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Sylvester Graham

inventor of the graham cracker

Sylvester Graham

Sylvester Graham was born in West Suffield, Connecticut, on July 5, 1794, the 17th child of the Reverend John Graham, Jr., who died while Sylvester was still an infant. His mother was declared insane and institutionalized three years after her husband's death, and Sylvester was raised by a succession of neighbors and relatives. On September 19, 1824, he married Sarah Manchester Earle; the couple had two children -- Sarah and Henry Earle. Wanting to follow his father into the ministry, Graham studied languages at Amherst College in 1823, but was forced to end his studies due to an extended illness. After regaining his health he studied for the ministry, and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1826. He was made the general agent for the Pennsylvania Temperance Society in 1830.

Probably stemming from his frequent bouts with illness, Graham often made living a healthy lifestyle a topic of his sermons, and at the invitation of New York temperance leaders he delivered lectures on the relationship between diet and disease. Believing that refined flour was inherently unhealthy, he developed his own whole wheat flour that came to be known as Graham Flour. The flatbread he made using that flour came to be known as Graham Cracker, and though his recipe is no longer used the graham crackers of today are still made with a variant of Graham's flour. Graham also advocated a strictly vegetarian diet, the drinking of pure water at meals, eating at exactly the same time every day, complete abstinence except for the purpose of procreation, saying that sex for pleasure was unhealthy, sleeping on hard mattresses, and spending as much time in the open air as possible.

Although Graham was often the subject of ridicule because of his unorthodox ideas, his lectures drew thousands of interested followers, who came to be known as Grahamites, and his Graham Journal of Health and Longevity proved fairly popular. He also had many of his lectures published, including Treatise on Bread and Bread Making (1837), Lectures on the Science of Human Life (1839), Lectures to Young Men on Chastity: Intended Also for the Serious Consideration of Parents and Guardians (1840), and The Philosophy of Sacred History Considered in Relation to Human Ailment and the Wines of Scripture (published posthumously, 1855).

How strictly Graham practiced his own preaching has been debated by supporters and detractors alike, primarily because Graham himself never appeared to be in good health. He was only 53 years old when he died in Northampton, Massachusetts, on September 11, 1851; he is buried in that city's Bridge Street Cemetery.

International Vegetarian Union
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This page was last updated on 07/05/2018.