A history of the food reformers and cereal kings who made Battle Creek the center of a revolution in Americans eating habits
“Everyone,” he wrote, “is jostling his neighbor and his mouth is filled with pork, rum and tobacco.”
A Massachusetts man, Wheeler had seen what a breakfast of pork and beans and pie could do to the parishioners of the Congregational Church on a hot summer Sunday morning. The effects were so stupefying that the minister preached, in effect, to tons and tons of pork and beans. Wheeler knew well the salt fish diet, too, and had seen countless little girls hand up a “store order” to the clerk: “Please send by the bairer six pounds of codfish.” He knew the molasses, flour, and condiments, the ginger and the bags of black pepper that went into the salt-box houses of eastern Massachusetts—and the nostrums that followed to repair the damage.
Mr. Wheeler, who is known to history only for his diatribe against the eating habits of his time, was one of a very few voices then crying in the gastronomic wilderness. Perhaps the loudest was that of Sylvester Graham, who opposed pork, tobacco, salt, hot mince pie, tight corsets, and feather beds (conducive to unchastity), and whose name lives on in Graham bread and Graham crackers. It was the very dawn time of food reform, and the nation stood in dire need.
In The Chainbearer James Fenimore Cooper has a frontier housewife say: “I hold a family to be in a desperate way when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel.” The reliance upon pork was even more complete, if that was possible, in the western country. A York state man wrote back home from Camp Point, Illinois, “The living in this western country is not at all to my liking. Everything tastes and smells of ‘hog’s grease.’ … It is no wonder that the West yields a golden harvest to the Doctors.” Westerners dined on coffee, hog, and hominy three times a day, the editor of the Graham Journal of Health and Longevity observed; they kneaded their corn bread with grease and eggs. As a consequence, “bilious complaints are now all the fashion at the ‘Great West.’ ”
Horace Greeley had an intimate knowledge of the bill of fare in the Far West, for he made the journey overland from New York to San Francisco in 1859 and boarded for a while in Denver. The staples were bread, bacon, and beans, one meal like another. But the times, he said, were improving. The hen population within five hundred miles of Denver, formerly four or five, had recently risen to twelve or fifteen, and egg prices were falling.
To James Parton, the trans-Mississippi country was an uncivilized wilderness. Leading biographer of his generation with his popular lives of Franklin, Jefferson, Greeley, and others, and a bit of a reformer him-self in matters of smoking, drinking, and eating, Parton wrote that travelers who headed west from St. Louis would “strike a region where the principal articles of diet are saleratus and grease, to which a little flour and pork are added.” The mixture would not sustain the natives, he said, except that they carefully “preserve” their tissues in whisky.
From prehistory down to the colonization of America, man was principally interested not in choosing foods which contained the essential nutrients, or even the foods he particularly liked, but in getting enough of something to eat. The Scotch who flowed into Philadelphia, the Irish “b’hoys” who built the canals and railroads, and all the immigrant arrivals representing other national strains, joined with the resident American farmer in the ingestion of a God’s plenty of food, eating, for the first time, above a ton of foodstuffs per person per year, with heavy emphasis upon meats. It was the hunger approach to diet.
A cheap, abundant food supply and a robust habit of life sent our ancestors off on a gigantic gastronomic binge which knew no limits until modern urban living modified the prevailing idea of what constituted three square meals. In our rugged democracy all classes could for the first time acquire the palpitations, nightmares, obesity, and eructations formerly the exclusive perquisites of the higher orders of society. Those who could afford it took the waters at Saratoga or Ballston Spa or turned to a convalescent home for a discipline of compulsory fasting and internal bathing. Those with limited funds could try the extract of colocynth and aloes, or dine penitently when in extremis on oatmeal gruel.
“The ordinary mode of eating,” said Mrs. Trollope, “is abundant, but not delicate.” “How do you do?” was not a conventional greeting but an anxious inquiry.
In professors’ and ministers’ families, far removed from the world of fashion, midday dinner consisted of two meats, gravies, pickles, vegetables, condiments, cheese, bread and butter. Then the diners polished off a pudding or pie, with perhaps fruit to fill in the chinks.
A ceremonial dinner party in Boston society of the 1850’s was ideally designed to bring on bilious spells and the lackluster eye. There was a formal affair at William Appleton’s, for example, served “by three blacks and our two servants.” It consisted first of “cold oysters, Oyster Pâtés , Hock wine offered; boiled and baked Fish, Pass the wine; next, boiled Turkey, roast Mutton, Veal with Peas and Ham; Sweet Bread and Croquettes; then Wine and Roman Punch. After Course, two pair Canvas-Back Ducks, two pair Grouse, Wood Cocks and Quails, with Salad:—Blanc Mange, Jelly, Baked and Frozen Pudding, etc., etc., with Ice Cream, Grapes, Pears, Apples, Oranges & Ornamental Sweets from the Confectioner.” If any good thing was said later in the Appleton drawing room, it is doubtful if it was heard by the liverish company who had far more need of Huxham’s tincture, of quassia or a mechanical manipulation of the epigastrium, than of an epigram.
