- 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
It must be acknowledged that the pay at the San was frugal. When it came to the Doctor’s ear that the help were murmuring, he would assemble the hackmen, waitresses, day and night greeters, bell boys, kitchen maids, orderlies, watchmen, maintenance men, bath rubbers, and bakers for a pep talk. Movingly, he sketched the history and importance of “the work,” mentioned rapidly that he took no salary himself, rising and teetering on his toes to emphasize the point, extolling the advantages of working at the sanitarium. The privilege of serving was real and earnest to that devout people. And the Doctor was at his best when the chips were down. The better instincts of the workers always prevailed, and all hands joined in singing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” breathing deeply from the diaphragm. They returned to their posts with a renewed sense of mission, their belief confirmed that they were making, as Kellogg so truly said, “a partial contribution of their services.”
Dr. Kellogg’s central career as a medical man was that of a surgeon. He made many trips abroad to study surgical techniques and invented a number of stitches used in abdominal surgery. During his foreign travels, Dr. Kellogg levied upon each country to serve the Battle Creek Sanitarium in one way or another. He walked in the morning dew with German naturopaths. He brought home as curios the tiny shoes of the Chinese foot binders, and made comparisons with American stays and the wedding-ring waist. He collected beans in Peru which were three thousand years old, and acquired an enthusiasm for the edible soybean which his fellow countrymen stubbornly refused to share.
Home again with new ideas about Kaffir tea and Psylla seed, with new methods, new vigor, the Doctor plunged into the task of keeping the San filled with some 1,200 paying guests. Kellogg went through a number of dietetic enthusiasms. He had his Bulgarian yogurt phase, his nut butter period, during which he invented peanut butter and Malted Nuts, a milk substitute which may not sound like goobers but was, nevertheless, the elixir of No. 1 Spanish peanuts.
From the first days of Dr. Kellogg’s connection with the sanitarium, there was a bakery on the premises. It baked dyspeptic crackers for the dining room—a fragrant place where a West End boy who made friends with the baker could get free crackers for his supper. Former patients wrote back for the sanitarium foods, and created a modest demand, filled by mail. Some grocery jobbers stocked the sanitarium staples—gluten wafers, Avenola and Granola, which one grateful and no longer flatulent invalid called “the wonder of the nineteenth century.”
A time came when the board of directors of the sanitarium balked at the cost of further experimental work. Kellogg began to develop new foods on his own account. The old lines continued, the zwieback, crackers, Caramel Cereal Coffee, and Granola. But the Doctor set up a new company in 1893 to develop his food inventions—the Sanitas Food Company. He was sole owner. There was soon also a Sanitas Nut Food Company, corresponding to the Doctor’s “vegetable meat” phase. This was the era of Savita gravy, of Protose (like beefsteak) and Nuttose (like veal). Dr. Kellogg was also financially interested in a flesh brush, surgical appliances, an exercise machine, a muscle beater.
In his salad days Dr. Kellogg had some sort of official status in the Adventist Church as “Physician to the Faithful,” wore a special silk robe at camp meetings and was something of an exhibit himself. Once he even arranged a microscope with a piece of diseased meat on a slide in the lobby of the state capitol at Lansing. He made the lazy colon almost fashionable as a topic of polite conversation, feeling, no doubt, as did the professor in Back to Methuselah , who remarked to the housemaid, “My good girl, all biological necessities have to be made respectable whether we like it or not.”
Animble brain and pen were added to the food protest when Dr. Kellogg married Ella E. Eaton of Alfred Center, New York, on February 22, 1879. Ella Eaton Kellogg was a spry little wisp of a woman, hair wavy and parted in the middle. She wore rimless goldbowed glasses and a slightly quizzical expression. It was the face of an old maid of superior endowments. The marriage was a partnership of work and intellectual companionship, although they collected 42 children “in Providential ways,” who were reared in the Kellogg home, sometimes as many as twenty at a time. Some of the brood were legally adopted.
Mrs. Kellogg was the very ideal of the Victorian helpmeet, occupying the second role gracefully, busy with her flowers, running a complicated household smoothly, getting off a social note to Frances Willard, seeing to the children’s schooling while she read Margaret Fuller, Herbert Spencer, Rousseau, and Froebel. And she did more. For 43 years she contributed to Good Health , the Doctor’s chief venture in popular medical journalism, believed in Dr. Kellogg and progress, and turned out books and pamphlets almost as facilely as did the Doctor himself.
The Doctor’s wife saw clearly that there was a serious problem in the dining room at the University of Health. When Dr. Kellogg said “eat” to the members of the Adventist Church, they ate. When he said “don’t eat,” they stopped. But it was always possible that the full-price guests up on the Hill might rebel at the bland fare and take off for Saratoga or White Sulphur Springs. And so she cooked and experimented and played an important part in the development of the greatest of the Kellogg food creations, the ready-to-eat breakfast foods. The Doctor said in tribute to her: