The Surprising Origin of the American Breakfast

Young Edward Bernays

Keeping with the breakfast theme this week, it seems appropriate to delve into the classic American breakfast–bacon and eggs.

Meet Edward Bernays, the father of public relations and the man we have to thank for making bacon and eggs the iconic american breakfast.  During World War I, Bernays was part of the propaganda effort on behalf of the Allies.  He believed that, “if [propaganda] could be used for war, it can be used for peace.”  

After the war, he began utilizing his propaganda skills for various corporations to help them increase their sales.  His foundational work paved the way for what we now know as public relations. He also happened to be the nephew of Sigmund Freud.  In fact, some of Freud’s theories (as well as other psychological theories) formed the basis for Bernays’ marketing techniques.  Bernays was the creator and master of utilizing pseudo-events–media event is an event or activity that exists for the sole purpose of media publicity.  Perhaps his most audacious stunt was assisting United Fruit in overthrowing the government of Guatemala in the 1950s. For now, let’s get back to the breakfast. In an interview, Bernays relayed the story of how he influenced the masses to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast.

Invention of the American Breakfast

In 1925, the Beech-Nut Packing Company approached Bernays and asked him to help increase their bacon sales.  Bernays accepted the challenge and his firm conducted research about what most Americans were eating for breakfast at the time.  They discovered that many people ate a light breakfast such as orange juice and a roll.  Next, Bernays approached a physician with whom he had worked with previously and asked if he recommended a heavy breakfast over a light one for health purposes.  The doctor agreed that a heavy breakfast is better for the health than a light one so that a person will have more energy throughout the day.  The physician proceeded, at Bernays’ request, to write to 5,000 physicians across the country to see if they also agreed that a heavy breakfast is better than a light one.  Roughly 4,500 doctors concurred.  Bernays then sent the results of the study to newspapers all over the country.  They published articles saying “4,500 physicians urge heavy breakfasts in order to improve the health of the american people.” Some of the articles published mentioned bacon and eggs as an example of a heavy breakfast.  The campaign was successful and Beech-Nut bacon sales increased.  Spurred on by the seemingly legitimate research, the american public began to regularly eat bacon and eggs for breakfast.

There you have it.  Through a series of clever marketing stunts, Bernays and the Beech-Nut Packing Company established bacon and eggs as the American breakfast.


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