John Harvey Kellogg – Corn Cereals and Crazy Medicine


Stroll down the cereal aisle at any grocery
store and you’ll find a myriad of choices for starting your day. Healthy and unhealthy, packed with sugar or
packed with bran, we’re not wanting for options. The idea of a breakfast cereal industry is
one that’s taken for granted in today’s modern world, but it’s a surprisingly recent idea
with a bizarre history. Kellogg is, of course, one of the first names
that comes to mind when the conversation turns to breakfast. While official Kellogg’s history notes that
it was W.K. Kellogg who founded the company first known
as the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company — and who hired their first set of 44 employees
— it was his brother, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who was the driving force behind the development
of breakfast cereal. And it’s a tale they definitely don’t tell
on the back of any cereal box. There’s devout religious teachings, a condemnation
of sex and fulfillment of natural urges, a deep-seated distrust of conventional medicines,
and a faith in radical treatments that today seem nothing less than barbaric. On one hand, Kellog was driven by a need to
make the world a better, healthier place. But on the other hand, he also dabbled in
things like eugenics and promoted the idea of sterilizing people he deemed undesireable. He was a complicated individual, showing us
that the world — and indeed, history — is full of people who do the wrong things for
the right reasons. And sometimes, an entire business empire is
built on their shoulders. The beliefs that built breakfast To truly understand who John Harvey Kellogg
was, we have to start with his parents. John Preston Kellogg and Anne Stanley were
farmers, but they were also devout individuals who were living on the cusp of the foundation
of a new religion. In 1852, they were introduced to the beliefs
of a new religious movement that was spawned from events that took place — or, more accurately,
didn’t take place on October 22, 1844. That was an important date for a group called
the Millerites, and they believed it was the day of a very literal Second Coming. They believed Christ was going to return to
walk the earth once again, and when he didn’t, the date became known as the Great Disappointment. Religion is, of course, complicated and difficult
to sum up quickly, but the gist of the story is that Christ’s apparent failure to return
to earth divided followers. Some followed a woman named Ellen Harmon,
who claimed to have experienced a prophetic event in December of that same year. She said it had been revealed to her that
the date was right, and she had been given a sign they needed to organize and travel
the straight and narrow path… right into Heaven. The group was following a set of rather disorganized
beliefs and teachings when the Kelloggs were introduced to the movement, and it wasn’t
until 1863 that they organized into the Seventh-day Adventist church. By then, the Kelloggs were already well established
in the movement, having helped relocate the group to Battle Creek, Michigan. John Harvey Kellogg was born in 1852, and
was front and center in the burgeoning Seventh-day Adventist movement. When he was just 12 years old, co-founder
James White — who had married the prophetic Ellen Harmon — invited the young Kellogg
to learn all he could about the printing trade, with the ultimate goal of getting him to aid
in the spread of their teachings via the printed word. Kellogg was fascinated by both the teachings
and writings of the new movement, but also by other works. Earlier health reformers had been preaching
things like temperance, abstinence, and vegetarianism all in the name of living a life that would
bring the mortal human closer to God, and that fell in line with what the Adventists
were just beginning to teach. That was the beginning of Kellogg’s rise to
the attention of Adventist leaders, and in order to make sense of what comes later in
his life, it’s important to focus on where he was coming from and what beliefs he was
building on. Seventh-day Adventist tradition says that
people have a moral obligation to lead a healthy life. Taking care of the physical form, they say,
is the only way to guarantee complete service to God, and living the best, healthiest life
possible includes things like forgoing alcohol and tobacco. But there was a bit more to it in Kellogg’s
day. Adventist leaders were critical of conventional
medicine, and wanted to train their own group of doctors who would have beliefs rooted in
Adventism, but experience in practical medicine that would allow them to be critical while
speaking from a well-informed position. So, Kellogg was recruited as one of a group
of people sent to study first at the Hygieo-Therapeutic College in New Jersey, then later at the University
of Michigan Medical School. Kellogg didn’t aspire to be a doctor in the
traditional sense; instead of treating illness, he wanted to help prevent it. He earned his M.D. from New York City’s Bellevue
Hospital Medical College in 1875, and by that time, he had already published a cookbook
focused on improving dietary habits, authored a work on the importance of vegetarianism,
and took a position he would hold until he died, as editor of a monthly Adventist periodical
he later named Good Health. The Battle Creek Sanitarium In 1876, Kellogg was appointed the superintendent
of a facility called the Western Health Reform Institute, which was quickly renamed the Battle
Creek Sanitarium. Over the next few decades, Kellogg and his
brother, Will, would oversee the development of this midwestern facility into a globally-recognized
destination, part resort, part medical facility, and part retreat of the rich and powerful. That’s not an exaggeration, either. At the height of its popularity, the facility
welcomed between 12,000 and 15,000 new patients each year, and some of those faces changed
history. Among the patient list were names like Henry
Ford, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Warren Harding, Booker T. Washington, and
Sojourner Truth. Even Amelia Earhart stopped in for a little
R&R before major flights, a practice that came to be known as “taking the cure”. The facility was impressive, and “impressive”
is putting it mildly. In addition to a 15-story tower with 1200
bedrooms, there were hundreds of baths, a lobby the size of a football field, indoor
gardens, and to give an idea of the scale of the place, there were a full five acres
of marble-covered floors. The sanitarium had its own power plant, a
staff of doctors, nurses, orderlies, masseuses, and at the head of it all was the good Dr.
