Henry D. Perky (1843-1906), a businessman, inventor, and promoter, is best remembered for his invention of shredded wheat, a ready-to-eat cereal that revolutionized the way Americans ate breakfast. Less known is Perky’s early Nebraska background and his promotion of a cylindrical steel railway car, which traversed the state as part of a transcontinental journey in January 1891.
The Omaha Daily Bee on January 16 reported that the “solid steel railway palace coach,” with Perky aboard, had passed through Omaha on its way to Denver, and that Perky was a former Nebraska resident who had studied law in Omaha and served in the state legislature. He was living at Wahoo in Saunders County on September 1, 1874, when the town was incorporated, and was publisher and proprietor of The Independent there. Because of declining health, Perky left Nebraska for Colorado about 1880.
Perky’s grand plans for the manufacture of steel railway cars were never realized. An 1889 fire destroyed his factory in St. Joseph, Missouri, and the transcontinental tour that passed through Omaha with the sole remaining car in 1891 attracted much attention but no orders.
Learn more about his subsequent invention of a “cookless breakfast food,” the idea for which may have occurred to Perky in the dining room of a Nebraska hotel, in a Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. —Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications