Thursday, February 19, 2009

Who invented Weet-Bix?

Image from Wikipedia. Link below.

It's a classic breakfast food here in Australasia -- but who actually invented it?

The Wikipedia article is a bit of a muddle.
"Sanitarium's wheat biscuits originated in the form of a product called Granose which was created as early as the 1900s. In the 1920s a company called Grain Products created a new sweetened biscuit by the name of Weet-Bix. In 1928, Sanitarium acquired Grain Products, which like Sanitarium had ties with the Seventh-day Adventist Church and made Weet-Bix a Sanitarium product."
and ...
"Weet-Bix was invented by Bennison Osborne in NSW, Australia in the mid 1920s. Benn set out to make a product more palatable than "Granose."
So, while something called Granose has been around for a hundred years, and a Christchurch Company named Grain Products created Weet-Bix in the 1920s (later taken over by Sanitarium -- Australian Bennison Osborne has the credit for inventing Weet-Bix in the mid-1920s? Something here doesn't quite sound right.

Neither the Aussie nor the Kiwi sites for Sanitarium mention Osborne in their Weet-Bix history. References to him in Google seem to point either to the Wiki article or just repeat the article verbatim.

What brought all this up? I'd found an article I'd filed ages ago as being from the Auckland Sun, 21 December 1921 (but, chances are high that I put the wrong year in the margin from tiredness. The Sun operated from March 1927-1930 ... so the date is more likely December 1927 or something like that.)
"TASTY BREAKFAST FOOD
WEET-BIX IS MADE IN N.Z.

"For years doctors, school-teachers and business men have been urging us to 'start the day right.' They recognise that the man or the child who has the right kind of breakfast -- is properly nourished, without being too heavy -- will do the best work.

"Two of three years ago the 'Weet-Bix' people attacked this problem and by careful work found out the right way to make wheat -- the most nourishing grain in the world -- as tasty as possible. The result is 'Weet-Bix', which contains nothing but wheat, and New Zealand-grown wheat, too, which is so tasty that everyone in the home will eat and even demand it for breakfast.

"Further 'Weet-Bix' is proved to be an ideal and pleasant food every day of the week. Young and old enjoy and clean their plates with zest. It is nourishing, too, because people last until lunch time without a worry, yet do not jave that heavy, over-eaten feeling.

"Almost every day the 'Weet-Bix' company, which is a New Zealand concern, received quite unsolicited testimonials from people telling how convalescents 'picked up' with Weet-Bix, how children like it in the hot weather, and so on.

"So, widespread is this feeling of satisfaction that the demand for Weet-Bix is growing fast and the company is making plans to double their plant! This fact surely speaks for itself."
So -- who is Bennison Osborne? Any further info on this would be gratefully appreciated, but so far, the documentation points toward a Kiwi Weet-Bix inventor rather than an Aussie one.

Update 24 September 2009: After heaps of comment discussion: the sequel.
Update 6 August 2012 - finally fixed up the error in the Sun ad date.

41 comments:

  1. Kiwi Kids are Weetbix kids...yeah I remember the advertising for that one. Same old story just like my Nana telling me my great unlce Harold invented milk powder. No he didn't of course. He was part of those who brought the technology over from Canada. So I wonder who this Bennison Osborne is? I'll do some digging....

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  2. Cheers, Liz. That name had to come from somewhere.

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  3. Well family search says zilch there Ice. Pass?A myth of history perhaps?

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  4. A Wiki myth, methinks. And a fairly elaborate one, going by all that guff about him in the article. Someone should let Wiki know.

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  5. There are several listings for a Bennison Osborne on Ancestry.com. Mostly from the USA one has a passenger arrival at Plymouth year well we have to PAY to find that out. I'll dig into some other resources....So it is a real name....

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  6. Thank you, my dear detective friend ... :-)

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  7. I have found him Born 1895 NSW Australia. Occupation Health Foods Industry Pioneer. His parents came from England. He has three living descendants
    http://worldconnect.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=muruk_osborn&id=I5607

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    1. He was actually born on December 10, 1894 in N.S.W. (Tighes Hill). Other than that, the statement is true.

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  8. Cheers. And yet ... nothing about him in the Dictionary of Australian Biography? Loads of Osbornes, just not him ...

    Not date of death noted on that Rootsweb page either. He's still alive, at 114? Sounds like the Graham Crackers guy.

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  9. Yeah well I wonder there. I'll do more digging...

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  10. From the "Discussions" part of the above Wiki link:

    "In September 2008, I did an online search and was unable to locate any online resources that were able to support this accounting of the history of Weet-Bix. So I decided to email the PR contacts of Sanitarium Australia, Sanitarium New Zealand and Weetabix UK. I asked them to view the page and verify whether the history as stated in this article was accurate. On January 29, 2009 I received the following email from Sanitarium NZ (weetbix@sanitarium.co.nz):

    Thankyou for your enquiry.
    We apologise for the delay in getting back to you. After reviewing the article on the history of Weet-Bix we are happy with the description and can confirm that it is an accurate account of our history.
    Kind Regards,
    The Weet-Bix Team
    This is an email from New Zealand Health Association Limited,trading as Sanitarium Health Food Company.