Kellogg, who met with each and every patient who got off the train and was delivered into
his care by liveried coachmen. It sounds absolutely brilliant, but here’s
where things start to get… weird. Kellogg’s sanitarium was outfitted with all
the equipment he could possibly need to get patients in tip-top shape, but treatments
weren’t necessarily ones people were thrilled to be prescribed. One of the most popular rooms was the sanctum
sanctorum, which was filled with — and yes, this was a real thing — enema machines. Each machine was capable of pumping 15 quarts
of water you-know-where in just a single minute, and if there’s anything that will encourage
you to reach for that high-fibre cereal, it’s that. In extreme cases where that wasn’t enough
to get patients having their recommended 4 bowel movements per day — a number Kellogg
reached after watching apes — they were prescribed yogurt. First, a pint of yogurt per day was added
to a patient’s diet, then they were given a yogurt enema. Why? Cleanliness. Kellogg was obsessed with it. Take those marble floors. They weren’t there for appearances, they were
there because they were a surface where “germs and vermin can never find a lodging.” Enemas weren’t the only commonly prescribed
treatment patients could expect to experience. Kellogg was also a proponent of light therapy,
and he was the inventor of something called the electric light bath. Essentially, patients were put into a cabinet
lit with light bulbs, and it was thought to be a cure for a number of ailments, everything
from writer’s cramp to syphilis. And it’s also worth noting that this one isn’t
as far-fetched as it seems at first glance — some of Kellogg’s work laid the groundwork
in using light therapy to treat depression. Kellogg was also interested in the healing
powers of electricity, and prescribed regular sinusoidal current treatments to some patients,
particularly those diagnosed with tuberculosis and lead poisoning. The mild electrical currents were applied
with the help of a device he made himself from a telephone, and sometimes the current
was applied to the skin, and sometimes, it was applied straight to the eyeballs in an
attempt to treat ocular disorders. And that wasn’t the only machine he invented. The sanitarium was filled with devices that
would shake, vibrate, slap, and even beat patients to various ends. Some were designed to stimulate the bowels,
others were thought to help improve circulation. And some of the good doctor’s wealthiest patients
had their own versions of his machines installed in their homes — Calvin Coolidge even had
one in the White House during his term as president. It’s also worth noting that people loved going
for treatments at the clinic, affectionately known as the San. Just a few years after Kellogg took over,
he went from treating 300 people a year to 1200, and numbers just kept climbing. He truly believed in what he was doing, and
even advertised in major magazines to help get the word out about his miraculous treatments. An advertisement ran in Good Housekeeping
in 1907, and boasted of the 46 different kinds of baths at Kellogg’s disposal. Some were ordinary, like foot baths, some
were odd, like the light baths, and some could only be described as extensive. Patients complaining of ailments like chronic
diarrhea, various skin conditions, and mental illnesses might be prescribed a continuous
bath. And what was that? It was a normal bath, taken in a tub, but
a patient could be instructed to stay there for days, or even months. The more you think about that, the worse it
gets, but it wasn’t the worst thing Kellogg ever prescribed — that dubious honor belongs
to his cures for what he called “the solitary vice”. Mastubation, he believed, would ultimately
lead to things like heart disease and insanity, so to stop patients with a chronic habit,
he did terrible things. Boys would be bound, tied, or forced to wear
cages, and if that didn’t work, they were circumcised without anesthetic in hopes that
the pain would discourage further acts. Girls were not exempt, either, and some were
burned with acid or subjected to surgery to remove part of the genitals. Kellogg was devoted to health and godliness,
and he was extreme. Amid these cures, Kellogg also focused on
something that he believed desperately needed an overhaul: breakfast. Changing the way America ate This is where we go back to the heart of Kellogg’s
Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Co-founder Ellen Harmon White wrote that the
truly devout would follow a vegetarian diet, because fruit and vegetables were seen as
God’s gift to mankind. She taught that people should eat foods that
