Friday, February 26, 2010

February 26: John Harvey Kellogg, Crown Prince of Cereal

Very likely most Americans recognize the name – it’s seen every time one visits the breakfast cereal section of the grocery store. But the man behind the development of a new style of food for breakfast cereals was a pioneer in the wellness movement - but not a partner in the company that made corn flake cereal famous.

John Harvey Kellogg was born on February 26, 1852, in Tyrone, New York. He would move to Battle Creek, Michigan at an early age with his parents, John Preston and Ann Jeanette Stanley Kellogg. His parents were devout Seventh-day Adventists, and this would have a bearing on John Kellogg’s life, occupation, and fame. His father operated a broom factory there where Kellogg would work with his father. He also served as a ‘printer’s devil’ in various publishing houses in Battle Creek.

He had a public education, working his way through the public schools of Battle Creek, then attending Russell T. Trall’s Hygeio-Therapeutic College for five months, then Michigan State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University), and finally receiving a M.D. degree from the New York University Medical College at Bellevue Hospital – where Kellogg graduated at the age of 23 in 1875. Some credit the beginning of biomedicine to Kellogg, based on his graduation thesis What Is Disease? – which reflected the natural hygiene beliefs of his mentor, Russell Trall.

He would continue his education by studying in Europe at various times between 1883 and 1911. His movement into the medical profession was promoted and provided for by two people he had worked for as a teenager: James and Ellen White, two of the founding members of the Seventh day Adventist church. As a physician, Kellogg would become an advocate of the views of the Adventist Church, especially those considering the dietary approach to healthy living.

He would start editing the Adventist’s Health Reformer newsletter in 1872, and after graduation from medical school he began working at the Adventist’s Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek. He was twenty-four years old when he became the superintendent of it in 1876, and would rename it the Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1878, designing it as a place where people could learn how to stay well. Eventually the ‘Sans’ would become a center for the rich and famous to visit. He also renamed the Health Reformer, which became the Good Health magazine.

He married Ella Eaton of Alfred Center, New York, on February 22, 1879. While the couple was childless, they made a goal of providing funds for the education of deserving children, and would virtually raise about forty children in their fifty-room home before Ella died in 1920. Over the years the Kellogg’s would adopt seven of the children.

At ‘Sans’ Kellogg would advocate a health program consisting mainly of a gain-based vegetarian diet. He also advocated things that we hear about today: diet, exercise, fresh air, sunshine, good posture, and dress, along with hydrotherapy. He was an early holistic doctor – practicing a plan for wellness in a time when antibiotics were largely unheard of. He took an early stand against caffeine, meat, alcohol, and tobacco. Some of his ideas can be found in the forward to a booklet titled “The Simple Life In A Nutshell”:

“Biologic living means health, comfort, efficiency, long life.

It means good digestion, sound sleep, a clear head, a placid mind, content and joy to be alive.

Live out of doors. Do your work under the trees instead of behind doors and opaque walls. Dig in the garden, explore the woods and hills. Follow the brooks, watch the squirrels in their gambols and learn the songs of the birds.

Fix up a sleeping porch or balcony and so take an outing all night long and every night, and don't move inside when frost comes. Outdoor sleeping is the best life-preserver known.

And live on the "fat of the land." Forget breakfast foods and culinary delicacies. Abjure flesh pots and "sea food." Find your whole bill of fare in the garden,—peaches, apples, luscious grapes, plums and pears, lettuce, green corn, celery, greens, tomatoes, melons, nuts, and all the rest of the luxuries which Mother Earth supplies. Revel in salads and berries, and green stuffs untouched by fire. These dainty foods abound in vitamins, and vitamins are the real elixir of life discovered at last in this twentieth century.”

