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The Long Shelf Life of Ry-Krisp

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Two men posing next to a Ry-Krisp batter-mixing machine.

Two men by a mixer, Ry-Krisp factory, 1949.

In 1904, immigrant baker Arvid Peterson gave a Swedish-styled cracker a modern American name and the country's been eating Ry-Krisp ever since. Minneapolis has also been the one and only location where the product is made.

In its first years, this cracker required little advertising, because Scandinavian immigrants knew it as knäckebröd ("crisp bread") from their home countries. In Sweden, such crackers were inexpensive and lasted well on the shelf. At the time, crackers were essentially competitive with more conventional breads because baked loaves were inconsistently made. Ry-Krisp originally came in large, flat, thin rounds with a hole in the center. This traditional shape was designed for storing the product on a pole or even a broomstick.

Peterson, his brother Erik, and their widowed mother arrived in America in 1893. They lived for several years in Boston. While there, Arvid learned baking skills, and then for two years he was a farmer in South Dakota. By 1904, the brothers had moved to Minneapolis. "Peterson Bros. Bakers" was at 2120-24 Lyndale Avenue South. Arvid and Erik lived just a few blocks away. It was common for bakers to live close to their shops.

The Ry-Krisp recipe and method are largely unchanged. Rye kernels are milled into flakes, and then combined with water and injections of air to create a crunchy texture. Except for optional flavors, the ingredients remain the same as when Peterson first made Ry-Krisp. The baking period is short.

As a cereal grain, rye offers unique health benefits. When Peterson sold his company to local investors in 1913, vitamins and nutrition were newly appreciated in America. New marketing strategies for the product said "Physicians recommend it" and that this "health bread" was a "corrective" for constipation. One ad claimed that the product "exercises the teeth."

Over the years, advertising and consumer interests shaped the appeal of this old-fashioned food. Some early health food enthusiasts mistakenly felt that "pure food" could ensure good breeding, or even racial purity. Many more sensible marketers recognized that the cracker's vitamins, fiber content, and long shelf life were more important assets.

The product was associated with smart dieting. Several 1940s Ry-Krisp ads were drawn by popular cartoonists from the New Yorker magazine. The product was a sponsor of the 1940s radio shows of famed New York hostess Elsa Maxwell and of opera star Marion Talley.

Ry-Krisp ads or testimonials evolved over several decades. They appeared in professional nursing journals, immigrant newspapers, fishing guidebooks, and general-interest national magazines.

In 1926, the Ralston Purina Company of St. Louis bought Ry-Krisp but kept production in Minneapolis. Founded in 1902, this new owner was a successful partnership between an animal-feed and health-foods firm (Purina) and a breakfast food company (Ralston). There was no actual "founder" named Ralston. An eccentric professor named Webster Edgerly invented the name. He idealistically mixed food production with utopian philosophy. To Edgerly, "R.A.L.S.T.O.N." stood for "Regime, Activity, Light, Strength, Temperation, Oxygen, Nature."

After 1926, as one brand among many from a large company, Ry-Krisp benefited from broader advertising. Ralston also sold "Ralston 100% Whole Wheat Cereal," whose celebrity spokesman was cowboy star Tom Mix. Ralston experimented with the shape of Ry-Krisp, eventually adopting the rectangular cracker it is known for.

In 1922, Ry-Krisp built a new plant at 824 6th Avenue S.E., where production remains into the twenty-first century. There was a convenient rail siding for national distribution, but trucks now ship the crackers all over the country. A few flavor innovations have appeared over time, including the unsuccessful pizza-flavored Ry-Krisp. However, except for its shape, Arvid Peterson would still recognize today's product as equal to his original.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Davison's Minneapolis City Directory. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Directory Company, 1905.

Davison's Minneapolis City Directory. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Directory Company, 1914.

Davison's Minneapolis City Directory. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Directory Company, 1916.

Davison's Minneapolis City Directory. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Directory Company, 1919.

Davison's Minneapolis City Directory. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Directory Company, 1925.

Davison's Minneapolis City Directory. Minneapolis: Minneapolis Directory Company, 1926.

Pacyniak, Bernard. "A Centennial Cracker." Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery 89, no. 9 (September 2000): 36.

Strand, Algot E. (A.E.). "Arvid Peterson." In A History of The Swedish-Americans of Minnesota. Vol. 2. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1910.

Toops, Diane. "Trend Catches up with Good-for-you Product." Food Processing (November 1, 1999): 10.

Related Images

Two men posing next to a Ry-Krisp batter-mixing machine.
Two men posing next to a Ry-Krisp batter-mixing machine.
Ry-Krisp advertisement, 1919.
Ry-Krisp advertisement, 1919.
Photograph of the Ry-Krisp Company factory.
Photograph of the Ry-Krisp Company factory.
Page from promotional booklet, A Mother's Manual
Page from promotional booklet, A Mother's Manual
Page from promotional booklet, A Mother's Manual
Page from promotional booklet, A Mother's Manual
Newspaper advertisement from Svenska Amerika Posten
Newspaper advertisement from Svenska Amerika Posten
Magazine advertisement from LIFE magazine with opera singer Marion Talley
Magazine advertisement from LIFE magazine with opera singer Marion Talley
Magazine advertisement from The American Journal of Nursing, March, 1944
Magazine advertisement from The American Journal of Nursing, March, 1944
Newspaper clipping with a photograph of Ry-Krisp workers printed in the Minneapolis Tribune
Newspaper clipping with a photograph of Ry-Krisp workers printed in the Minneapolis Tribune
Photograph of an assembly line at the Ry-Krisp factory.
Photograph of an assembly line at the Ry-Krisp factory.

Turning Point

Arvid Peterson receives trademark protection for the name "Ry-Krisp" in 1905. He has
invented a more efficient, mechanized process for making the traditional Scandinavian knäckebröd.

Chronology

1873

Arvid Peterson is born in Sweden's Södermanland province.

1893

Arvid Peterson, his widowed mother, and his brother Erik immigrate to America, joining his two sisters in Boston.

1902

William H. Danforth of St. Louis merges his Purina Mills with Professor Webster Edgerly's Ralston Cereals Company, creating Ralston Purina.

1904

On December 4, Arvid Peterson first applies the name "Ry-Krisp" to his version of knäckebröd. The product has the traditional flat circular shape, about twelve inches in diameter with a hole at the center.

1905

The trademark for Ry-Krisp is registered with the U.S. government on February 7.

1913

The Original Ry-Krisp Company is formed, with new corporate officers and capital funds of $25,000.

1919

Businessman John G. Priedeman buys The Original Ry-Krisp Company, establishing John W. Griggs as President and himself as Secretary-Treasurer. They plan to expand.

1922

The company builds a new plant at 9th Street S.E. and 6th Avenue in Minneapolis.

1926

The Ralston Purina Company of St. Louis purchases Ry-Krisp and begins changes to the efficiency of the baking process as well as the shape of the cracker.

1929

Ry-Krisp now comes in rectangular wafer form.

1963

Seasoned Ry-Krisp, with caraway and salt added to the recipe, is introduced.

2012

ConAgra of Omaha purchases Ralcorp Holdings, Inc. of St. Louis but does not move Ry-Krisp production from the Minneapolis plant built in 1922.