To the easy availability of U.S. foodstuffs was added another peril: poor preparation. The campfire, the cabin, the exigencies of the scout and trapper, produced a national taste for frying-pan cookery. The hunter, the squatter hoeing his corn patch, the farmer, each enjoyed a squirrel broth as much as the next fellow. But each, day in and day out, depended upon thick pieces of salt pork as his breakfast staple. Hunks of white side meat were boiled for noon dinner. Supper saw the pork served again with a white flour gravy and molasses as a sop for corn bread and biscuit. On this monotonous dietary the rural American managed to conquer a continent and produce a posterity to inherit it.
Around Civil War times a lecturer upon food and cookery appeared from France, M. Pierre Blot, who tried to elevate the American cuisine. Blot got a stony reception. A few in the small, rarefied world of the bon ton imitated the French with their ices and ice creams, their green vegetables, sauces and salads. But the citizenry refused to surrender their skillets, spider bread, and dried apple pie for frenchified fruits, pot herbs, and foreign sauces.
Wolfing down the meal has a long history in North America. In stagecoach days, when the tavern keeper rang the dinner bell, the customers rushed from the washing pump to long tables, just as they later learned to slide on and off the stool of a railroad café in ten or fifteen minutes. The rule at an American inn was: eat all you want. Price: 25 cents, whisky 5 cents extra. The pattern was “gobble, gulp, and go.” These deficiencies in diet, these graceless manners, had almost as disastrous an effect upon the nation’s teeth as upon its stomach. They did, at least, stimulate American eminence in the field of dentistry and provide unusual opportunities for an interesting practice.
A visitor to Chicago when it was an “upstart village” found there the “usual American celerity in eating and drinking … no ceremony whatever observed; every man for himself.” Were these the manners only of the untamed West? Thomas Hamilton, English visitor and novelist, describes a breakfast table scene at Niblo’s Hotel in New York:
“Here was no loitering nor lounging … no intervals of repose in mastication; but all was hurry, bustle, clamor and voracity, and the business of repletion went forward with a rapidity unexampled.” Diners ate and departed abruptly. “The appearance of the table under such circumstances, was by no means gracious either to the eye or the fancy. It was strewn thickly with the disjecta membra of the entertainment.”
The food of the city man in modest circumstances was not greatly different in character from that of the farmer, though it might be staler. The $600 clerk employed by a New York wholesaler when Pearl Street was the country’s great jobbing center, ate at a fourdollar boarding house where the lady of the establishment got her living by stinting. The mechanic or artisan lived on cabbage and salt pork, turnips and beets. The source of cholera and many other ills had not been identified; but there was a dim awareness that people ate and drank unwisely, that those who moved from farms to live in cities could not with impunity eat the same fare they were accustomed to.
A man of consequence in his business or profession faced a special hazard to his health: the established barbarisms of a public dinner. Parton recalled with distaste an affair in New York where he saw “a half acre of doctors” gorging themselves upon indigestible foods in indigestible quantities. And he mentions one dinner where the guests were five hours at table.
Ten courses were required to celebrate properly the opening of a small New England railway. It took twenty-three meats, twenty-four vegetable items, four kinds of pickles, four breads, five condiments in the castors, an even dozen of pies, tarts, cakes, and puddings, and ten liquors for the citizens of Chillicothe, Ohio, to extend a proper gastronomic welcome to Governor De Witt Clinton of New York when he visited their city.
The Battle Creek “health foods,” when their hour struck, had a whole continent to reform.
Battle Creek, Michigan, got its special flavor from the religious-health-medical doctrine of the Seventh-day Adventists. For fifty years Battle Creek was the world headquarters, the modern Jerusalem, of this aggressive, dedicated, fundamentalist society of the faithful, who observed their Sabbath on Saturday. Devout believers in the Second Coming, convinced vegetarians, the Adventists followed Genesis literally where it says, “Behold, I have given you every herb-bearing seed—to you it shall be for meat.”
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.
In the autumn of 1876 Dr. Kellogg agreed to assume the post of medical superintendent at the Western Health Reform Institute. The young superintendent was versatile, intellectually alive. He knew something of astronomy and read French and German, though he was never able to speak a foreign language with facility. He drew rather well and was an excellent mechanic, which served him well when he was engaged in his flaked food experiments. It was the personal achievement of Kellogg to make the floundering little water cure institute a showcase for the Adventist teaching that the true Christian must make his body a fit temple for the soul. Through Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, more than any other instrumentality, the Seventh-day Adventists became an important civilizing influence upon the eating habits of a rough society which in the 1870’s and i88o’s cooled its coffee in its saucer, worked its elbow like a fiddler when dining, “chawed” and spat, drank to the point of insensibility, and bolted its heavy rations in stony silence.
With the possible exception of John Alexander Dowie’s Zion City in Illinois, where steam whistles blew for public prayers, the lacto-ovo-vegetarian sanitarium under Dr. Kellogg was perhaps the most extraordinary U.S. social organism developed by a religious group in the Nineteenth Century. “God established the Battle Creek Sanitarium,” Sister White was heard to declare. But it was uncharitable as well as inaccurate to omit saying that the Doctor established something too—its success.
