Orange Meat: J.D. Bordeau: The Original Cereal Charlatan

Michael Peters Orange Meat

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Of all the characters in this story, J.D. (Jesse) Bordeau is the one that most directly connects our story to the larger history of breakfast cereals and manufactured foods around the world. His presence in Kingston is significant, especially viewed in light of how he spent the years prior.

Bordeau was born in 1873. His parents were among the earliest elders of the Seventh Day Adventist church and were operating a Canadian mission in Lower Canada, close to the border with Vermont. Later, they were powerful members of the church in Battle Creek. 

Interesting side note - Jesse's father, known as Elder Bordeau, was instrumental in getting John H. Kellogg exiled from the church in 1907, one of many connections between the Bordeau and Kellogg families. So, the name "Bordeau" carried a significant amount of weight in the Battle Creek area. It may be why we can follow many of his adventures in the Michigan press.

Although F.A. Wegner was appointed president in Kingston, co-held important patents, and was described in the local Kingston press as "the inventor" of the machinery being installed (see the previous post),  Bordeau is actually the one with the well-documented cereal-making expertise. 

It seems likely that Wegner, often described as an industrialist, was partnering with Bordeau, working to improve and profit from his designs (which were largely lifted from Kellogg originally in any event).

After all, Bordeau was the former "bakery foreman" for Dr. Kellogg in Battle Creek, working there from 1895 to 1900, during a critical phase in Kellogg's development of flaked foods. We also know he was one of the first to leave the Sanitarium with ambitions of his own. 

"Important Suit Against Pure Food Companies" (Detroit Free Press, 1901)

On October 3, 1901, the Detroit Free Press reported on a lawsuit with Bordeau as the principal defendant, brought by one Charles Wagner. (Not to be confused with his partner Fred Wegner, discussed above.)

Mr. Wagner intended to go into the cereal business. He entered into an exclusive contract with Mr. Bordeau for the license for the recipe, and to devote "his entire time, attention, and skill" for three years, to the success of the "Eata-Malt" cereal. 

Mr. Bordeau seems to have faithfully overseen the installation of all of the factory equipment.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Wagner was understandably concerned when he received reports that Mr. Bordeau had been busy helping the very suspiciously named "Malt-Ho Flaked Food Company" and several others launch similar products onto the market.

Eata-Malt Ad (c. 1901)

The Free Press reported, "It is claimed that the capital stock of the companies he has promoted aggregates $2,000,000", a jaw-dropping figure for 1901, considering it only includes the participants in this specific lawsuit, and not Malta Vita or any of his other endeavours. The $100,000 lawsuit (again - these are mind-boggling numbers for 1901) was eventually settled for less, including surrendering the recipe and an agreement to not participate in any cereal-making endeavors for three years. 

The historical record, including his work with Mr. Wegner and subsequent arrival in Kingston under the employ of the Frontenac Cereal Company in 1903, suggests he was not overly concerned with the terms of his legal settlement.

Around the same time, he was also involved in the launch of one of the first widely available, commercially successful breakfast cereals: Malta Vita. He was the "superintendent" of the bakery. As per Gerald Carson in his excellent account Cornflake Crusade (via the Library of Congress):

Since technical knowledge was new, and certainly scarce, the first requirement for a food factory was a production man who knew something about the business. There was only one source of supply, the men who worked for Dr. Kellogg. Malta Vita got its start by what became a commonplace method. Two promoters hired Jesse D. Bordeau, a former bakery foreman at the Sanitarium Food Company. Bordeau added malt extract to Dr. Kellogg's Granose Flakes and the Malta Vita people obtained patents on the mechanical malting of the grain which they contended made the product itself patentable.

Malta Vita Launch Advertisement (c. 1902)

So, again, Bordeau (and his partners) took the Kellogg process, added malt, made some other small refinements, and re-patented it, this time calling it Malta Vita.

I think it is fair to suspect that his own brand, "Bordeau Flakes", and the as-yet-to-launch Orange Meat would also be very similar. So when Cornflake Crusade describes Malta Vita as "a wheat flake sweetened by the addition of barley malt syrup … [they] were particularly curly and crinkled" we are likely reading a reasonable description of what Orange Meat must have been like as well. 

Incidentally, Malta Vita was a known brand on the Canadian side of the border as well, eventually opening a Toronto production facility. The brand had changed hands from the original owners at this point, and it is unlikely that Bordeau was still involved. 

Still, whatever else, J.D. Bordeau has a legitimate claim to being one of the more important and colorful characters of the "cereal gold rush" - a description that is not hyperbole. In one day (Jun 22, 1900), the Detroit Free Press reported the construction of three different factories in Battle Creek, which was a comparably sized small city to Kingston at the time. "The Battle Creek Pure Food Co. will build and equip a manufacturing plant 100x150 feet in size ...The Sanitas Food Co Battle Creek, will erect a four-story brick building 50x100 feet in size ... The Postum Cereal Co., Limited, of Battle Creek, will build a new four-story brick factory."

So, hoping to catch a little bit of that magic on this side of the border, Frontenac Cereal Company brought Bordeau (and Wegner, and others) to Kingston in 1903 to set up the bakery which would soon be producing Orange Meat cereal. 

That is only the beginning of what we now know about Mr. J.D. Bordeau. Stay tuned for more, as we delve even deeper into the Orange Meat story.

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