Henry D. Perky, the Shredded Wheat King

Henry D. Perky. From The Worcester of eighteen hundred and ninety-eight: fifty years a city (Worcester, Mass., 1899)

Henry D. Perky. From The Worcester of eighteen hundred and ninety-eight: fifty years a city (Worcester, Mass., 1899)

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.

Courthouse at Wahoo, Saunders County, where Perky served on the village board when the town was incorporated in 1874. From Harrison Johnson, Johnson’s History of Nebraska (Omaha, 1880)

Courthouse at Wahoo, Saunders County, where Perky served on the village board when the town was incorporated in 1874. From Harrison Johnson, Johnson’s History of Nebraska (Omaha, 1880)

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

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5 Responses to Henry D. Perky, the Shredded Wheat King

  1. Leslie Gibson says:

    This is so crazy to see. I am actually related to Henry Perky. His brother Charles Perky had a daughter, Mildred Perky, and she married George Olson. They had three sons, Charlie, Dwayne, and George Jr. George Jr., my grandpa, was set on a blind date to meet his future wife, Darleen Carlson. They had 5 children, Stewart, Rebecca, Sally, Barbara, and Cindy. Here I am, four generations later, reading about my great, great uncle, and I feel so amazed. My mom, Sally, always said I was related to him, but it still just amazes me. Thank you for this information!

    • Steve Olson says:

      I am also related, I am the son of Duane Olson “Perk”. My Grandmother, Mildred, told me the story about the Shredded Wheat when I was a young child, and I to this day, always think about it when I eat Shredded Wheat.

  2. pgaster says:

    Henry D. Perky was a fascinating promoter and entrepreneur. It’s exciting to hear from one of his descendants. Thank you for sharing your genealogical information.

  3. Suzanne Yager says:

    My grandmother was born in Nebraska and subsequently also moved to Colorado. When I was a child she used to tell me that I was related to Henry Perky, the inventor of Shredded Wheat. She said that he was my great great great uncle. Among her photographs I saw a photo of an elderly woman sitting in a rocking chair on her front porch. On the back in pencil was written the name, “Mrs. Perky.” I’m not sure where the photo is now, but I believe that my cousin has it. I’m not sure if Mrs Perky was his wife or his mother. My grandmother used to say that uncle Henry also had something to do with the invention of a railway car, but I never knew the details of it. Thanks for the information. Uncle Henry seemed to have trouble with fires apparently. Grandma said that his first biscuit rolling machine was destroyed in a fire at the boarding house where he invented it. She also said that there is a museum at Niagara Falls with an exhibit on Shredded Wheat and Henry Perky. Is this true? I can’t seem to find anything about this on the internet.

    • pgaster says:

      Thank you for sharing your information on Henry D. Perky. There might well have been an exhibit on Perky at Niagara Falls, New York, where in 1901 a large factory was built for the manufacture of Shredded Wheat. Thousands of tourists a year once toured the factory, which was intended to exemplify a healthy lifestyle. It included employee showers, reading rooms, and a cafeteria that served free lunches to its workers.

      Unfortunately, I was unable to find mention online of any historical exhibit on Perky in connection with Niagara Falls. You might want to contact the New York State Historical Association at for names of museums in Niagara Falls that might have hosted such an exhibit in the past.

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