As soon as he could get around to it, the Doctor renamed the institution “The Medical and Surgical Sanitarium,” explaining that the accepted word “sanatorium” meant a hospital for invalid soldiers. The name usually applied to Dr. Kellogg’s establishment was the “Battle Creek” or sometimes the “Kellogg Sanitarium.” The rest-air-exercise-diet regimen worked wonders on the nervous and metabolic ailments of the overweight woman and the overworked man. They usually caught the sanitarium habit, became repeaters or old “San” hands, and remembered the San in their wills. To such patients, Kellogg gave generously of his time; he seemed able to exercise an almost mesmeric charm upon them.
The Simple Life might be had, of course, at home. But health hunters liked to flock together. What private home, after all, could offer room service, a “wheel chair social” on the front lawn, a grand march in the gym, and a string orchestra in the dining room? And so people traveled in increasing numbers to the great sanitarium which grew up around the little Advent doctor.
The expanding administrative details of the San called for a financial man, a watchdog and an expediter. In 1880 the Doctor recognized the need and hired his brother Will K., at six dollars a week plus board and room, to be a kind of steward. John Harvey was eight years older than his brother Will, who had come to know acutely the special problems of being a younger brother. The Doctor saw to it that Will’s duties became richly varied. He kept the books, made the crates for shipping the Doctor’s popular medical books, was sometimes pressed into service to catch a deranged patient who had slipped away and gotten out on the town, or to double as a hospital orderly. Will got the scrag-end of it from Johnny for more than forty years. The pattern of brotherly incompatibility began early and extended into later life when the busy Doctor liked to dictate while seated in his cabinet de nécessité with humble Will taking notes and instructions; it appeared when the Doctor would sometimes ride his Columbia chainless bicycle in wide circles in front of the Battle Creek San while faithful Will trotted at his side with his notebook. From the Doctor’s point of view it was a convenient combination of exercise, business conference, and brotherly hazing. No wonder, then, that when his turn came at the wheel of fortune, W. K. was as short as a butter cake with his older brother.
Emma Kellogg, sister of the two loving brothers, was wont to say: “The Kellogg women are amenable, but the Kellogg men can be mean .”
Many of the helpers at the San were paid-up members of the Michigan Sanitarium and Benevolent Association, which was the Sanitarium’s legal name. Equivalent to stock ownership, membership carried the right to vote at annual meetings and to elect a board of directors who in turn appointed the superintendent. Thus, the help were, in a remote sense, the employers of the imperious Kellogg. But Dr. Kellogg had the whip hand. He could fire any one of them out of hand, and jobs were not too plentiful in the era of the six-day week for the Seventh-day people who refused to work on Saturday and couldn’t get work to do on Sunday. On the whole, the Adventists labored long hours with good heart and occupied with resignation the station to which they had been called. The Doctor was perfectly willing for them to have authority so long as they did not exercise it.
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:
“Without the help derived from this fertile incubator of ideas, the great food industries of Battle Creek would never have existed. They are all direct or indirect outgrowths of Mrs. Kellogg’s experimental kitchen, established in the fall of 1883.”
Ever since Kellogg had been a young intern at Bellevue Hospital, with his oatmeal gruel, his crackers and apples, on which he gained seventeen pounds at a total cost of sixteen cents per day, the criteria had existed in his mind for a good breakfast dish. He visualized a cereal in a form that would have good keeping qualities, require little or no preparation, be attractive in flavor, light and easy on the digestion.
One answer to the need made an obscure and local appearance in the year 1893. It was Shredded Wheat and appeared, not at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, but in Denver, the creation of Henry D. Perky. Perky was dogged with stomach trouble. An expansive, promotive type, he tackled “the food problem” for the same deeply personal reasons which had moved a long line of his predecessors.
The Doctor had a sanitarium patient in 1893-94, who received from a friend some of the little whole wheat mattresses which Henry Perky was peddling in Denver. She showed them to the Doctor. The Doctor tried the biscuits out on his ready-made panel of experts, the sanitarium’s own gastric cases. Interested, Dr. Kellogg dropped off at Denver on his way to the West Coast in the spring of 1894. Perky agreed to send Kellogg a shredding machine and to stop at Battle Creek on his way to Boston where he intended soon to establish a plant. But the Denver inventor decided that it was dangerous to let the ingenious Battle Creek doctor have the machine. Doctor Kellogg never saw it again, or Perky.
Just what exchange of idea or inspiration occurred between the two inventors at the Denver meeting, we are not likely ever to know. According to Dr. Kellogg’s account, Perky got the idea from him, then and there, of baking his product until the starch of the wheat was thoroughly dextrinized.
First from Boston, then from Worcester, and finally from Niagara Falls, came the increasingly familiar little pillow-shaped biscuit in a carton which proclaimed the value of the secret of shredding by listing 43 patents on a side panel, a warning to all evil men who might be tempted to imitate it.