    I know this is not as good as a verified source, but at least we can have more confidence in the current history section which was added by an anonymous editor. -- BigBadaboom0 (talk) 21:22, 29 January 2009 (UTC)"

    Now, that may be all well and good -- but if they're so happy about the Wiki article being accurate -- why isn't Osborne mentioned eben on the Aussie Sanitarium site? The Wiki editors note there are no citations for the Osborne story. I still class this as suss.

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    1. Can you please tell me the particular article that the N.Z. Sanitarium Health Food Company verified? Was it the Wiki article with the statement "Weetbix was invented by Bennison Osborne in N.S.W." or the one "Tasty Breakfast Food Weet-bix is made in N.Z.?

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    2. Go to the Wikipedia page. Top of the page is a link "Talk". That's where the reference to the correspondence with Sanitarium is, made by a user named BigBadaboom0. Try contacting that Wiki user for more info, if they're still around.

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    3. He's not mentioned in the Weet-Bix site because his sponsor sold the product to the Sanitarium Health Food Company very quickly and then sold the N.Z. Weet-Bix, which resulted in my father being excluded from any acknowledgement. Sanitarium wanted to claim the product from its inception and did so quite successfully.

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  11. Only one other reference found outside that Wiki article: Arthur Shannon is said to have been the one who sold Osborne's invention to the SDA. Something was written about him here:

    Bagnall, John. "He Was the Original 'Mr Weet-Bix'." Adventist Professional 8 (Winter 1996): 4-6. Story of Arthur Shannon.

    This from here.

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  12. Found this on this site -
    http://export.habbo.com.au/groups/12461/id/discussions/16531/id/page/2

    Weet-Bix was invented by Bennison Osborne in NSW, Australia in the mid 1920s. Benn set out to make a product more palatable than "Granose." He tried his new product on his little nieces and nephews until he had it perfected, and in 1928 he registered the tradename "Weetbix" and production started at 659 Parramatta Road, Leichhardt, NSW with the financial backing of Mr. Arthur Shannon. Benn's friend Malcolm Ian "Mac" Macfarlane from N.Z. joined him and proved a brilliant marketer. The product was so successful that in October of 1928, Mr. Shannon sold the rights in the product to the Sanitarium Health Food Company, at which point Mac suggested that they take the product to N.Z. The product proved so successful in N.Z. that it quickly became apparent that it would be difficult to adequately supply the market from Australia. Again, with the financial assistance of Mr. Arthur Shannon, factories were established in both Auckland and Christchurch. The enterprise was such a great success that Mr. Shannon again sold out (in 1930) to the Sanitarium Health Food Company.

    Says they got their info from Wikipedia but that detail isn't on the Wiki site (?)

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  13. Cheers, Jayne. It's all on the Wiki site, all right -- all that guff comes from the third paragraph under "history". The Internet has dozens of clone-sites which used the Wiki entry verbatim, and then treated it as gospel. Still, no one has answered one fundamental question: if Bennison Osborne invented a product which is as dear to Aussies as it is to us Kiwis, why hasn't a true-blue Aussie put up half a ton of info about this pioneering hero of the health food industry? We Kiwis brag about our heroes, and I know Aussies (quite rightly) proclaim yours to the world.

    Yet -- for this chap, there's basically just a dodgy Wiki entry, and a bit of Rootsweb which says sweet BA. Weird and odd.

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    1. My father was a very modest man and didn't want acclaim. He was out of Weet-Bix in Australia and N.Z. very quickly because his financier sold out almost immediately, which was a source of great sadness to him. He made sure that didn't happen when he started the English venture.

      I'm putting this in as anonymous because I don't want to put my email address on anything. However, I am Bennison Osborne's second daughter. I'll put documentation on Wiki just as soon as I can.

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  14. Just to add for clarity -- Jayne had the Weetabix Wiki page (the British one, it seems), hence the confusion over what was or wasn't on the Wiki page (I used the "Weetbix" page.)

    I look at the British page, and found they have yet another Weetbix debate going on under Discussion.

    "Which came first?
    Weetbix or Weetabix --202.47.49.66 13:11, 23 October 2006 (UTC)

    Since there is no actual date as to when Weetabix was made, but Weetbix was made in the early 1900s. I would say Weetbix. Kilo•T 21:00, 23 October 2006 (UTC)

    This may depend on which country you live in. pschemp | talk 21:14, 23 October 2006 (UTC)

    If you look at the Weetbix article you will see that Weetbix was first, but was imported into the UK under a different name. Bilky asko 15:39, 27 April 2007 (UTC)

    First imported in the UK??! it IS a British product!--192.33.238.6 16:39, 26 May 2007 (UTC)

    I would also consider it a British product - but to confuse the issue even more the official weetabix website says the product was introduced into the UK in 1932 by two south Africans. Iiidonkeyiii (talk) 13:24, 20 July 2008 (UTC)"

    There ya go -- study history, especially that of common, everyday items, and watch the debate build. I love this hobby!

