Word Origins Sylvester Graham and Graham Crackers

About the history and biography of Sylvester Graham whose name would become synonymous with crackers.



graham flour (,gra-em-, ,gra(-e)m-) n. Whole wheat flour.

Young Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham became so ardent a temperance advocate that he not only traveled far and wide to lecture on the demon rum, but also invented a vegetable diet which he was sure would be a cure for those suffering from the evils of drink. Graham soon extended his mission to include changing America's sinful eating habits. Meats and fats, he said, led to sexual excesses, and mustard and catsup could cause insanity, but Graham mainly urged the substitution of bread made of homemade unsifted whole wheat flour for white bread.

From 1830 on, Graham boardinghouses, Graham societies, and Graham food stores sprang up throughout the land, these last opposed, often violently, by bakers, butchers, and people who simply liked meat and white bread. Graham was driven off many a platform. Great thinkers took sides in the great war against white bread; James Russell Lowell, for example, wrote, "I am becoming more and more inclined to Grahamism every day," and pitched battles were often fought between Graham's followers and mobs of disbelievers. Among his followers were Bronson Alcott, father of the author of Little Women; Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church; and Amelia Jenks Bloomer of bloomers fame.

When all the controversy ended, it developed that the seemingly eccentric reformer had been right in a few respects. Modern science has affirmed his belief that refining flour robs it of vitamins and minerals, and most of his regimen, including vegetables and fruits in the diet, fresh air while sleeping, moderate eating, and abundant exercise, is now widely accepted. His memorials are the graham flour, graham bread, and graham crackers that his followers ate and dedicated to him.

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