could be consumed in their natural state: fruits, vegetables, nuts, and grains. Kellogg followed that belief, at a time when
breakfast was about as unhealthy as you can imagine. Kellogg, remember, was living at a time when
most people started their day with the previous nights’ leftovers. Some of the most common breakfasts involved
meat and potatoes reheated in a pan with whatever fats they had congealed in. Heavy meals of salted and cured meats were
also popular, and anything grain-based was difficult. It was time-consuming and labor-intensive,
and it meant getting up before the sun, stirring and cooking raw grains into gruel. In 1858, Walt Whitman wrote that indigestion
was “the great American evil,” and it’s no wonder. Gastrointestinal distress was so common and
so frequent there was one catch-all term used to describe all the symptoms: dyspepsia. Kellogg’s attempts at overhauling breakfast
were practical: he wanted something that was easy for someone to prepare, and just as easy
on the stomach. He and his brother spent years experimenting
in their own food lab, trying to come up with vegetarian diets that would be easy for any
patient to digest, and that were boring. The boring part was on purpose. Part of the theory was that bland, boring
food would not only keep their patients walking the straight and narrow right up into heaven
by consuming food in the way God meant, but also that it would prevent them from getting
too excited and overstimulated. They did have some success, starting with
protose. It was essentially an early version of a veggie
burger, tasted of peanuts, and was both given to sanitarium patients and sold through mail
order. He also developed something he called “granula”,
until another 19th century foodie claimed the rights to it, and forced him to change
the name. Kellogg’s granula — bars of corn meal and
oatmeal that were baked then ground into bits — became known as granola. Just how the Kellogg brothers made their leap
into breakfast cereal is a bit of legend and a bit of history, and the story goes that
they mistakenly left wheat-berry dough on the counter overnight. It was stale the next morning, and when they
rolled it out and toasted it, they got some crunchy flakes that became a huge hit with
patients. Kellogg handed the marketing of their breakfast
foods off to his brother, who was working as the sanitarium’s bookkeeper. But all was not well at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Debts were mounting, church elders were concerned
by a curriculum they saw as getting far away from their Seventh-day Adventist roots, and
when a fire swept through the compound they told him they wouldn’t be rebuilding. At the same time, Kellogg’s brother, Will,
was pushing a practical way of getting more people to buy their corn flakes. He wanted to add sugar, an addition that Kellogg
found abhorrent. Will left to found the Battle Creek Toasted
Corn Flake Company, and Kellogg tried his own hand at selling the flakes they’d invented
together. Will sued, won, and went the business route
while John Harvey Kellogg stayed on at the San. It’s also worth a quick aside here to say
that Kellogg’s wasn’t the only cereal company to grow out of this era. One of the Kellogg’s recurring patients was
a man named Charles William Post, who stayed at the sanitarium in the 1890s during periods
of mental breakdowns and stress. He saw what they were doing, picked up on
the trend, and went on to sell the cereals Postum and Grape-Nuts through his own company. Post’s company is generally credited as being
the force that pushed Kellogg to develop better products with a longer shelf life, and as
for the competition, Kellogg would comment that he “was not after the business; I am
after the reform; that is what I want to see.” Kellogg held his patients to strict rules,
and that included sticking to his bland, vegetarian diet and a requirement that they chew: a lot. A devotee of Horace Fletcher, he prescribed
to the theories of Fletcherism that dictated chewing each bite of food 40 times would aid
in digestion. He was often heard leading diners in singing
his “Chewing Song,” and there’s a bit of a footnote to this. Not all of his patients were happy with the
diet and the philosophy of no alcohol and no smoking. Fortunately for them, a particularly brilliant
entrepreneur set up a place just down the street, called it the Red Onion Tavern, and
served steaks, cigars, and whiskey to patients… along with a promise to get them back out
the door in time to beat the sanitarium’s 11 pm curfew. Life beyond the sanitarium While Kellogg spent much of his life working
at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, meeting with patients while wearing a distinctive — and
