Portraits2
Feb 15, 2013 • By

A love of U.S. presidents

Kids like eating cereal for breakfast – mostly because it tastes good and is good for them. Some also love it to get at the prizes buried inside boxes like secret treasure.

Who can forget Trix Tiddly Winks or Monster Cereal flicker rings? Still others are intrigued by the back of the box.

That’s what captured John Graziano’s imagination back in 1964 when he was 2½ years old. His grandmother came to visit, and she always brought her own cereal along.

This particular box of Cheerios happened to feature a set of “presidential portrait cards” – painted by artist Jerome F. Ryan. Since Monday is President’s Day in the U.S., we thought it was the perfect time to share John’s story.

There were nine sets in the presidential series, and each set featured four U.S. chief executives who shared certain characteristics, including presidents who were generals, presidents who were state governors and presidents who were assassinated.

The General Mills cereal boxes also encouraged each boy and girl to “Help elect the next President of the United States. Make sure your mom and dad go to the polls to vote this fall!”

Illustrator John Graziano has long been fascinated with U.S. presidents.

John, who later became an illustrator and cartoonist for Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, was determined to have the cards from the back of his grandmother’s Cheerios box. But his mother refused to cut out the cards until the box was empty.

“You can have it when the cereal is done,” he remembered his mother tell him.

Adding to his frustration, John, of Tampa Bay, Fla., said that his grandmother rolled up the box as the cereal depleted, and the cards were bent and ruined.

“I’ll get them someday,” he thought.

And that’s exactly what he did. As an adult he was able to locate all of the cards on eBay.

The presidential portraits were just one example of the work from Ryan, who died in 2011. He also painted the first official portrait of former Minnesota Gov. Rudy Perpich (see page 15 of this interesting side story) and one of our portraits of Betty Crocker (see below).

After all these years, John’s fascination with U.S. presidents – and his interest in portraiture – hasn’t diminished.

“As an artist myself, with a love for portraiture, I thought that it may be time for the public to enjoy again the timeless appeal of these presidential portraits,” says John. ”Perhaps they can grace the cereal boxes again. Can the missing presidents (Nixon to Obama) be painted in the style of Mr. Ryan?”

With the enthusiasm of a child who just found a treasure on a box of Big G cereal, John added, “I can do it!” 

Editor’s note: The General Mills Archives provided information and images for this post. You can learn more about our past on GeneralMills.com. Have a question about General Mills’ history? Send our Archives team an email.

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  • Scott Larsen

    Wonderful story. For years I have wondered if I was the only one who remembered a these presidential cards on the back of the Cheerios box my mom bought for my brothers and me in 1964 when I was five. It was my first taste of learning about our U.S. Presidents.

    Today, I am a Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt collection, historian, and on occasion portray the 32nd president in the Pacific Northwest.

    Who would have thought that Cheerios helped plant the seed! Thank you belatedly Jerome F. Ryan for the portraits and the person behind the idea for the presidential cards on the back of my Cheerios box.