Sports

Who Was the First Athlete to Appear on a Wheaties Box?

Wheaties and athletes go together. From one decade to the next, one famous athlete after another has been featured on the cereal box. Some of the most recent athletes we’ve stared at while eating breakfast include Serena Williams, Brett Favre, Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, and Gabby Douglas. While recent athletes generate the most excitement, how many people remember the first athlete to appear on a Wheaties box?

Lou Gehrig starts a trend

Baseball sensation, Lou Gehrig is the first athlete to grace a Wheaties box. Even by today’s standards, Lou Gehrig was a sensational baseball player, one of the best. During his prime, he was a first baseman for the New York Yankees, a team he played with for seventeen years. He was an outstanding hitter and one of the hardest working, toughest baseball players ever.

He was so tough, during his playing years he was called “The Iron Horse.” It wasn’t until Cal Ripken came along in 1995 that Lou Gehrig’s record for playing in the most consecutive games was broken. An entire nation rallied around Lou Gehrig and gathered around their radios to listen as he played.

On May 2, 1939, fans were stunned when Gehrig withdrew from a game. While he was still playing better than many of his contemporaries, everyone had noticed that he wasn’t up to his usual standards. He was diagnosed with ALS, which is also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Gehrig’s time on the Wheaties box is a little different than the athletes that are on it today. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the athletes on the front of the box, staring down at us from the cereal aisle, but Gehrig’s image appeared on the box’s backside. Gehrig’s image was first printed on the box in 1934.

Bob Richards lands a new location

While Lou Gehrig was the first athlete to appear on a box of Wheaties, Bob Richards has the distinction of being the first athlete to be placed on the front of the box. Bob Richards wasn’t the type of person you typically think of as an athlete.

He didn’t look particularly tough. Richards also wasn’t the type of athlete you typically associate with Wheaties. He didn’t play football, baseball, or hockey. His sport was vaulting, and he was very good at it.

Nicknamed the “Vaulting Vicar,” Richards won eight indoor vaulting competitions, was the second person in the world to clear 15 feet in the pole vaulting competition, and won two Olympic gold medals.

Bob Richards started the trend of athletes gracing the front of the Wheaties box in 1958.

Mary Lou Retton makes Wheaties history

50 years after Lou Gehrig’s image appeared on the Wheaties box, the cereal company finally got around to honoring a female athlete. They made a good choice with Mary Lou Retton.

The gymnast did a wonderful job of showing that women athletes could be every bit as successful as their male counterparts. In addition to being the first woman to win the coveted place on the Wheaties box, Retton also has the distinction of being the first American woman to win the Olympic gold medal for best all-around woman in women’s gymnastics.

Retton accomplished this monumental task in 1984. In addition to the all-around medal, she also brought home two silver and two bronze medals which she won in individual events. One year later she retired from the sport. She recently returned to competition, this time in ballroom dancing, when she appeared on Dancing with the Stars.

This is just a small sampling of the different athletes that have connected with Wheaties and made history. It will be excited to see which athletes earn a place of honor on the cereal box in the future.