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Dr. J. H. Kellogg

The Big, Little Man in the White Suit


He was called the “Battle Creek Dynamo.” There was nothing he would not try, and most of the things which he attempted were outstanding success stories. In spite of his short stature, five feet, four inches, what a striking, dignified figure he made, as he strode the streets of Battle Creek in his all-white clothing, coat, shirt, tie, trousers, socks, shoes and topped off with a white hat.  His goatee matched his clothing and enhanced his dignity.  He believed white clothing to be more healthful because it better transmitted rays of beneficial sunlight.  By now you have guessed the identity of this man.  It was Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.

It would seem that John was an unlikely candidate to ever become a doctor, for the sight of blood sickened him.  When his mother asked him what he planned to be when he grew up, he answered, “Anything but a doctor.” When he was 12 years old he had worked long hours in the publishing house and had taken important responsibilities.  As a teenager he had even successfully taught grade school.  James White noticed this young man and saw in him the potential to become a good doctor, so he encouraged him with a loan of $1,000.

John was reluctant, but finally accepted the challenge of a medical education, graduating from Bellevue Hospital Medical School in New York in 1875. It was while struggling along at Bellevue, with minimal cooking facilities, he began to dream of some kind of nutritious, ready to eat breakfast cereal.

In spite of his aversion to blood as a boy, Dr Kellogg’s central career as a medical man was that of a surgeon.  But, he added to those skills by concentrating on healthful diet and exercise.  It was not long until he started many of his experiments with food, and inventions.

 One of the first things he worked on was a coffee substitute.  He experimented with all kinds of things such as burned bread crusts, bran, molasses and corn.  While he worked, he kept noticing one of the patients at the Sanitarium.  It seemed he was always following him around, and looking over his shoulder.  This patient was Charles W. Post, a semi-charity case who was improving from an illness.  Post would visit the sanitarium’s experimental food laboratory often, very curious, asking questions and making comments.  Finally, he suggested to Kellogg that they become business partners in perfecting and marketing a coffee substitute, but, Kellogg was not interested.  With nothing but faith in himself and determination, Post struck out on his own.  With one helper he manufactured his first commercial batch of Postum Cereal Food coffee.  Seven years later he had become a multimillionaire.  Does the name C.W. Post on a cereal box sound familiar?

Dr. Kellogg still had his mind on breakfast foods.  One of the patients broke her dentures on a piece of zwieback and this set off another brainstorm for him.  The next morning, he boiled some wheat, ran it through a machine his wife used for rolling out bread dough, and baked it in the oven.  Then he broke it into small pieces, but he still had a long way to go before he could call it flakes.  But, it was enough for this enterprising man to be excited about, and to get his brother, Will, involved in the venture.  In the sanitarium kitchen they continued to experiment until one morning they presented it for breakfast in the dining room.  The patients were delighted, and Kellogg named his discovery Granose Flakes.

            Have you ever seen Cereal City in Battle Creek, MI?  Looking at this huge plant it seems incredible to think that commercial production of the first “ready to eat” breakfast cereal was begun in a barn behind the San.  How excited everyone was and wanted to get in on the action when word spread that Dr, Kellogg could make a 60-cent bushel of wheat into a food that had a retail value of $12.

             Of course, “would be” business people crowded into Battle Creek, eager to cash in on such a lucrative trade.  They built a regular “shanty town” of places to live, and also machine sheds.  Cereal City became overrun with people and new brands of similar flaky products with every possible name from Golden Manna to Flak-Oata, and one we still hear, ShreddedWheat.  These foods were advertised as “miracle foods for the brain” and were recommended to cure consumption, malaria and loose teeth.

            But, Dr. Kellogg’s ever active mind was not satisfied with producing only breakfast foods.  He organized the Sanitarium Equipment Company which manufactured a variety of things designed by the doctor to provide stimulation to one’s feet, hands, arms upper spine and head.  (I have sat in the chair in his museum, which has a device for one’s feet, with a ribbed cylinder design.  It applies friction to the feet, similar to a massage.)  He had invented other chairs and exercise equipment far ahead of his time.  One of his most successful inventions was the electric light cabinet bath.

             Soon the doctor took a good look at women’s clothing.  The fashion was designed to kill, so it seemed, for the health threatening style of “wasp” waists had taken over.  Kellogg examined one woman and pronounced that her liver had been squeezed into a dumbbell shape by tight corsets.  “This has got to stop,” he thought, and began to wage an all out war against this fashion.

One day he secretly slipped his wife’s corset into a shopping bag, then called the family dog to go with him to his laboratory.  He laced the dog into the tight corset and then began some breathing tests.  Fido was not going along with that, and leaped out the window, running as fast as he could for home.  The doctor leaped also and peddled his bike at top speed to head him off, but Fido won the race.  A startled Mrs. Kellogg saw the dog running down the street dressed in her corset, with her husband pedaling his bike furiously behind…what a sight!  “Whatever in the world are you doing now?” she questioned, and then they both laughed helplessly, while Fido twisted and wriggled, trying to get free of this strange thing restraining him.



Compiled from Light Bearers,

Stories of the Pioneers, R&H

By Dorothy Dunbar