1. Berdanier, Carolyn D. PhD


John Harvey Kellogg was an important member of the medical community in Michigan who sought to relate nutrition to health. He believed that a daily bowel cleansing was essential to health maintenance. Although, subsequently, this idea was found faulty, he was also an advocate of vegetarianism. With his brother Will, he invented cereal flakes using oats, wheat, and corn. These products were then manufactured by Will's company, The Kellogg Company


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As the 1800s turned into the 1900s, nutrition science was beginning to make itself known. Nutrition scientists published reports on the remarkable healing power of nutritious food for such diseases as pellagra, rickets, beri beri, scurvy, and so forth. Surprisingly, these diseases were prevalent especially among the poor and uneducated, whose food choices were very limited. Reports of the "near miraculous cures" by food of these common problems captured the imagination of the common man such that all sorts of diseases were laid at the feet of food choice. Food faddism had its origins in this unwarranted connection based on ignorance or, perhaps better stated, unsupported conclusions about food and its effects on health. Indeed, even some notable medical persons were convinced that food was the root of all evil. Such an individual was John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of ready-to-eat cereal, corn, rice, and wheat flakes.


John Harvey Kellogg was born in Tyrone Township, Michigan, in 1852. His family was converted to the Seventh Day Adventist church in 1864 by visitor James White. The family subsequently moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, as that town became the world headquarters for this religious group. The Seventh Day Adventists were and are vegetarians. They abstain from consuming meat, poultry, and fish, although eggs, milk, and milk products are sometimes consumed depending on what the particular group dictates.


At the age of 12, he began to learn the printing trade and progressed from printer's devil to editorial assistant for the Adventist publishing house. At the age of 16, John Harvey Kellogg taught in a rural school in Michigan. He then finished high school and enrolled in a teacher training program at Michigan State Normal School in Ypsilanti. In 1872, he was sent by the church to Dr Russell Trall's Hygeio-Therapeutic College in Florence Heights, New Jersey. However, he did not fully accept their teachings and decided to enroll in a more orthodox medical training program, first at the University of Michigan Medical School and then at Bellevue Hospital Medical College. He graduated with an MD degree in 1875 at the age of 23. His senior thesis at Bellevue was based on the idea that disease is a natural defense mechanism of the body.


While a medical student, John Harvey Kellogg continued to serve the Adventist publishing house. He became editor of their monthly magazine, Health Reformer (later changed in 1879 to Good Health). One year after obtaining his MD degree, he became the medical superintendent of the Western Health Reform Institute, which he later renamed the Battle Creek Sanitarium or the "San." While superintendent, he applied his ideas about health, which he called "biologic living." His "Battle Creek Idea" enjoyed widespread support among the Adventists for about 20 years, after which the church began to question some of his programs. The church urged him to curb his desire to expand his programs, but he was unwilling to do so. This led to a split between the church and John Harvey Kellogg, and subsequently, Kellogg was excommunicated in 1907. There ensued a battle with the church over the control of the Sanitarium. Within the Sanitarium, Kellogg had established a Foods laboratory, and it was there that a process for preparing cereal flakes was developed. Flakes from wheat, corn, and rice were prepared, and their use as a breakfast cereal was encouraged.


John Harvey Kellogg's Brother Will (Will Keith Kellogg, 1860-1951) worked with his brother for a number of years until policy decision differences led to a split between the brothers. They argued over whether to use sugar in the production of the flakes. Will thought that this addition made the product tastier and more attractive; also, the sugar aided in the browning of the flakes. John opposed this addition and some other decisions about the management of the company and the development of other products. Will founded a separate food manufacturing company and, through a series of legal battles, secured the right to use the Kellogg name on these cereal products. The first name of this company was the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. It was subsequently renamed The Kellogg Company. Much later, Will established the Kellogg Foundation, which administers funds for educational and charitable purposes. About this time, James Caleb Jackson invented a dry cereal called granula, an early predecessor of today's granola. In addition, a former Kellogg patient, Charles William Post, started a rival cereal company, Post cereals. Post also developed the beverage Postum.


John Harvey Kellogg had a sharp mind and great manual dexterity. He was a skilled surgeon and, in the 1890s, set a record of 165 abdominal surgeries without a fatality. He was elected to the American College of Surgeons in 1914. He was highly regarded by the Brothers Mayo (Founders of the Mayo Clinic). His favorite organ was the bowel, and he maintained that 90% of all illness was caused by bowel problems. To address these problems, he advocated daily cleansing. He even invented an enema machine capable of pumping 15 gal/min of an enema solution (usually epsom salts) into the bowel. After such a cleansing, the patient was to consume a pint of yogurt. This was to establish a beneficial bowel environment. The idea of a daily cleansing or daily enema (and very loose stool) continues even today with many of the elderly people. They hold on to the idea that if they do not have this daily stool, then they are unwell. Unfortunately, with many who hold this idea, there is the risk of developing an irritable colon that could evolve into colitis, a very serious and debilitating condition often requiring surgery to correct.


In addition to daily bowel cleansing, John Harvey Kellogg advocated "fletcherizing." This involved chewing food so much that the food would then "slither" down the esophagus. He later abandoned this idea. John Harvey Kellogg advocated vegetarianism and favored low-protein, high-fiber laxative foods. He also advocated morning calisthenics and open-air sleeping. During Michigan winters, this must have been quite a challenge to adherents!


John Harvey Kellogg wrote and had published a number of books and articles, and it was the income from the sale of these publications that supported him. Perhaps, one of his most noted books was The Miracle of Life, published in 1904. Although Kellogg served as the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium, his income was derived from his surgical practice and his publications. Although he and his wife had no children, they adopted 7 and parented a total of 40. John Harvey Kellogg died in Battle Creek in 1943, leaving a legacy of dry breakfast cereal use, vegetarianism, and the idea of daily bowel cleansing. Some of this legacy lives on today.


Further Information


Carson G. Sylvester Graham. In: The American Heritage Cookbook. New York: The American Heritage Publishing Company, Simon & Schuster; 1964:173-178.


Deutsch RM. The Nuts Among the Berries; An Expose of American Food Fads. New York: Oxford Press; 1967. 135 pp.


Deutsch RM. The New Nuts Among the Berries. New York: Oxford Press; 1977. 150 pp.


John Harvey Kellogg [Web]. Accessed August 3, 2006.