Read the "Wheaties" entry from Football: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture by Edward J. Rielly:
"Wheaties, the Breakfast of Champions, was created by accident in 1921 when a health clinician in Minneapolis happened to drop some wheat-bran gruel on a stove. The heat converted the gruel into wheat flakes that, the clinician noted, tasted quite good. The head miller at Washburn Crosby Company (later General Mills) agreed, and a new cereal was born. Initially called Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes, when the cereal was ready to be marketed in 1924 it was renamed Wheaties so that the food itself rather than its name would be the mouthful.
By 1933 General Mills hooked the cereal up with sports, sponsoring the Minneapolis Millers minor league baseball team on radio and putting up a large advertising sign in left field at Nicollet Park. Knox Reeves, who ran an advertising agency in Minneapolis, sketched the contents of the sign, settling on a depiction of the cereal box and the sports appropriate slogan, “Wheaties—The Breakfast of Champions.”
From then on, if a man—or later a boy when the cereal got seriously into the children’s cereal market in the 1950s—wanted to become athletic, he needed to be sure to eat Wheaties and exercise. Wheaties was marketed as an accompaniment to physical exercise (if not the other way around) leading to the goal of physical fitness. Most early Wheaties champions were men, with the swimmer Esther Williams a notable exception in 1959. As American society came to recognize the value of women also achieving athletic success, Wheaties expanded its scope as well. Gymnast Mary Lou Retton became a Wheaties spokesperson in 1984, the same year she won a gold medal in the Olympics.
Although Wheaties’ original sports association was with baseball, the cereal quickly was pegged to a wide variety of sports. Sports stars began showing up on Wheaties boxes in the 1930s and have continued to do so down to the present day. The Chicago Bears’ Bronko Nagurski appeared in 1937. Wheaties football stars included Tom Fears, Otto Graham, and Johnny Lujack in 1951, and Glenn Davis and Bob Waterfield in 1952. Bobby Layne appeared in a 1956 series of Wheaties “Invisible Color” pictures that required only the application of water to bring out the colors “like magic.”
Even whole football teams, both college and pro, made Wheaties boxes in the early years of the twenty-first century, among them the University of Michigan and the University of Notre Dame in 2006 and the New England Patriots in 2002.
Selected exemplary athletes have been chosen over the years as Wheaties spokespeople. The first was Olympic champion Bob Richards in 1958. Of the seven chosen as of 2007, one, Walter Payton, was a football player. Each spokesperson is not only an embodiment of athletic excellence but an inspirational role model and a leader in community, especially charitable, activities.
Many other food products and beverages have sponsored football over the years, with beer perhaps the most obvious product in the twenty-first century for pro games. Yet Wheaties continues to occupy an important place in the popular history of American sports, including football, as a proponent of physical fitness and community responsibility, with a special focus on the welfare of children and adolescents."