Cornflake Crusade


Since Dr. Kellogg refused to go ahead on his own account, Bolin and W. K. put forward another proposal, the purchase of the right to make the flakes. The flake patents were invalid. But W. K. expressed his willingness for the Doctor to be properly compensated for his invention. The Doctor found this idea interesting. A deal was consummated with Dr. John receiving shares of stock as payment. W. K. was well aware that his distinguished brother did not think he had much gumption. But when the Doctor returned to Battle Creek from a trip abroad, he got a sharp surprise. Dr. Kellogg had given blocks of the corn flake stock to various sanitarium physicians in lieu of a salary increase. Will had picked up the stock that the Doctor had given away, like a chicken pecking at corn. All of his life’s savings were pledged for this purpose.

“Make no little plans,” he muttered, and if he said it once he said it a thousand times. As he settled into the presidency of the corn flake firm, W. K. placed upon each carton of flakes a bold legend: “The Genuine Bears This Signature—W. K. Kellogg.” The step was symbolic. At 46, an old man in his own view, the Kellogg whose name is now inseparable from corn flakes began his independent career.

At the beginning of the corn flake venture, Bolin thought that he had an option to sell corn flakes all over the world. The Doctor, regretting his generosity, insisted the sale of the rights was confined to the United States. He had begun to see the Toasted Corn Flake Company as a continuing source of revenue. There would be other products coming along. He could sell the rights to each one, product by product, country by country. For example, the Doctor started to flake rice, forming once more a new company, the Toasted Rice Flake and Biscuit Company. Dr. Kellogg also set up a Yogurt Company, evolved out of Bulgarian “yhoghoart.”

The idea about yogurt was to put lactic acid into cornstarch tablets for oral use. The Doctor brought a corps of old ladies into the plant to operate capsule machines that filled the capsules with sour milk and cornstarch. Not every Kellogg creation was a success. The rice flakes turned rancid and whatever good the yogurt product did was not due to any power in the tablets to change the intestinal flora. For the Doctor had made a slip. He put in some acetic acid to produce a slight taste. Later it was discovered that the acid had killed the yogurt ferment. The therapeutic value of the pills was confined to whatever curative powers there were in plain cornstarch. But the yogurt company boomed for a while and made a substantial contribution to the support of Dr. Kellogg’s medical journal, Good Health .

With his inventive flair and his gift for finding trade names, Dr. Kellogg was always incubating little proprietary businesses. He had a certain amount of commercial acumen, but he was not, as he thought, a captain of industry. In the Doctor were combined a high inventive faculty and an actual indifference to money. It was not the equipment likely to produce an industrial leader.

In 1908 W. K. Kellogg relinquished his interest and position in the Sanitas Nut Food Company. Soon afterward the Doctor resigned as a director of the Toasted Corn Flake Company. Another tie was broken when W. K. removed the picture of the Battle Creek Sanitarium from the face of his corn flakes package. Corn flakes were to be promoted thereafter for their appetite appeal rather than as a dietary food.

As a result of these moves there developed a series of legal controversies between the brothers over who had the right to use the Kellogg name in the manufacture of breakfast foods. The conflict lasted for some twelve years. Did Dr. Kellogg, when he adopted the business style of the “Kellogg Food Company,” hope to benefit from the extensive advertising of W. K.’s company? Will Kellogg thought so. The Doctor had never shown any desire through the years to use the Kellogg name until his brother did. Perhaps vanity was a factor, or W. K.’s success, or the simple desire to thwart Will. Certainly the Doctor believed with a great sincerity that he was the Kellogg.

Dr. Kellogg, when challenged, gave an ingenious explanation of why he changed the name of Sanitas Nut Food Company to the Kellogg Food Company. He said that W. K.’s son, Lenn Kellogg, told him that Frank Kellogg, a local patent medicine quack and no relation, who sold a cure for piles and a fat reducer, was about to enter the food field. The Doctor rushed in to copper the Kellogg name and save the family honor. But W. K. didn’t believe a word of it. In 1910 he brought suit charging that Dr. Kellogg’s food company was trying to create the impression that its products were made by the Toasted Corn Flake Company.

The issue was settled out of court in 1911 under an agreement whereby Dr. Kellogg’s company was permitted to use the Kellogg name on flaked cereal foods, subject to certain sharp restrictions. There was also a Canadian aspect to the struggle, with the embattled brothers each claiming the right to make and sell cornflakes in Canada on an exclusive basis. In 1916 the controversy flared up again, resulting in a sweeping victory for the younger Kellogg, the judge ruling that the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company was the exclusive owner of the trade name except for the restricted use granted the Doctor by the 1911 agreement. This ruling was sustained by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1920.