- 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
The issue was whether a board would be elected favorable to denominational control or whether its members would be non-sectarian and sympathetic to the Doctor’s methods. There seemed to be general agreement, on the surface, at least, that Dr. Kellogg’s position would not be disturbed. But he rejected that conception. The Adventists, he said, never had demonstrated that they could run a successful sanitarium and he couldn’t either under their authority.
The immediate question was the seating of members eligible to vote. Some 400 applicants, waiting to present their credentials, thronged the former Battle Creek College Library building. They chatted, banged on the piano, knitted, peered curiously through narrow glass panes at the closed session of the constituents. The hour grew late, and then early. Sandwiches were brought in. Tired candidates lolled on folding chairs and munched while rumors swept through the crowd.
The Adventist faction turned out to be the stronger and were able to elect a slate of ten trustees. The Doctor, his back to the wall, struck back with a weapon which had served him well and often—a court injunction. Charging that the meeting which elected the trustees was an improper “rump session,” Dr. Kellogg followed the injunction with an amended order served on the members of “a pretended board of trustees.” This maneuver broke up the annual meeting on its second day. Dr. Kellogg withdrew to his home to think, the church party to the tabernacle to pray.
There was nothing more for the delegates to do except collect their expense money and go home. Judge Blaine W. Hatch appointed six interim trustees to operate the sanitarium pending the outcome of the litigation.
The court fight drew heavily upon the old man’s vitality. His hearing was failing so that even with his hearing aid he had to push the device around the table as each board member spoke. His sight was so bad that he had to stare at a photograph of himself in order to autograph it. Now, in his last weeks Dr. Kellogg also had a slight facial paralysis. Ultra proud, he stayed in seclusion. Through conferences he kept in close touch with sanitarium affairs. Were the guests comfortable? How were the plumbing installations coming along? On December 14, 1943, after a three-day bout with pneumonia, the 91-year-old creator of the breakfast food industry died peacefully in his sleep.
The death of Dr. Kellogg presented an opportunity for composing the legal controversy over the San and its bulging treasury. The Doctor, say those who knew him well, would never have given an inch or a penny. But his successors made a settlement. The sanitarium was placed under the superintendency of Dr. James T. Case of Chicago and his nominees, all individuals who had worked with Dr. Kellogg and would carry on in his spirit.
Will K. Kellogg failed by three months in his fond ambition to live longer than his brother. He died at Battle Creek, following a severe circulatory collapse on October 6,1951, also aged 91, but three months younger than the 91 years and ten months which J. H. had attained.
W. K. and the Doctor had put up twin monuments on their cemetery lots during their middle years. But the more Will thought about the chummy arrangement the less he liked it. So W. K. tore his monument down and substituted a simple sundial on which a bronze robin tugged a bronze worm out of the bronze earth. One could scarcely think of a more apt memorial for Will Kellogg than an early bird—and an industrious one.
Different as the two Kellogg brothers were, one suspects that in the afterlife, wherever they are, they are in the Same Place. The Little Doctor, all in white, cocks a practiced eye at the occupancy rate, one feels, and draws up plans to improve the bill of fare. It is a source of gratification to the food inventor when new arrivals say to him that the name of Kellogg is no strange one to them. But what they are thinking of is the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, the W. K. Kellogg Institute of Graduate and Post-Graduate Dentistry at Ann Arbor, the Kellogg International Fellowships awarded in 21 countries, and—above all—the good name and fame of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.
What could be more natural, then, for a new referral, upon meeting a patriarchal-looking old party from Battle Creek named Kellogg, to ask politely for his autograph, and to add ingratiatingly, while the Doctor’s goatee quivers in distress:
“I’ve often seen your signature on the package, Mister Kellogg.”
Like Columbus, the U.S. vegetarian crusaders sought one end and achieved another. Looking for a grain-fed City of God, they found instead a City of Pure Food. Out of all the prophesying and pamphleteering, out of all the macerating, the malting, the advertising and the selling, came fame and fortune for a few, while U.S. folklore acquired new legends. The practical effect was to accomplish a wider diffusion of the grain foods, a substantial contribution to the convenience, the enjoyment, and the well-being of the world. Out of the argument between the vegetarians and the butchers has come the sensible mixed diet of today. Perhaps we shall yet gratefully erect that statue to Sylvester Graham which James Parton once suggested as his due; or raise a national pantheon to honor all the philosophers of diet, who, for their own oddly assorted reasons, have urged the world to “browse, well pleased, the vegetable board.”