MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota-based General Mills turns 150 years old this year.
The company does not have an exact date on when mills started making flour in 1866, but you can wish the company a happy birthday at the Stone Arch Bridge Festival Friday night.
General Mills not only had an impact on food, but in radio and Hollywood.
Tom Forsythe is the chief communications officer for General Mills, and self-titled “Chief Storyteller.” He briefed us on the history of General Mills, once known as the Washburn Crosby Company, and their purchase of a local radio station in 1924.
“The way broadcasting worked is sponsors would actually create programing,” Forsythe said.
One of the programs they sponsored was “The Lone Ranger.”
General Mills had already dipped their fingers in the radio business between 1924 and 1932, after buying and selling WCCO Radio.
During that time, the company created unique radio programing like “The Betty Crocker Cooking School Of The Air,” and “Betty And Bob” — the first-ever soap opera.
They needed some kind of programing in 1941 for their cereal “Cherri-Oates.” That’s right! Not “Cheerios” just yet, but “Cherri-Oates.”
A program on Detroit’s WXYZ station called “The Lone Ranger” had been on the air since 1933, and it was getting a lot attention before it went nationwide.
“Cheerios was the principal sponsor for ‘The Lone Ranger,'” Forsythe said.
With the creation of television, General Mills saw its opportunity to reach consumers in a new way. So they transformed “The Lone Ranger” radio program into their first-ever commercial television series.
During its peak in the 50s, the TV series drew 45 million weekly viewers, while the radio broadcast drew 20 million.
The show aired from 1949 to 1957, and it was sponsored by Cheerios the entire time.
But the voice behind the radio microphone was not the same voice of the masked man on television, Clayton Moore.
“It was actually quiet controversial that the voice people had grown up with on the radio was not the voice of ‘The Lone Ranger’ on television,” Forsythe said.
After Clayton Moore retired from the television series, he ended up Golden Valley, Minnesota, where he worked as a realtor. He stayed in Minnesota for a few years before moving back to California, where he died in 1999.