John Harvey Kellogg

John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) revolutionized the American diet by inventing flaked breakfast cereals first known as Wheat Flakes and Corn Flakes. An avid health reformer, skilled surgeon, and physician, Kellogg's extensive writing and lecturing contributed to a new emphasis on the importance of a healthy diet, adequate exercise, and natural remedies near the end of the nineteenth century.

Kellogg was born on February 26, 1852, in Tyrone Township, a rural community within Livingston County, Michigan. He was the fourth of the eight children that survived infancy born to John Preston, a farmer, and Ann Janette (Stanley) Kellogg. Before Kellogg turned one year old, his parents joined the Seventh-day Adventist movement and moved their large family, which included five children from John Preston Kellogg's first marriage, to Jackson, Michigan. About three years later, the Kelloggs relocated to Battle Creek, Michigan, the headquarters for the newly formed Adventist Church in 1863. In fact, a portion of the profit from the sale of the Kellogg farm funded the transfer of the Adventist publishing venture from Rochester, New York, to Battle Creek. The Adventists evolved from the mid-nineteenth-century religious sect called the "Millerites," who were known for predicting the exact date of Christ's return. Co-founded by James and Ellen G. White, the Adventists also focused on the second coming of Christ, emphasizing the health and purity of their communities as a means of preparation.

Developed Interest in Health

Kellogg's early formal education was inconsistent. Helping his father, who then operated a small grocery store and broom factory, was more important than school. Nonetheless, he supplemented his learning by reading a great deal on his own. When Kellogg was 12 years old, James White, serving as the first Adventist publisher, began teaching him the printing business. For four years Kellogg apprenticed in the Adventist publishing house. During this time, Ellen G. White, the church's acknowledged prophetess, began publishing articles on health reform. As Kellogg set the type for White's articles, which stressed healthy living as a religious duty of all Seventh-Day Adventists, he became very interested in issues of health and hygiene. Along with reading White's views, Kellogg also studied early health reformers Sylvester Graham and Larkin B. Coles. As a result he began his life-long fascination with health and diet, focusing on natural remedies, preventative medicine, and vegetarianism.

Medical Training

Kellogg planned to become a school teacher, and at the age of 16, he taught for a year in Hastings, Michigan. However, he soon felt the need for more formal training. After finishing high school in Battle Creek, he entered the teacher training program at Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti in 1872. In the same year Adventist leaders, who were strongly critical of conventional medicine, became convinced that the church needed professionally trained doctors to affirm their views. Consequently, they chose several promising young Adventists, including Kellogg, to attend a five-month course at Dr. Russell Trall's Hygeio-Therapeutic College in Florence Heights, New Jersey. Although Kellogg rejected Trall's nontraditional medical theories, the experience opened his eyes to a career in the field of medicine and health reform. With encouragement from the Whites, Kellogg pursued a formal degree in medicine. After one year at the University of Michigan Medical School, Kellogg enrolled in Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. He graduated in 1875 and returned to Battle Creek.

The Battle Creek Idea

In 1873 while still a student, Kellogg became James White's chief editorial assistant for Adventist Health Reformer, a monthly publication on health and dietary habits. In the next year Kellogg took over as editor, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Along with publishing articles and editorials in Health Reformer, whose name he changed to Good Health in 1879, Kellogg also began a career as a prolific writer of health propaganda. In 1874 he published a cookbook and Proper Diet for Man, which advocated vegetarianism. Published in 1877, Plain Facts about Sexual Life was the first text to address the topic of sex directly and sold over one half million copies. By the turn of the century, Kellogg, always suspicious of drugs and traditional medicines, developed his theory of hydrotherapy as a superior form of medical treatment. In 1901 he published Rational Hydrotherapy, which became a standard text in the field of medicine for several decades. In all, Kellogg wrote over 50 books and countless articles. He also lectured widely, arguing for the benefit of his health reforms.

