In 1917, Smith Academy, a preparatory school for Washington University in St. Louis, closed its doors and left a young English teacher William O. Greene without a job. Within five months, Greene partnered with John Reid and Joe Matthews, both of National Oats Company, to form Cereal Byproducts Company. The new firm traded grain byproducts for use in animal feed. Indeed, the first beneficiaries of the company were the army mules used as beasts of burden in World War I.
By the end of the first year of operation, Cereal Byproducts had three offices — St. Louis, Chicago, and Memphis. They advertised “Everything for Mixed Feeds: Alfalfa Meal, Hominy Feed, and Oat Feed. We are in touch with the best mills.”
The Company continued to thrive as American agriculture fed the Allies, whose lands had become battlefields and whose farmers were themselves at war. As European agriculture recovered following World War I, however, the demand for American products declined and a recession ensued. Cereal Byproducts nearly went out of business, as they candidly implied in a series of advertisements in 1921: “Business has returned from Hell. May was a good month. June will be better;” and ”Someone said he was surprised we were still in the game…the more difficult the game, the more valuable our services to other players.”
Optimism and perseverance prevailed, and Cereal Byproducts did survive. In 1923, Reid and Matthews sold their shares to three employees then active in the Company: William F. Becker, who had joined Cereal Byproducts in 1919, Elsor Heater, manager of the Chicago office, and Irene Reiser, one of the few women active in the agricultural brokerage business. Becker went on to become president and remained with the company until his retirement in 1965, and Reiser was active until her retirement in 1948.
By 1928, Cereal Byproducts had offices in St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis, Buffalo, and Minneapolis. The following year, the company moved its headquarters from St. Louis to Chicago; and when the Board of Trade Building opened in 1930, they moved into that building. They remained there until 1975, when they established their headquarters in Mount Prospect, Illinois.
The Depression affected Cereal Byproducts, along with most other businesses worldwide. In 1932, they were forced to close their St. Louis office. Within two years, however, they reopened it, a sign of improved financial times. By 1937, the company had offices in Chicago, Buffalo, St. Louis, Kansas City, Boston, and Minneapolis. An article in the Chicago Tribune in 1954 noted that Cereal Byproducts was one of the oldest and largest feed brokerages in the nation, and that all offices were “connected by private communication lines. It is possible to complete a sale thousands of miles away in two or three minutes.”
Today, Cereal Byproducts has 7 offices and 27 traders, serving the needs of feed customers all over North America. The Company is headquartered in Mount Prospect, Illinois.