These Vintage Cereal Boxes Reveal The Evolution Of America’s Breakfast Icons

Cereal is pretty much the perfect internet food. It’s mobile, it’s cheap, it’s bad for us, and it’s coated with nostalgia. I still get excited when I buy a box of Trix — the one “sugar cereal” we got as kids (only on vacation). These tiny pieces of puffed corn have the transformative power to make us feel both old and young in one bite. Also, the stuff tastes good — mostly because the cereals we love are, essentially, dessert.

The boxes themselves offer fascinating snapshots of a bygone era. As a food and design geek, I love looking at them — which is pretty easy to do because there’s a whole cult of old-cereal-box-design-lovers online. I don’t know who decided to save a 1952 Frosted Flakes box for posterity, but I’m glad someone did.

When I look at these, I like to check for a few things:

  • Is there anything that absolutely wouldn’t fly in 2017? (Oh, like say the FREAKING GUN on the Sugar Smacks box below.)
  • How does the marketing speak on the front relate to sugar and health?
  • How have the iconic mascots evolved?

And of course…

  • Does it look cool?

Let’s peruse a few boxes, then you can go over to our Cereal Power Rankings to argue with me about OHS! — which, after Trix and Grapenuts (with a spoonful of sugar) — are the best cereal ever.

  • Has the Mr. T cereal been on Stranger Things yet? I know those kids grubbed Mr. T cereal and traded the stickers!
  • Can you imagine an era when Superman was still so new that he needed marketing help from a cereal? Love that #BrandSynergy.
  • This clown has a gun aimed in his mouth. On the front of a cereal marketed to kids. The times, they are a changing. Also, I grew up listening to Bozo the Clown record passed down from this same era. I think they were good — may need to check back in on that.
  • The era of street urchins begging for cereal in busted top hats is well represented here.
  • Captain Crunch was dead eyed for his first 20 years. He looks like he has scurvy and just had a long week in Singapore.
  • This box looks pretty awesome. Can we do throwback boxes, like throwback NBA jerseys (but updated for our times with more diversity)?



1961 — Chill-ass rabbit on roller skates. This is back when they could just say “fruit-flavor” and everyone was cool with it.

1979 — Some health stuff on the box and artificial flavors are getting called out. But here, already, the rabbit has his basic form settled.

1984 — “All Natural Fruit Flavors” is excellent marketing speak. Does it mean the flavors are natural but the methods at achieving them are artificial? It seems like it might. This is my golden age of Trix eating: the beginning of the purple puff through the fruit-shaped transition.

1988 — More clarification, “Natural fruit flavors, real fruit juice” with the implied “Oh and some other stuff!”

1991 — That’s a brilliant customer engagement strategy. LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD, KIDS! THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!

1992 — Fruit looking like fruit = Game changer.

2016 — Fruit shapes are out. (Maybe it wasn’t a game changer?) Health credential with little vague-ry is in.


1963 — No mascot, but the most noticeable thing is the marshmallow to oat ratio.

1964 — Mascot appears. Is he set in stone yet?…………

1975 — Nooooooope. Because this weird-ass wizard is apparently also applying for the gig. More marshmallows in this bowl — the wizard is a success!

1983 — The traditional leprechaun is back. Also the bowl is clear. I legit think that someone at General Mills was like: “Make the bowl clear so kids see that the marshmallows aren’t all on top!” Which… pretty solid idea.

1989 — They know what’s up by this point. Marshmallows everywhere. F*ck the oats.

1993 — The marketing message here is “Older cousins, it’ll be way easier for you to just pick all the marshmallows out at 7am now; then wait until the little cousins eat the oat parts and ask for a new box.”

1998 — CALCIUM! this is the moment that Lucky Charms was like, “Do we have to play the ‘health’ game? Okay, whatever!”

2011 — “Bro, have you ever noticed how hard that leprechaun is rolling on MDMA? He’s surrounded by rainbows and his pupils are HUGE!”