Calling his dietary theory the Battle Creek Idea, Kellogg encouraged a diet void of all meat, sparing use of eggs, refined sugar, milk, and cheese, and complete abstinence from alcohol, tea, coffee, tobacco, and chocolate. His total health regimen, which he later termed "biologic living," included regular exercise, lots of fresh air and sunshine, correct posture, sensible clothing, and an intake of eight to ten glasses of water daily. He also came to believe that daily enemas kept the intestines clean and free from disease. According to Ronald M. Deutsch in The New Nuts Among the Berries (1977), "Dr. Kellogg soon added a new dimension to health reform, and one which foreshadowed our own day. For until his entry upon the scene, wearing medical whites—his suit, shirt, tie, shoes, hat, etc., were all white—foodism had been based upon religious and philosophic intuition. Vegetarianism and whole grain advocacies had been born of inspiration. But John Harvey now set out to give these ideas scientific support." He determined that oysters were covered in germs, boullion was basically poisonous, coffee harmed the liver and most likely caused diabetes, and tea was the primary cause of insanity. Thus, based on both scientific and religious reasons, dietary intake should be limited to primarily nuts, grains, legumes, and fruit.

The San

In 1876 Kellogg agreed to take over the Western Health Reform Institute, an Adventist venture founded ten years earlier in Battle Creek to provide natural medical remedies. With only 20 patients, the Institute was about to close its doors when Kellogg took over. After changing the name to the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Kellogg set about to transform the institute into the most famous health retreat of its time. By the turn of the century the Battle Creek Sanitarium, known as The San, had grown to 700 beds. Kellogg enticed some of the most famous and powerful people in the United States to his health institute. In all, over 200,000 patients were treated at The San, including Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Harvey Firestone, J. C. Penney, and C. W. Barron. During his early years at The San he also pursued his interest in surgery, and traveled to Europe several times to study surgical techniques. Over the course of his career, he performed some 22,000 operations, introduced important antishock methods and postoperative exercises to prevent complications, and claimed a record of 165 abdominal surgeries without a fatality. He served on the Michigan State Board of Health from 1878 to 1891 and from 1911 to 1917.

In 1879 Kellogg married Ella Eaton, of Alfred Center, New York. The relationship was much more of a partnership than a marriage. Believing that sex bred evil diseases, especially in men, Kellogg was determined to live a celibate life, and the two maintained separate bedrooms through their marriage. Although they had no children by birth, the Kelloggs were foster parents to 42 children, several of whom they adopted. Because most household chores were attended to by young Adventists in training at The San, Kellogg's wife, who held a college degree in domestic science, was free to spend her time pursuing her interest in dietary experimentation alongside her husband.

Invention of Flaked Cereal

In his efforts to invent a supremely sound and healthy diet, Kellogg developed numerous new food products. In 1877 he created a multigrain biscuit that was then crumbled, called Granola. However, he was later forced to change the name after being sued by Dr. James Caleb who had previously marketed a similar product, Granula. Kellogg also developed such products as peanut butter (so that patients with poor teeth could consume nuts), meat substitutes, and a grain version of coffee. His legendary invention of breakfast cereal came about after he became convinced that indigestion and tooth decay were caused by insufficient chewing. Accordingly, he began requiring his patients to start each meal by slowly and thoroughly chewing a piece of zweibach, a hard German twice-baked bread. When a patient complained that chewing the zweibach broke one of her teeth, Kellogg set about to find a solution. He needed a dry crisp grain product that could be chewed safely. In 1894 in the experimental kitchen, Kellogg, assisted by his younger brother Will Keith who served as The San's business administrator, invented wheat flakes. After accidentally forgetting about a batch of boiled wheat for several days, the brothers pushed the dried dough through rollers and then scraped flakes off the rollers. They discovered that, once baked, the wheat flakes were quite tasty.