Concerning the importance of grains in a vegetarian diet, Kellogg wrote that natural "foods abound in vitamins, and vitamins are the real elixir of life discovered at last in this twentieth century."
Kellogg’s medical and philosophical background – as well as a timely accident - created the momentum for him and his brother, Will, to form the Sanitas Food Company in 1897. The invention of flaked grain-based cereal occurred through an accident. The two brothers had invented several foods made from grains. The grains were forced through rollers to make long sheets of dough. One day they were called away while cooking wheat and when they returned, the wheat seemed over cooked. However, they decided to put the wheat through the rollers anyway – and each wheat berry was flattened into a thin flake. They had discovered ‘flaked’ cereals.

The typical breakfast of the wealthy in the late 19th century was eggs and meat (while the poor had porridge, gruel, and other boiled grains), the Kellogg’s would advocate whole grain cereals as the major breakfast diet. They were not the first to produce a dry cereal – that honor goes to Dr. James Caleb Jackson who created the first dry breakfast cereal, which he called Granula, in 1863. But they did bring corn flakes and wheat flakes to the dry breakfast cereal market.

Unfortunately, older John Kellogg treated his less-educated and younger brother Will more as an employee than a partner. That, combined with Will wanting to add sugar to the corn flakes, led to a split between the two brothers. In 1906, Will started his own company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which eventually became the Kellogg Company, triggering a decades-long feud over the rights to cereal recipes. John then formed the Battle Creek Food Company to develop and market soy products.

Kellogg was also an inventor, receiving over thirty patents for his various inventions. These inventions included the electric blanket, the universal dynamometer (for testing the strength of muscles), and the electric light bath – as well as some improved medical instruments for the surgeons to use.

He also was a prodigious author, writing over fifty books concerning health advocacy, as well as numerous magazine articles. He also promoted what he believed in, becoming one of the primary founders in Battle Creek of the American Medical Missionary College and the Battle Creek College. He also organized a School of Home Economics and a School of Physical Education – carrying his beliefs into the classroom.

He continued his practice as a skilled surgeon into his seventies, and often operated with no fee on those who could not afford surgery. He warned that smoking caused cancer – decades before the link was discovered.

While he had been highly involved with the Seventh Day Adventist Church for 2/3rds of his life, the church would expel him in 1907 due to his divergent views on the Bible and his belief in pantheism, the belief that there is a divine presence in all living things. As the twentieth century got underway, he had split from his family, forsaken the use of the Kellogg name on cereal products, and split from his church.

With the coming of the Great Depression, the ‘Sans’ would fall on hard times, and go into receivership, and Kellogg’s Battle Creek Food Company would fall on hard times. Also, many of his more extreme ideas would be increasingly criticized by the public and the press.

Kellogg was on his deathbed when he tried to reconcile with his brother – even writing a letter admitting that he had been wrong in his earlier treatment of Will, and in fighting Will in court for the cereal rights. However, his secretary - entrusted to mail the letter - never did, and John Kellogg died without being reconciled with his brother.

After suffering through three days of pneumonia, John Harvey Kellogg died on December 14, 1943, at the age of 91. His wife, Ella, had passed away in 1920. They are buried at the Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek, Michigan.

William Shurtleff would write perhaps the best overall description of John Harvey Kellogg:

"Kellogg was a dynamo of human energy, a personification of the work ethic, who needed only 4 to 5 hours of sleep a night, went cycling or jogging every morning, dictated 25 to 50 letters a day, adopted and reared 42 children, wrote nearly 50 books, edited a major magazine, performed more than 22,000 operations, gave virtually all of his money to charitable organizations, loved human service, generally accomplished the work of ten active people, and lived in good health to age 91."
Find A Grave
Natural Health Perspective
New York Times obituary


Woodcut print of John Kellogg, Wikipedia
Photo portrait of John Kellogg, Natural Health Perspective
1910 Corn Flakes Advertisement, Wikipedia
Picture of Kellogg in the early 20th century, NNDB
Kellogg family gravestone, Find A Grave picture by Scott Michaels

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