Dr. Kellogg vowed that he would find a substitute of his own. In an account which the Doctor related many times, the solution of the problem came to him as a result of a dream. Said the Doctor:
“I prescribed zwieback for an old lady, and she broke her false teeth on it. She demanded that I pay her ten dollars for her false teeth. I began to think that we ought to have a ready-cooked food which would not break people’s teeth. I puzzled over that a good deal.
“One night about three o’clock I was awakened by a phone call from a patient, and as I went back to bed I remembered that I had been having a most important dream. Before I went to sleep again I gathered up the threads of my dream, and found I had been dreaming of a way to make flaked foods.
“The next morning I boiled some wheat, and, while it was soft, I ran it through a machine Mrs. Kellogg had for rolling dough out thin. This made the wheat into thin films, and I scraped it off with a case knife and baked it in the oven.
“That was the first of the modern breakfast foods.” (Forgetting Shredded Wheat, of course.)
Dr. Kellogg, according to his custom, was reticent on the subject of the contribution made by his younger brother during this period.
“He took most of the glory for the work I did,” said W. K. Kellogg years later. “I have never claimed any glory—the Doctor has claimed that.”
The commercial production of flaked breakfast food began in 1895 in a little barn behind the sanitarium main building. The word spread that wily Dr. Kellogg out at the San had hit upon a magic process which would turn a bushel of wheat worth sixty cents into a fascinating breakfast food with a retail value of about $12.
Despite threats and promises, ethics, affidavits, door guards, employee contracts, the courts, the sheriff, and the county jail, details of the process leaked out. Eventually all Battle Creek went on a flaked food binge. W. K. Kellogg and George C. McKay, a trusted lieutenant, once figured that 44 breakfast food concerns started up in Battle Creek during the early igoo’s. Whole families put their lifetime savings into a fanciful trade name, a recipe, and some old machinery. Manufacturing was started in sheds, even tents, and cappers met the trains to accommodate any stranger who would like to take on some stock in a food factory.
A tent on a hillside, a make-do shack, the half-finished framing of new dwellings, the skeleton walls of partially constructed factory buildings—that was the visible aspect of the new Battle Creek. At night the stranger’s rest was disturbed by the flash from a lantern, the bang of a hammer, the snarl of a crosscut saw in the hands of an indefatigable camper building himself a home.
There was an air of New England about the fine old homes along the avenues, a bizarre touch of Indian Territory about the tent colonies. Reaching for a way to express his impressions, a visitor said of Battle Creek:
“It looks as though a cyclone had dumped Guthrie, Oklahoma, down on Boston Common.”
“Battle Creek, Mich, has a population of 21,647 persons,” said Jabs , a Chicago humorous magazine, “all of whom are engaged in the manufacture of breakfast cereals.”
“I spent a Sunday there lately,” continued the Jabs reporter, “noting that they had Grape Nuts, Grip Nuts (for commercial travelers only), Postum Cereal, Hullo Boena, Hello-Billo, Cero-Fruito, Shredded Wheat, Fruito-Cerro, MaIt-Ho, Flake-Ho, Abita, Tryachewa, Corn Crisp, Korn Kure, Korn Pone, Oatsina, Hayina and Strawina. …
“And it is surprising the amount of nourishment that some of these foods possess. A dyspeptic drummer who sat opposite from me at breakfast, and who from all appearances was not long for this world, ate three ounces of MaIt-Ho and one and one-half ounces of Griplor and then moving the automatic player up in front of the agony box, played ‘On the Banks of the Wabash’ until 12:59 P.M. without batting an eyeball.”
“You sit out on the front porch at night with your host,” said the Chicago Tribune , “and as the cigars turn into ashes he tells you of the fortune that waits the man who can invent a near cigar, full of near tobacco, which will look like a cigar, and smoke like a cigar, and sell for ten cents like a cigar, but which will not be a cigar at all, but some pure, sweet, wholesome combination of non-injurious ingredients, having all the characteristics of a cigar, but none of its harmful and debilitating effects.
” ‘Make the tobacco,’ the man says, ‘just like we have made coffee and breadstuffs of all kinds, retaining the good qualities and striking out the bad. There’s a fortune for the man that can do it. Somebody in Battle Creek will do it some day. Sure thing. He’ll make his million out of it in two years’ time or less.’ ”
A few from among the many cereal names which flourished for a time during the exciting first decade of this century may be cited as representative of all. Cero-Fruito was wheat flakes sprayed with apple jelly. Tryabita was “peptonized and celery impregnated,” made a few miles out of town at Gull Lake, the only Battle Creek breakfast food to carry the union label. There was also Nutrita, Malta-Biscuit, My Food, and Orange Meat, a whole-wheat product despite its vibrant name. At the height of the mania, the Reverend D. D. Martin, a Methodist preacher, concocted the formula for Per-Fo and received $100,000 (in stock) for his recipe.
The Hygienic Food Company gave its flakes a maple flavor. They were known, not unnaturally, as MaplFlakes. Vestiges of the religious background of the pure food crusade appear in such names as Food of Eden, Golden Manna, and Elijah’s Manna, the original name of Post Toasties.
