- 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 Advent folk were steered into health reform by their astute prophetess, Mrs. Ellen G. (Sister) White. There was a remarkable dynamism about this calling out of a whole church against dietetic error. Revivalistic, tub-thumping in character, the early Adventist agitation over food provided an effective propaganda background for the commercial breakfast food industry. Gifted in oratory, piety, and business administration, Sister White ruled the sect in matters of faith, dress, decorum, personal sanitation, and diet.
The pioneer residents of Battle Creek brought with them from earlier homes the religious experience arising in camp and grove meeting. The Inner Light guided them on their way—and often caused a peck of trouble, too. Battle Creek at one time went in for table-tipping, mesmerism, and phrenology; it heard the knocking of spirits. Crystal gazers, hypnotists and neuropaths, mental healers who advertised “absent treatments,” made themselves as cosy along Battle Creek’s Main Street as boll weevils in a cotton bale. The Potter House played host to traveling doctors who could diagnose disease just by taking one look at the patient. The ineffable Bernarr MacFadden twice muscled in on Battle Creek’s fame, swinging along the streets of the Health City in bare feet and shorts, chest up, stomach in.
Inspired by a nocturnal vision of Sister White’s, the Adventists opened the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek in September, 1866, without the blessing of the American Medical Association, under Act 242 of the Public Acts of Michigan, 1863, which provided for the incorporation of charitable and eleemosynary institutions. The property consisted of a simple farmhouse and about eight acres of land situated on a gentle rise just west of the city. There was no checker-playing or levity at the institute, nor were there dances or charades. There was plenty of old-time religion, oatmeal pudding, and Sister White’s version of the bloomer and sacque separate.
It did not succeed. Patients with money were disappointed in the doctors. The health hunters who stayed always seemed to be the ones who came at a cut rate, and Sister White saw that educated doctors were necessary. Naturopathy and Indian club drills would do for the plain folks, but the institute would never catch on unless it found a leader whom the well-heeled patient could respect. The sanitarium must have as superintendent a man who knew chemistry, physiology, anatomy, and materia medica. That meant something more in the way of preparation than a short course at Dr. Trail’s Hygieo-Therapeutic College, which would award an honorary degree for $25 and a reference.
“Hustle young men off to some doctor-mill, and get ready,” Sister White’s husband wrote crisply to a colleague. “Our Institute buildings are already larger than our doctors.”
White’s quick eye fell speculatively upon a son of J. P. Kellogg. J. P. was a quiet, devout Adventist who sat in the third pew, right beside the Whites, and whose $500 had been the largest single contribution toward the sanitarium. His young son, John Harvey, was small, the runt of the family, but bright as a new penny. Young Kellogg combined brains, idealism, and the faith of the “remnant” church. Why look further?
Never was the sound judgment of Sister White and her spouse more clearly demonstrated than in their perception that young John would hatch out a dynamic medical evangelist. He was destined to take over the rather weird medical boarding house some years later, and to guide it for sixty-five years, until the name of the Battle Creek Sanitarium was known all over the world.
The elder Kellogg, a broommaker and a disciplinarian, had seen to it that neither John nor his younger brother Will ate the bread of idleness. During their early years both boys learned to make corn brooms and to sell them; from their early teens both were self-supporting. John went into the Adventists’ printing plant to learn the printer’s trade, then on to the normal school at Ypsilanti and the University of Michigan. Then, with the encouragement of Sister White and her husband, he went to New York to study medicine at the Bellevue Hospital Medical College, graduating in 1875. While he lived in New York, young Kellogg breakfasted on seven Graham crackers and an apple, one coconut a week, and an occasional side dish of potatoes or oatmeal.
“My cooking conveniences were very limited,” Dr. John later recalled. “It was very difficult to prepare cereals. It often occurred to me that it should be possible to purchase cereals at groceries already cooked and ready to eat, and I considered different ways in which this might be done.
“Two years later, after I had returned to Battle Creek and reorganized the little health institute into the Battle Creek Sanitarium … I took the matter up and prepared the first Battle Creek health food which I called Granola. This food consisted of a combination of grains which were partially digested by exposure to heat for several hours.”
When the Doctor gave the account quoted above, it had slipped his mind that originally he had called his product Granula, the same name that was used for a whole-wheat food manufactured by Dr. James Caleb Jackson at Dansville, New York. He was sued by the Granula people, and in 1881 changed the name of his article to Granola. Granula or Granola, either way it closely resembled toasted bread crumbs, and sold for twelve cents per pound, which was well above the going market on bread crumbs.