As an athlete, there are a few sure signs you’ve “made it”: sponsors are knocking at your door, you have your own action figure, you’ve won an Olympic medal or—and this is the kicker—you’ve graced the front of the Wheaties box.
Wheaties cereal was created in 1922 when a health clinician for the Washburn Crosby Company (later renamed General Mills) in Minneapolis spilled a wheat bran mixture onto a hot stove. Originally called “Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes,” the brand’s focus on sports performance began early. However, it wasn’t until 1927 that Wheaties coined its famous slogan “The Breakfast of Champions.” The tagline, originally created for a billboard, stuck and helped the company grow into a brand known for showcasing elite competitors.
The first athlete featured on the orange cover was actually a fictional character named Jack Armstrong. Armstrong, the protagonist in a radio adventure series popular from 1933 to 1951, appeared on the Wheaties box in 1934. Later that year came the first real athlete, Lou Gehrig—the baseball star who played 17 seasons (1923-1939) in the Major Leagues for the New York Yankees. Although baseball players dominated the cover for the first few years, the brand has since featured athletic stars across a variety of disciplines with a particular focus on Olympians. Famous Wheaties’ faces include the man considered one of the most versatile athletes in modern sports and members of the dark horse team that pulled off arguably the most inspirational Olympic win of all time.
Today, earning a spot on the front of the box is synonymous with reaching the peak of American athleticism. In the following photos, you’ll see the depictions of a dozen men and women who've made a timeless mark on sports in the United States. And, although Wheaties rarely features international faces, we also included one of our favorite Canadian stars as a shout out to our northern neighbor.