Of all who felt the urge to agitate “the food question” at a profit, the greater number proved to be inadequate in the areas of finance, of production, or of merchandising. One always turns back to C. W. Post as the man who knew the ropes. Money, product, distribution, advertising—he knew the importance of all, and their interrelationships. Business, like diplomacy, has its Realpolitik . C. W. played the game consumately according to the rule book in force at the time.
Charles W. Post (1854-1914) was born in Springfield, Illinois, and arrived in Battle Creek when he was approaching middle age, a health seeker in a wheel chair. He had tried many businesses and made several inventions including some patent suspenders which he sold by mail, but each time he got into a new venture his health broke. Now he was seeking, through a combination of diet, exercise, and mental therapy what he later called “The Road to Wellville.”
Post did not find his elixir at the Kellogg Sanitarium. His treatment there was, by his own estimate, a complete failure. But he spent a lot of time in the laboratory where Dr. Kellogg’s helpers were experimenting with cereal coffee, using a variety of grains. A born promoter, he approached the Doctor with a plan to go it together on a campaign for Minute Brew, the Doctor’s current enthusiasm, but Kellogg turned him down flat. From then on Post scoffed at the sanitarium, and Kellogg was ever after to believe that Charlie Post had stolen his ideas.
Broad-shouldered, slender, courteous, and slow of speech, with a cordial handshake, Post was a commanding figure. He had dash and faith in himself and a bulldog determination. With one helper he started the first commercial batch of Postum Cereal Food Coffee—they hoped it would be commercial—on January 1, 1895. Postum was joined later by Grape-Nuts and Post Toasties. Finally, Post rounded out his creations with Instant Postum. As an early and massive user of national advertising, Post put a “halo” around Postum, using a powerful brand of farmer English: “If coffee don’t agree—use Postum.” Within less than a decade the Postum plant became a spectacular White City of wooden factory buildings painted white with green trim, recalling to thousands happy memories of their visit to the White City of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago in 1893. Post gathered up all the bubbly forces which had been working in Battle Creek for a generation, some elements of religion, and certain aspects of vegetarianism, Right Living, hydropathy, and Christian Science; he dropped the altruism overboard and turned the health movement into an attractive businessman’s risk.
Post introduced the consumer-unit packaging and a standard, uniform product, manufactured on a large scale. He contrived new methods of mass distribution. And he taught the public to use his product by a new kind of argumentative advertising which he wrote himself. “Makes Red Blood” the Postum advertisements proclaimed and did not mince words about the “poisonous alkaloids” in coffee. Coffee was also tagged as a cause of rheumatism. “Coffee Heart” might send the palpitating reader “to his or her long home.”
Postum Cereal was first put up in paper bags and sold around Battle Creek from a hand cart. In February, 1895, C. W. went to Grand Rapids with a supply of Postum Cereal Food Coffee, a pot of cream, and an alcohol lamp to demonstrate his new product. Post boiled his vegetarian brew in the office of Willis H. Turner, the editor of the Evening News , and demonstrated to Turner the fragrance, potability, caffeinefree characteristics of his brain child. He left with a credit of $1,000 for advertising. By April total sales amounted to $856. In December they were $5,000. The next year they jumped again—$265,000 was the closing figure. In 1898 sales amounted to $840,000. Growth continued at an almost geometrical ratio.
Industrious Charlie Post invented a disease called “coffee neuralgia” and poured on more advertising. “Lost Eyesight through Coffee Drinking,” Post wrote of a sad case reported from Aurora, Illinois. The moral: Quit coffee. Take up well-boiled Postum.
Postum, a hot drink, developed a seasonal pattern of sales with the peak in the winter. Post needed another cereal product to sell in the summer. For several years he had prepared a granulated food for his own use and twice-baked it in his kitchen range, with the help of his little daughter.∗ In later life Mrs. Marjorie Post Close Hutton Davies, owner of the Sea Cloud , the world’s biggest private yacht, and former wife of Joseph E. Davies, U.S. ambassador to Russia. In 1937 C. W. Post’s daughter astounded the Russians by arriving in Moscow with twenty refrigerators full of cream and several tons of frozen food to see her through her diplomatic stay. It was then ground up in a home coffee grinder. The result, Dr. Kellogg thought, strikingly resembled Granola. Some kind of circle was completed when the Doctor later brought out Nuttola which the Chicago Vegetarian said “reminds one somewhat of grape-nuts.”
Post’s brown, hard-to-chew granules were christened Grape-Nuts; Grape, because the product contained maltose which Post called grape sugar, and Nuts in honor of the nutty flavor of the new dish. It was in January, 1898, that the new food product, quite close to brown bread in content, but novel in form, a little more nutritious than Graham bread because there was less water in it, made its bow in a small black and tan package, bearing Post’s signature in facsimile. The box was small because the food was “concentrated.”
Grape-Nuts and Postum made an ideal team. They supplemented each other seasonally in sales, and the bran which had to be removed from the wheat in the manufacture of Grape-Nuts was used to make the Postum. Grape-Nuts received a generous infusion of the Post advertising magic. The new cereal food was advertised as an alternative to surgery for an inflamed appendix. It was recommended for consumption, malaria, and loose teeth. It was a special food for the brain.