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  15. I saw that Weetabix page as well. Jayne had mentioned the great weetbix hunt on twitter. Seriously the only way really to verify this is to check the trademarks & patents records and that would be a mission. Wierd how Sanitarium have simply accepted the Wiki stuff as fact. History is a deadly occupation. Spades are common in this occupation dig dig dig dig dig dig....hmmm

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  16. Jayne has been a great help with this (thanks, Jayne!) as have you, Liz. Hopefully, with the right size of spade, mechanical digger, picks and those brushes the archaeologists use on the cool programmes, the truth may yet come out.

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  17. Hi all, this has been an interesting read. My grandfather, Bennison Osborne, invented Weet-bix. I'd love to talk about it though my mother knows more. There is confusion on whether my Poppa was a kiwi, aussie, etc. In truth, reading all this I have to admit I don't know. He and his family traveled all over the world (my mom was born in the U.S. but her sisters in NZ) and they all lived in australia growing up (where I was born).

    I would really appreciate it if there is a way I can get a copy of the letter from Sanitarium. My mom has documentation she found from her dad, but that would be nice to have.

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    1. My mom pointed out a mistake I made here, which surprises me, but I made it. Her older sister was born in England, she and her younger sister were born in the U.S.

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  18. Hi there, bonzer,

    If you have further information on Bennison Osborne you'd like to share, go for it. I'd even set up a fresh post if you're able to shed light on who he was, and what part he played in the story.

    Do you mean the email from Sanitarium? That was said to have been received by one of the people discussing things on the weetbix page in Wiki.

    Jayne from Our Great Southern Land did contact the Melbourne branch of the company -- and the one who answered hadn't heard of any of the names on the Wiki page, she told me. It was being referred to their history department, but there's been no further word.

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  19. I can start with what is on wikipedia is direct from my mother (his daughter). I'll be seeing her this weekend and she is planning on reading through a lot of the things I've found. So, hopefully, soon I can send more.

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  20. Some references to back up the statements would be helpful, Bonzer. Looking forward to seeing your info.

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  21. My mom (his third daughter) sent me this. His moving around I think probably explains why there is so much debate about his nationality, etc. I add a little info in brackets.

    >>

    Daddy [Bennison Osborne] was born in Tighes Hill, Newcastle [Australia], in 1894.
    Mummy was born in Christchurch, N.Z.
    on October 7, 1911. Bennie was born on March 7, 1936 in England (while
    Daddy was running Weetabix). I was born in Boston on June 22, 1939,
    Tiki was born in Tampa, FL on August 2, 1941. Daddy invented Weetbix in
    N.S.W. [Australia] Arthur Shannon funded him to take it to N.Z., where it really
    took off. From there, he took it to South Africa (good wheat there).
    When it was thoroughly established there (as the British and African
    Cereal Corporation), he went to England to start it there but changed
    the name (can't remember why but he wanted it to be close to the old
    name so he just added an "a" in the middle). Stuart has the silver tray
    with the inscription naming Daddy as the Managing Director of the
    Corporation. The British newspapers have Daddy thoroughly recorded
    (with Mac) as bringing the product to England. He looked at 33 sites in
    England before he chose Burton Latimer.

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    1. I need to correct myself. I put that my mom was his third daughter, she was the second.

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  22. Ah history...it doesn't even take an editor stepping in or a story being handed down...sometimes even if the person was right there they get it wrong. usually they're 100% convinced everything they remember is correct. It's not always the case. Memory's a tricky thing and very misleading.

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  23. 100% true on the memory thing. That's why it's good to have written records. They will follow.

    - another of Bennison's grandsons

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  24. hey Timespanner. My mom has finally been able to get some work done on this. It'll be published soon hopefully. Sorry for the long wait.

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  25. No worries, bonzer. It'll be worth the wait! Cheers.

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  26. Thank you for the wait. A descendent of one of the original Weet-bix group posted an article claiming his ancestor invented it. My mother was not happy to see things that were incorrect or not true. Fortunately this got her moving faster and reviewing all the documents and doing the research. She has created a site here with information, and will also see that wikipedia is updated.

    http://weetbixorigin.wordpress.com/weet-bix-origin-2/

    http://weetbixorigin.wordpress.com

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  27. Righto. I'll do a new post, collating links from the previous posts here, and including your mother's info (well done to her, by the way!) Cheers, bonzer.

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  28. she is still working on gathering documents. I suspect we'll provide more things as time goes on. Thank you!

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  29. Excellent stuff. Please pass on my compliments, bonzer.

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  30. Hello again Timespanner (I love that name, BTW).

    I'm surprised I hadn't seen this before, but this appears to be the official weetabix site, take a gander (a couple spelling errors, but otherwise, the facts are there)

    http://www.weetabix.com/WBXhistory.html

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  31. I like it! Haven't seen it before, myself -- yes, at least it has the info there. Cheers for that, bonzer.

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  32. Hi Timespanner. Here is some more photos and references.http://weetbixdocuments.wordpress.com/

    Also, I believe the wikipedia information was updated.

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