guidelines, it was shut down immediately. Brothels, of course, were not permitted.
Two big problems plagued the place—water and weather. Post had wells and reservoirs dug, hauled and piped water from the top of the Caprock, all without sufficient success to meet the needs of the growing community. Stories he had read of the rainstorms that occurred after major battles in the Napoleonic Wars and the tales that Civil War veterans told of rain following heavy cannon fire, led to his rainmaking experiments. In 1910 he tried attaching two pounds of dynamite to a kite and igniting it, then decided that was too dangerous. He placed four-pound dynamite charges along the rim of the Caprock and detonated one every four minutes for several hours. In 1912, Post exploded 24,000 pounds of dynamite and a little rain fell after that “battle,” the term Post used for each effort to force rain from the clouds. Success was intermittent—sometimes light rain fell, other times it did not. He had almost instant rain after he placed 3,000 pounds of dynamite in 1,500 sticks; however, critics said Post held his experiments during the time of the year when rain usually fell.
By 1914 Post was again suffering from overwork, exhaustion, and abdominal pains. He remained at his California home, claiming to wean his town from his constant attention. The public realized for the first time that Post was not well when he canceled a speech in New York that he was scheduled to deliver denouncing President Woodrow Wilson’s income tax law. In March, a private railroad car raced from California to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where Post had surgery for acute appendicitis. The surgery was called successful, but after Post returned to his California home, his health did not improve. Convinced he had stomach cancer, Post committed suicide on May 9, 1914, some accounts say from a gunshot wound.
Marjorie Merriweather Post, his twenty-seven-year-old daughter, inherited his businesses and his vast fortune—one of the largest of the early twentieth century. She used her business acumen, which she had learned at the side of her father, to expand his enterprises into the General Foods Corporation, becoming the wealthiest woman in America. She lived the lavish life of a socialite, an art collector, and an internationally recognized philanthropist.
Post Script to the story: Marjorie Merriweather Post and her second husband Edward F. Hutton, built Mar-A-Lago in 1924 to better accommodate their entertainment needs. Upon her death in 1973, she willed the 17-acre site to the National Park Service to be used as a presidential retreat. Businessman Donald J. Trump purchased the property in 1985.