Months of costly construction went down the drain on May 14, 1907, when C.W. Post picked out a new place for his West Texas dream town and ordered the original site abandoned.
The hired hands shrugged their shoulders. After all, the Battle Creek millionaire had the bucks to build his High Plains utopia many times over. The creator of a popular coffee substitute did not merely find the pot at the end of the rainbow, he owned it.
Financial success came early in life for Charles William Post with farm-implement patents paving the way for a fabulous career in business. But the entrepreneur with the Midas touch pushed himself too hard and suffered a severe nervous breakdown at the age of 32.
Plagued by a series of relapses, Post did not completely recover for five long years. He came to Texas in search of a healthier climate, and the sparkling potential enticed him to stay. Back on his feet at last, he often visited Fort Worth where his elderly parents had retired.
During extensive travels around the Lone Star State in the late 1880’s, Post sampled the West Texas beverage of chicory, roasted wheat and other miscellaneous grains. This makeshift mixture inspired his patient effort to create a nutritional alternative to coffee.
While supervising a sanitarium at Battle Creek, Michigan, Post perfected a tasty blend of wheat, bran and molasses. In five years, the annual sales of Postum surpassed a million dollars.
Cut-rate competitors cashed in on the craze with cheap imitations that sold for 15 cents a package, a dime less than the real thing. Post met the challenge by marketing his product under another label for a nickel and drove the fly-by-nighters out of business.
Although opposed to collective bargaining, Post exerted an innovative influence on labor relations. He encouraged his managers to satisfy the workers’ needs and always advised, “Let the employer get into the shoes of the working man and see things from his standpoint.”
Breakfast cereals were the next profitable addition to the Postum line. Grape Nuts became an overnight favorite, and the sagging sales of a second cereal shot up as soon as the name was changed from Elijah’s Manna to Post Toasties.
In 1902 Post entrusted the day-to-day operation of his giant company to a carefully groomed executive “cabinet” and moved to Washington, D.C. He soon tired of the capital carnival and turned his attention to an unusual Texas project.
Post had long admired the hardy breed that beat the West Texas odds and considered them the ideal subjects for a free-enterprise experiment. He also wanted to repay his debt to the housewives, whose chicory brew had made him so rich.
Near the famed Cap Rock between Lubbock and Big Spring, Post bought more than 300 square miles of land, a colossal 213,000 acres. Post City began in 1906 as a modest collection of tents with nail and timber hauled 70 miles overland.
Post presumed he had complied with the state law requiring that a county seat be situated within five miles of the geographic center of the county. Learning in May 1907 that a surveying error had put his pet project six miles out of legal bounds, he chose a second site and started all over again.
Tracts in the colony sold for $20 to $30 an acre, twice the going rate and infinitely more than the $3.50 Post had paid. But the twentieth-century pioneers received an interest-free mortgage plus a four-room farmhouse complete with barn, water well, windmill and other extras.
Prospective buyers had to bring along more than money. Character references were required and rigorously checked to weed out undesirables, speculators and phony farmers.
The biggest problem was water, the age-old curse that parched the western part of the state. An inveterate risk taker, Post resorted to rainmaking on an unprecedented scale. Over three ear-splitting years, he spent $50,000 on explosives to blast moisture out of the stingy skies and heavy downpours convinced him he was on the right track.
C.W. Post died in May 1914 from complications after an appendectomy, but both his company and infant community survived. Postum became the conglomerate General Foods, and Post City was renamed Post when the population reached a thousand shortly after the founder’s death.
When the United States entered the First World War, residents remembered the dynamite left over from the rainmaking experiment. To keep the dangerous explosives out of the hands of a possible saboteur, concerned citizens put a match to the cache.
Twelve tons of dynamite went up with a deafening roar heard for miles in every direction. The people of Post thanked their lucky stars their tiny town had not been blown off the map.
Read all about the early years of the oil frenzy in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil” Order your copy for $24.00 by mailing a check to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.
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