Dec 01, 2011 • By

Our airplane legacy

When you think about the world’s largest airplane manufacturers, chances are General Mills doesn’t come to mind. However, we once cranked out more planes than anyone else.

In 1940, General Mills manufactured 6.4 million airplanes.

Model airplanes, that is.

The airplane-making stint was all part of a Wheaties promotion. If consumers bought two boxes of Wheaties, they could take home a Jack Armstrong Sky Ranger and watch it fly. Jack Armstrong was a popular radio adventure series sponsored by Wheaties.

General Mills had distributed small packages of Wheaties on the doorsteps of thousands of homes, but it needed more Americans to sample the cereal. The airplane giveaway would get more families to try Wheaties.

After eating two full boxes of the cereal, they’d be hooked, right?

Even though the airplanes weren’t real, you could argue they were just as meticulously engineered as the ones from Boeing, Airbus or one of the other biggies.

In fact, it took two months just to build the machinery to make the propellers. One machine stamped propellers out of aluminum at a rate of 10,500 an hour. Three other machines, operating 24 hours a day, shaped the propellers. Another machine pumped out 45,000 wings every seven hours.

More than 400 people spent the entire winter of 1940 assembling the planes at a rate of 125,000 a day. Each plane needed a fuselage, propeller shaft, propeller, rubber band on the propeller shaft, long wing, tail wing, the rudder, nose of the plane, landing gear and wheels. Of course, no plane was complete without a little grease on the propeller.

That spring, a dozen miniature airplanes were packed with two dozen boxes of Wheaties. The packages were shipped to grocery stores across the country. Only a limited number were allowed at each store.

Sales – and planes – soared.

So I guess you could say, that’s when Wheaties took flight.

Editor’s note: Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.

Visit our History page on GeneralMills.com for more information about our past.