How a marketing campaign against coffee resonated for decades. C.W. Post villified coffee, particularly for children, to promote his Postum hot drink in the 19th century.
Modern concerns about coffee’ health effects in the U.S. can be traced to C.W. Post, an 1800s-era food manufacturer most well known for pioneering the field of breakfast cereal. He also invented a grain-based breakfast beverage called Postum, advertised as a caffeine-free coffee alternative, that was popular through the 1960s (and is still in production).
“Postum made C.W. Post a fortune, and he became a millionaire from vilifying coffee, and saying how horrible it was for you,” Pendergrast says. “The Postum advertisers had all kinds of pseudoscientific reasons that you should stay away from coffee.” Among the “evil effects” of coffee for adults, according to Post: it depressed kidney and heart function, it was a “nerve poison,” it caused nervousness and indigestion, it led to sallow skin.
Even after Post died in 1914, his company’s ads continued their attack on coffee, highlighting its effects on youth in particular and marketing Postum as a kid-friendly hot beverage. Postum’s ads claimed that that coffee should never, under any circumstances, be served to children, for a number of reasons—it made them sluggish, irritable and sleepless, it robbed them of “rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes,” it led to failing grades and, as the 1933 ad above claims, “it hampers proper development and growth.”
Over time, it seems, the belief that coffee is unfit for children—and, specifically, that it stops them from growing—slipped into the country’s cultural consciousness and took root, despite a total lack of scientific evidence.
Happily, Postum is now mostly forgotten, and coffee reigns. Virtually all of coffee’s supposed ills have been debunked—including the idea that coffee stunts growth.
A very tall friend was made to drink coffee as a kid to slow her growth. It didn't work, but she developed a taste for good coffee.