Post’s abilities present an interesting antithesis to those of Dr. Kellogg. Where the Doctor was diffuse, Post was concentrated. Doctor John was always economizing, resulting in much slow hand work and high costs. Post purchased the best machinery available and made thousands of cases of goods on a few items while the Doctor made a few cases on each of his many.
So far as “truth in advertising” was concerned, Post did not lag behind his time. But he wasn’t ahead of it either. Postum advertising was based upon a sound half-truth: some people slept better, felt better generally, when they stopped drinking coffee, whether they drank any Postum or not. The commercial spirit of the times is pretty accurately expressed in the remark of a Maine storekeeper who said he didn’t see why people told lies when the truth could be just as misleading.
Before Post, much advertising was flippant.
“Why is good advice like Piso’s Cure for Consumption? Because everybody ought to take it!”
But advertising done the Post way was deadly serious. Addressing “highly organized people” (are you highly organized or are you a clod ?), he counseled the reader, and one can almost see him waggling that long forefinger: “Remember, you can recover from any ordinary disease by discontinuing coffee and poor food, and using Postum Food Coffee and Grape-Nuts.”
When Postum was spending about $1,000,000 a year to admonish the sufferers of “coffeedom” that their ills—real, imagined, or advertising-induced—would disappear when they drank baked wheat, makers of similar products quickly appeared on the scene, their hearts also torn by the nervous troubles of the people. To C. W. they were not colleagues in a great health crusade. They were viewed, rather, as “buzzards roosting on the fence”; pirates “commercially seeking my life’s blood.”
Dr. Kellogg watched Charlie Post’s anguish over his imitators with amusement.
“The Sanitarium rejoices,” he said, “that our reformatory ideas … have reached such a point of public esteem as to acquire commercial value.”
Of Post’s corn flakes, first called Elijah’s Manna, it may be said that they were the first modern type of corn flake to become popular on a large scale. There were also physical differences which a technician would consider important. The Post flakes were thicker than others, with bubbles on them which were said to cause the flakes to stay crisp longer in milk or cream. The Elijah’s Manna carton was green and white, the color scheme of the Postum plant. The package front carried a picture of the prophet, Elijah, seated on a rock in the wilderness, with a raven on his shoulder, scattering the manna which was supposed to have supported the Israelites.
Post was perplexed when a howl went up in the Bible belt over his new trade name, dismayed when he learned that it was against the law in Britain to register Biblical names for commercial purposes. So, in 1908, Elijah’s Manna became Post Toasties, packaged in yellow and red cartons, cheered up with a picture on the front of a young miss warming herself in front of an open fire with a bowl of corn flakes in her lap.
Possibly no man starting out absolutely from scratch ever made more money in a shorter time out of a legitimate business than did C. W. Post—a New Thoughter in 1895, a multimillionaire seven years later. The World Almanac put in several months around 1901-2, compiling and checking a list of American millionaires. Battle Creek got two into the league with Edwin C. Nichols and David Shepard, proprietors of threshing machine fortunes; but Post’s name did not appear, although his fortune was estimated at $10,000,000 in 1903. Events had moved too fast for the almanac people to catch up with the cash flow at the Postum works.
Battle Creek watched Post’s comings and goings with pride and also with a lively sense of favors to come. His spectacular career made real and actual what benign, paunchy Russell H. Conwell said thousands of times on the lecture platform in his parable of success, “Acres of Diamonds”: that it was a sin to be poor when it was so easy to be rich. The great opportunities in life lie near at hand. Learn taxidermy. Get up a collar button. Raise trout. Invent a wooden toy. Read System Magazine . Be a good talker. Train your memory by the Pelman System. Find a need and fill it. That’s what C. W. Post did. The richer man was the better man, and Post was the richest of all in Calhoun County, Michigan.
For a while it seemed as though Battle Creek might become a one-man town. But a good many people were determined to share in the grain-given fortunes of the inventor of Postum. It looked easy. Drug clerks and invalids, interns and preachers, the men usually found leaning against the sunny side of the depot, all started to think up names which sounded just as good as Postum and Grape-Nuts. In reverie, they saw themselves riding in Locomobiles, with a footman to open the tonneau door and put on the side curtains, their wives rivaling Mrs. Post with rows of diamond rings over their long, gray suede gloves.
Post’s career was one of the most colorful which lay between the days of the railroad builders and the automobile tycoons. The frontier was gone. The supply of free land was exhausted. But C. W. Post’s career proved that the new industrial age offered opportunities of a different sort. With his sure touch on popular psychology, Post might have become a Dowie or a Mrs. Eddy. But he chose the manufacture of breakfast foods as his métier and found in advertising an outlet for his mesmeric talents. After his death, Postum was united with the Jell-O Company in the first of a series of mergers and purchases which led to the development of today’s great General Foods Corporation.
