Graham Crackers: Invented for WHAT?!

You won’t believe why graham crackers were invented. When Sylvester Graham invented this snack in the 19th century, it had nothing to do with hunger. Well, at least not THAT kind of hunger. In this episode, we learn about the “Grahamites,” Sylvester Graham, and the invention of the snack that bares his name. Then we play the Quick Quiz with Mindreader Eric Dittelman! 


Here we have to start with something called the Temperance movement. You probably know about this because of Prohibition. The temperance movement was the social movement that led the charge against the use of alcohol in in the 1920s.

To provide some background, colonial America was an alcoholic as fuck society. Drinking was an every day thing for a lot of people back then. But when America started industrializing and people were required to run heavy machinery, it started being a bad look to be drunk all the time. PLUS these temperance movement folks were seeing what too much drinking was doing to families. Men were acting stupid, fighting, cheating, leaving their families and people were also starting to get wise to the fact that it was just plain unhealthy. But for this one guy – he was an adherent to the temperance movement for a completely different reason.

Sylvester Graham is who we’re talking about. This guy was a Presbyterian Minister and reformer who was big on the temperance movement because he was strictly anti-pleasure. And this was long before Prohibition. He lived from 1794 to 1851. He was out there preaching against world pleasures in the early 1800s. Anything that provided pleasure was NO GOOD. So no alcohol. He was also big on veganism and eating whole grain bread. It sounds like I’m making a joke there, but that’s true. Dude is referred to as the “Father of Veganism” in the U.S.

As Cholera was sweeping through Europe, Americans were freaking out about it coming over here. The popular wisdom at the time was that the best way to beat Cholera is to avoid vegetables, eat lots of meat and drink heavily. But Sylvester Graham said NO – NO alcohol, NO meat and ALL the veggies. He thought people should eat the way that Adam and Eve ate – that was his reasoning. He thought that the reason that plague and disease existed is because people weren’t eating in accordance to natural law. And not only that, he thought that an unhealthy diet led people to commit more sin. He preached this everywhere. And the people who did what he said seemed to be less effected by Cholera than the people who were listening to the doctors at the time. So it was like whoever was the Anthony Fauci of 1832 was saying “don’t do this stuff” and This guy – the Pat Robertson of 1832 was saying, no do that stuff and don’t do the stuff Fauci is telling you. And it worked for a lot of people, so he became super duper popular. Also, he was just a great preacher. Everyone LOVED to listen to Graham preach. And I know what you may be thinking at this point, and NO, there’s no relation between Sylvester Graham and Billy Graham. But he was that popular. The word spread that his advice was saving people from Cholera and it started a whole movement. He wrote a book called Treatise on Bread and Bread Making and spoke out in major cities about how to properly make bread. His movement became known as Grahamism. And they were vehemently opposed to masturbation. 

Grahamites – those who followed Sylvester Graham were strictly opposed to self love. They were against choking the chicken,

Shaking hands with the milkman, orbiting Venus, cuffing the carrot, badgering the witness, drilling for oil, beating the bishop, doing the fiver finger shuffle, holding your sausage hostage, going fishing with the man in the boat, adjusting the antenna, applying the hand brake, polishing the pearl, playing tug of war with cyclops…. And therefore they implemented this bland diet because it supposedly helped the body resist the urge.

It’s important to note that Sylvester Graham did not invent the graham cracker. Some people throughout history have claimed he did. But he did at least inspire it. As I stated earlier, he thought unhealthy eating led to sin. And he thought that lust was sin. To Graham, physical lust harmed the body and resulted in things like consumption, spinal diseases, epilepsy, insanity and headaches. The way to suppress these physical lustful urges was to eat a bland diet made of vegetables and graham bread, which was made coarsely ground wheat flour. Apparently to this guy, when you sifted flour, it made for more sexy time. Same with if you drank tea or coffee or had any type of sugar. So for this reason, the people that followed Grahamism ate a diet that consisted of lots of course flour foods, including a recipe for crackers made from coarse wheat flour. It was a mild, unsweetened flat biscuit made with unbleached flour with bran and wheat germ added. These became known as Graham Crackers. Even Oberlin College in Ohio adopted the Graham diet for a time to remove sexual temptation and other potential sins from students. During that time, a professor was fired for bringing a pepper shaker to the dining hall. 

Sylvester Graham died young at the age of 57. The last two decades of his life were spent preaching against masturbation, which he called “self abuse.” 

And here’s a fun fact for you. One of Graham’s adherents was a man named John Kellogg, who was the superintendent of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. He took the Grahamite diet to his patients and, along with his brother Will, was working on creating a graham bread meal for his patients. The story goes that he left the bread out too long and it never softened, but instead came out crispy and flaky. His brother Will saw an opportunity. Now Kellogg’s is an $18 Billion dollar company thanks to Corn Flakes – the ultimate in anti-masturbation cereals.

So YES. Part of the reason Graham Crackers were invented was to keep sinful Americans from practicing the ole’ Menage a moi. The Internet says it’s true. 

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Forgotten history, bizarre tales & facts that seem too strange to be true! Host Michael Kent asks listeners to tell him something strange, bizarre or surprising that they've recently learned and he gets to the bottom of it! Every episode ends by playing a gameshow-style quiz game with a celebrity guest. Part of the WCBE Podcast Experience.


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