Although Kellogg intended to use his new invention for chewing exercises, The San guests soon realized that the wheat flakes were even better with milk. The popularity of the product, known first as Granose and later as Toasted Wheat Flakes, soon spread and in the first year, Kellogg sold over 100,000 pounds of cereal. The brothers later applied the same flaking process to corn and rice. Although highly successful, the Kelloggs were not the first to market dry cereal. In 1893 Henry D. Perky of Denver, Colorado, developed a machine that shredded wheat, which he appropriately named Shredded Wheat. After the success of Toasted Wheat Flakes, numerous imitators flooded the market with new versions of breakfast cereals. Although most failed, some, including former San patient Charles W. Post, created lasting products that competed for the cereal market. Nonetheless, profits from cereal sales along with book sales made Kellogg, who took no salary as superintendent of The San, a wealthy man, and funded the elaborate 20-room home in which the Kelloggs resided. However, as his wealth and popularity grew, Kellogg's difficulties both with his brother Will and Adventist leader Ellen White began to increase.

Conflicts Arise

Will, often known as W. K., Kellogg, never had a very good relationship with his older brother. According to Benjamin Kline Hunnicutt in Kellogg's Six-Hour Day (1996), "Famous for his energy and untiring work, John Harvey cultivated the image of superman, dictating to secretaries for eight hours at a stretch, performing operations through the night, conspicuously working at meals and on trains. John Harvey expected W. K. to live up to this myth, and berated him for being lazy if he stole some time at home." When Post began making millions of dollars through aggressive advertising and free giveaways, W. K. wanted to develop a similar large-scale advertising campaign. When his elder brother said no, W. K. began looking for ways to take control of the company. Because of his notorious frugality, John Harvey had convinced employees to accept lower pay along with stock in the cereal business, now known as the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company. W. K. secured financing from a wealthy St. Louis insurance broker and quietly began buying stock. By 1906, he controlled the company. The exchange led to bitter court battles and bad feelings between the brothers that lasted throughout their lifetimes.

Although he had received strong church support during the first 20 years as superintendent of The San, by 1895 Kellogg was being increasing criticized by White and other Adventist leaders who felt Kellogg had veered away from the church's mission. Having established the health institute as a place for Adventists to regain their health, Adventists objected to Kellogg's admission policy. He accepted only the most elite guests and rejected the common patient or anyone whom he believed was too sick. As he became more interested in the medical reasons why certain foods were bad for one's health, church leaders questioned his faith, since the Adventist diet was determined by the infallible visions of prophetess White, not scientific evidence. There was also concern that Kellogg was hoarding the profits from The San and his cereal ventures to fund medical projects at the expense of evangelical efforts to expand the church.

The San Closed

The tensions peaked in 1907. Kellogg was expelled from the Adventist church, and the Adventist headquarters was moved to Washington, D.C. Although he maintained control of Good Health and The San, he was forced in 1910 to merge the American Medical Missionary College in Chicago, a school he formed in 1895 to propagate biologic medical techniques, with the University of Illinois Medical School. The San continued to prosper throughout the 1920s, accommodating some 1,200 patients during its peak. However, the institute's finances were overextended by a building project in 1927. With the onset of the Great Depression at the beginning of the 1930s, the number of guests at The San was greatly reduced, and by 1938, Kellogg closed the doors to the once famous sanitarium, now $3 million in debt. The inexhaustible Kellogg continued to pursue new projects; however, he developed acute bronchitis in 1942 and died of pneumonia on December 14 of the same year in Battle Creek at the age of 91.


Deutsch, Ronald M. The New Nuts Among the Berries. Bull Publishing, 1977.

Garraty, John A., and Carnes, Mark C. American National Biography, Oxford University Press, 1999.

Hunnicutt, Benjamin Kline. Kellogg's Six-Hour Day. Temple University Press, 1996.

Lender, Mark Edward. Dictionary of American Temperance Biography. Greenwood Press, 1984.

World of Invention. edited by Bridget Travers, Gale Research, Inc., 1994.


"John Harvey Kellogg," Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3: 1941-1945. American Council of Learned Societies, 1973. (December 15, 2000).