While C. W. Post was riding high, Will Kellogg continued to be Dr. Kellogg’s faithful drudge. He did the shirt-sleeve work, weighed in the local wheat at the Sanitas wagon scales, carried out the dead from the San in the gloaming, and answered the mail. The younger Kellogg saw all too clearly what was going to happen to the last and the greatest of the ready-to-eat cereal foods. It too, like the coffee substitute and the wheat flakes, was going to slip through Dr. Kellogg’s hands; and many a time he gave the Doctor a wigging over the future of corn flakes.
Already under fire in orthodox medical circles for his attachment to massage and hydropathic methods, Dr. Kellogg froze right up every time W. K. broached the subject of commercializing corn flakes. The situation dragged along in an atmosphere of brotherly incompatibility. Sometimes there were quarrels. Sometimes there was a truce, and sometimes the two Kelloggs wouldn’t even speak to each other. In 1905, Charles D. Bolin, a St. Louis insurance man, came to the San as a patient, saw the corn flakes and caught the vision. He urged W. K. to start a company for their manufacture. It was clear enough then that the Doctor was unwilling to undertake an operation on the scale that was being proposed.
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.
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.”
W. K. “retired” on numerous occasions, a little drama of renunciation and withdrawal which was played out in a series of repeat performances between 1924 and 1939. In 1946 W. K. declined re-election to the board of directors, but, as it said in his obituary, “retained an active interest in the administrative affairs of the Company.” There is reason to suppose that the passing of the nonagenarian, when it finally occurred, brought relief and refreshment to the company’s active management. The best evidence of this is the continued and accelerated progress of the firm.
“Nothing succeeds,” as John Finley once said, “like successors.”
Unlike Doctor John, W. K. had a promising son in the business, a point of prime importance to the founder of an industrial dynasty. Lenn Kellogg worked in the various Kellogg businesses and showed a particular gift for arousing a crusading enthusiasm at sales meetings. But he could not make a go of it with his crochety father and retired from the business. Another son, Karl, became a physician and spent his life in California. Disappointed, the aging capitalist tried to bring a grandson into line for his succession but the young man took his own life at the age of 26.
W. K. Kellogg over his middle years made many small-to-moderate-sized gifts—say from $50 to $5,000— to individuals and good causes, often anonymously, sometimes with the advice of his friend Arch Shaw. Later there came a program of larger benefactions. It became an organized procedure after 1925 when the Fellowship Corporation was established. The corporation surveyed needs and opportunities. In 1930 the W. K. Kellogg Foundation was organized and took up the task of awarding large sums on a broad pattern.
W. K. had a particular aversion to being tagged as a philanthropist. One does not need to look far for the reason. Once as a witness in a lawsuit the Doctor was asked to state his business. He could have made many answers. But he saw them all as one:
“All my life my business has been philanthropy.”
When W. K. gave the Youth Building to Battle Creek he refused a newspaper request for a picture and a story.
“Print the Doctor’s picture,” he said, sourly.
After an extended parley, W. K. gave way on the story. But he made this a condition: “Agree not to call me a philanthropist.”
The bulk of the Kellogg corn flake fortune passed to the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which supported a wide variety of programs: tuberculosis control in Detroit; diagnosis of speech defects in children; the construction of schools, pools, hospitals and gymnasiums, camps and playgrounds; the enrichment of life in rural areas. The foundation is among the largest in the United States.
Without denying the possibility that W. K. was moved by a simple, warm-hearted desire to extend a helping hand to his fellow man, one cannot but notice other circumstances which help at least to explain a benevolence which was atypical. First of all was the great unsolved problem of gerontology—You Can’t Take It With You. W. K. felt, certainly, no disposition to leave $50,000,000 to the family with which he had quarrelled and feuded and which he had already largely survived—especially as he had long before made what he considered to be adequate provision for them. He could not, in good conscience, see the corn flake millions gobbled up by the government. He certainly could not allow Doctor John Harvey to go down in history as the humanitarian Kellogg.
Meanwhile at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, the search for The Simple Life became one of our glossier folkways.
The local Chamber of Commerce estimated in the mid-Twenties that the health seekers were worth $6,000,000 annually to Battle Creek. Many patients came for two weeks and stayed for the rest of their lives. Dr. Kellogg’s skill as a host was proverbial. He was, among so many other things, a superb hotel man. Dr. Kellogg’s Monday evening parlor lectures grew more popular than ever, as he discussed the questions submitted by anxious patients. Was psyllium seed better than agar-agar? What did Dr. Kellogg think of Horace Fletcher’s advice to chew every bite 32 times, one chew for each tooth?
“The decline of a nation,” the Doctor would begin, rising on his toes, and teetering, “commences when gourmandizing begins. Rome’s collapse was well under way when slaves were thrown into the eel-pots to increase the gamey flavor of the eels when they came upon the table.”
Dressed all in white, a fashion he adopted some time after 1902, even to white shoes, white overshoes, hat, overcoat, gloves, and spectacles, the Doctor explained that the white costume transmitted the healthful light of the sun. It became a kind of trade mark.
