- Historic Sites
A history of the food reformers and cereal kings who made Battle Creek the center of a revolution in Americans eating habits
June 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 4
When W. K. bought out the last of the Doctor’s holdings in the Toasted Corn Flake Company he went into debt for a third of a million dollars to do it. Later, when he found himself able for the first time to write a check for a million dollars, he said that he had never wanted or expected to be rich, but that other people had made him rich by trying to push him around. Much of the credit for W. K.’s prosperity, then, must be given to Doctor John, an artist in the push-around.
There were interludes of pacific relations between the Kellogg brothers when nothing more ruffling occurred than San patients addressing Will as “Doctor,” or mail coming into the sanitarium addressed to “Dr. W. K. Kellogg.” W. K., if indisposed, would enter the sanitarium as a patient, though reserving the right to complain about everything. Dr. Kellogg would address W. K. in correspondence as “Dear Brother Will,” and sign himself, “As ever, your affectionate brother—John Harvey Kellogg.”
But always something would come between the loving brothers. Perhaps a Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company salesman would find some Kellogg Food Company export goods that the Doctor could not legally sell in the continental United States right out on the shelf in Port Chester, New York. Then the fur would fly again.
“I served your interest, tried to be you, to see with your eyes, think as you thought,” said Will K. Kellogg sharply, “And now …”
Although W. K. Kellogg liked to remark that he was “an old man” before he struck out in business for himself, the rapid expansion in the assets of the Toasted Corn Flake Company had a tonic effect upon him. It may truly be said that he seemed to get younger with every million. His pleasure lay in acquisition, not in distribution of the profits.
“I never had a taste for high living,” he said. “I never cared to own a yacht.”
Years later, when W. K. was living in California, he took a friend to lunch. When he had paid the bill he drew out a memorandum book and entered the price of the lunch.
“Why do you do that?” his companion asked.
“Always will,” said W. K. with that startled look. “Habit, I guess.”
Returning by train from a grocers’ convention at Oklahoma City, W. K. rode in a drawing room and felt it necessary to apologize for it. Many who came in contact with this simple, naïve side of the tough-fibered old multimillionaire were much affected by such homely incidents.
An episode which throws light upon the character of the two Kellogg brothers occurred early in the days of the popular interest in vitamins. The Doctor had once more brought out a promising invention. It was a new food to which he had given the fortunate name Pep. The product was a sort of pulverized zwieback, with vitamins added. The happy trade name and the vitamin interest caused the product to develop spectacularly.
W. K. Kellogg kept a worried eye on Pep’s progress. He would stick his head into his son’s office and announce:
“The Doctor’s selling a carload a day of that Pep!”
Not long afterward he was telling his son Lenn:
“The Doctor’s selling two carloads a day!”
“Wait a minute,” Lenn said. “Pep. Pep.” He repeated the name, frowning. “You know, I don’t think the Doctor owns that trade mark. I’m sure I’ve seen another Pep product around somewhere.”
A search was made. Sure enough there was a prior holder of a trade mark registration of the name Pep. Surbrug’s Nut Products, Ltd., a small company in New York City, J. W. Surbrug, proprietor, had registered the word in 1915 as the mark for a peanut and popcorn confection.
The Kellogg Company lawyer in New York called at once on the candy manufacturer.
“Sure, I’ll sell,” Surbrug said. “Matter of fact, there’s a fellow out in Battle Creek, name of Kellogg, who’s been dickering with me. He offered $5,000, but I’m asking $7,500. He said he’d be in town in a few days, but if you’ll pay me the $7,500 it’s yours.”
The attorney reported to Battle Creek by phone.
“We’ll have our New York office send you over a check,” said Lenn. “Get out there and buy it right away.”
Two days later the economical Doctor called on Surbrug, learned that someone had beat him to the punch.
“Whom did you sell Pep to?” the Doctor demanded.
“Man name of Clarke,” Surbrug replied, and gave the lawyer’s address.
Dr. Kellogg called upon Clarke.
“I want that trade mark,” he said. “What’s the price?”
“Sorry, I bought it for a client. It’s not for sale.”
“Well,” the Doctor countered, “I’ll think up another name just as good. I’ll call my product ‘Zep.’ ”
“If you do,” W. H. Crichton Clarke warned him, “you’ll be infringing on our trade mark and we’ll sue you.”
Dr. Kellogg then had to return to Battle Creek and destroy thousands of Pep cartons which had already been printed up.
“We weren’t very sympathetic,” W. K. said.
True to his threat, the Doctor renamed his product Zep. The Kellogg Company promptly filed a trade mark infringement suit against him. He changed to Zo. But by that time the damage had been done. His product was dead.
“That was characteristic of the Doctor,” Lenn Kellogg commented. “Here he had a product on which he was netting about $2,000 a day. He lost the whole thing while he was haggling with a little New York manufacturer about a $2,500 difference in the price.”