In the grand dining room a dietician cruised the premises to help the puzzled customers choose their menus wisely and check off their calories. Often she had to raise the restraining hand of science against ravenous appetites which might produce eructations or anabolic toxins. The dietician could also point out who that was over there—Upton Close by the wall, and Upton Sinclair on the other side, with his special milk and honey concoction. She knew Emil Fuchs, Henry L. Doherty, Sir Wilfred and Lady Grenfell, just back from Labrador. There was Madame Marie Sundelius of the “Met”; and that, of course, was Henry Ford in the quiet gray suit, a buckwheat blossom in his lapel.
“I like Mr. Kellogg’s philosophy,” the inventor of the high, black, spidery Model-T car declared, and sent a bag of water-ground buckwheat flour from his own gristmill over to Dr. Kellogg.
Across the street from the San was a shanty restaurant called the Red Onion. It was conducted by a sinner, William Gammanthaler, who specialized in steaks and chops with French fries on the side and steaming cups of strong, hot coffee. The clientele sometimes included fugitive patients who couldn’t take the nut butter and protose regimen any longer. Even the staff members often fell off the peanut wagon. And many a guilty San physician was flushed on a Michigan Central dining car enjoying a pork chop on his way to a medical conclave in Chicago when, by coincidence, Irene Castle was dancing at the Blackstone.
Doctor Kellogg’s efficient intelligence agency reported to him upon such defections. But he took them with philosophic calm.
“They’ll come back,” he insisted, “to biologic living.”
In the expansive igao’s, when the Doctor was pushing eighty, the sanitarium added a four-story diningroom wing and a fifteen-story tower, with marble floors, oriental rugs, crystal chandeliers, and a $3,000,000 debt. The move represented a disastrous error in judgment. A part of the sanitarium’s appeal was the heritage of asceticism. When the doctors went plushy they went broke. Of course there were other factors too—the Depression and the gradual change in the American diet. More people were eating dairy products, fish, poultry, citrus fruits, salad greens, and generally less starchy foods with fewer calories—all in all a better balanced diet. Fewer people needed to go to Battle Creek to be “boiled out,” in the Doctor’s old phrase.
In 1931 Dr. Kellogg shifted some of his own interest to a new sanitarium in Florida. Glenn Curtiss, inventor and aircraft manufacturer, a former patient, interested in spreading the Battle Creek gospel, presented him with a luxurious estate at Miami Springs. The consideration was one dollar.
“That’s too cheap,” the yg-year-old Kellogg remarked, and handed Curtiss a ten-dollar bill.
Still in his eighties the Doctor worked as hard as ever. Once at a Colorado mountain retreat he dictated for twenty hours without a break. On another occasion a telegram arrived stating that two chapters for a book, which Dr. Kellogg had promised in two weeks, must be in the mail the next day because the date of publication had been advanced. He began work at once. At five o’clock the next morning the manuscript was finished, the bibliography checked, the typescript proofread and at the post office.
During the Depression there were vacant rooms and cuts in employment at the San in Battle Creek, and on January 1, 1933, the world’s largest sanitarium went into receivership. A new corporation emerged and the San kept going but patronage dwindled until 1942, when the U.S. Army took over the buildings for a general base hospital. Soon the aroma of roasting Army beef drifted from the vegetarian kitchens. Operation of the sanitarium would not be interrupted, Dr. Kellogg announced. More vigorous than ever, the San would re-establish itself on the other side of the street in John Harvey Kellogg Hall. “They bought a building,” he declared, “not the sanitarium. … We will carry on comfortably here, until, in due course, we will go out to the hills and lakes at the east of town and there we will build it all over again.”
But the Sanhédrin of the Seventh-day Adventists Church had other ideas. The sale of the buildings had left the San corporation with a million dollars in the kitty, and the Adventists wanted to use it. Though the Doctor had always run the San without advice from anyone, actual control resided in the members or constituents, who elected a board of trustees.
The vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference sent out a letter to the members of the denomination saying that the San needed their help, that the time had come to take it back into the work of the church. He urged the members of the old constituency to get their memberships paid up and attend the meeting. An Adventist slate of directors and officers was prepared for their convenience. Then an elder got in touch with W. K. Kellogg.
The Kellogg who once said to a man leaving the employ of his brother, “Your happiness is just beginning,” got the point instantly. He saw that the Doctor could be tossed out if the plan worked.
Abruptly, W. K., the ex-Adventist, who thought of himself as being “about as religious as most people,” meaning not very , began to talk the Advent lingo of his youth. The Doctor, he admitted sadly, had flouted the Message of the Third Angel. It was an accusation to move the devout to revulsion, for it meant that J. H. was indifferent to the Saturday Sabbath. W. K. ponied up a fund to pay the absent brothers and sisters to come to Battle Creek. He covered their railroad tickets, bus or taxi fares, food, lodging, and lost time on their jobs.
Naturally, a sanitarium constituent loyal to Dr. Kellogg, received the official letter, and the cat was out of the bag. The old Doctor worked night and day preparing a counteroffensive. He subpoenaed the Washington records of the Seventh-day Adventists, hailed the implacable W. K. into court and brought the whole plan into the open. What added a special note of bitterness, from the Doctor’s point of view, was that at the depth of the Depression, he had turned in desperation to the Adventist Church to see if it would take over the San. There had been no interest at that time.
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.”