clean — white suit with a cockatoo on his shoulder, there was more to his life than
just a never-ending parade of patients. He married Ella Eaton in 1879, and while they
had no biological children they fostered more than 40 kids and officially adopted several. She played an invaluable role in his dietary
experiments, and she also introduced him to new social spheres of influence, like the
Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. He was also an adept surgeon, spending some
time studying abdominal surgeries in London and Vienna. By the time he finally put down his surgeon’s
scalpel at 88 years of age, he had performed around 22,000 procedures. Kellogg had a falling-out with his Adventist
church leaders in 1907, and was ultimately expelled from the church. They believed that he was using church funds
for medical research and education instead of evangelism, and it was an affront they
could not stand for. Kellogg still kept control of the sanitarium,
though, and in addition to remaining a consistent, controlling presence there, he also expanded
his reach to open schools for hygiene, nursing, home economics, and physical education on
sanitarium grounds. He served on the Michigan State Board of Health,
wrote around 50 books on the subject of health, issued some of the first warnings on the dangers
of smoking, and this is about to take a strange twist, because he went on to co-found something
less-than-admirable: the Race Betterment Foundation. That was exactly what it sounds like: an organization
dedicated toward maintaining the superiority of certain races by selective breeding. Remember all those children that he and his
wife fostered? It wasn’t entirely out of the goodness of
his heart, as the Eugenics Archives notes that most of the children were, in one way
or another, deemed “undesirables”. Kellogg was hoping to make some sort of discovery
on the influence of environment on heredity, and don’t worry, it gets even worse. The Battle Creek Sanitarium was at the very
center of the spread of eugenics throughout the US during the early 20th century, and
Kellogg devoted about 30 years of his life (and a ton of his own money) to the idea that
excluding people with certain genes from the pool of breeding humans would improve humanity
as a whole. Exclude them how? While he was serving on the Michigan State
Board of Health, he successfully lobbied to pass a law that would call for the “sterilization
of mentally defective persons”, a law that led to the involuntary sterilization of at
least 3,800 people in the state. Kellogg — and other believers — preached
that encouraging only certain people to reproduce would end all the ills the human race suffered
from, from poverty to criminality to, quote, “feeblemindedness”. That superior race was, of course, the Caucasian
one and yes, there was a very real association that would later form with the Nazi party. Kellogg began to completely embrace eugenics
after his falling-out with the Seventh-day Adventists — a group who, incidentally,
believed that all life was a gift from God. He became obsessed with the idea that if things
continued as they were, mankind would begin to decay and degrade in quality until finally,
it simply ceased to exist. In 1914, Kellogg had become good friends with
other leading figures of the eugenics movement, like Charles Davenport, founder of the Eugenics
Record Office. They held the first Race Betterment Conference
at the San, and one of his guest speakers was a former patient — Booker T. Washington
was there to try to talk to attendees and convince them that everyone should be treated
fairly and equally. The San, incidentally, was always a segregated
facility. Conference attendees did more than just examine
and measure around 5,000 children as a part of the “Better Babies” contest, they also
made it clear they were going to start pushing their ideas further into the US. The second conference was held in 1915 at
the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, and it took the society’s beliefs — clearly
illustrated by charts highlighting the differences between “superior” and “degenerate” races
— and put them squarely in front of 18 million visitors. He campaigned for the establishment of nationwide
legislature similar to what he had established in Michigan, and even proposed a registry
where people would be given “pedigrees,” and parents who fell within the established guidelines
for “racial hygiene” would be eligible for awards. There were a few things that brought down
the eugenics movement, and the first was the extremes of Nazi Germany. Even before that, the troubles brought by
the Great Depression proved to many that poverty and hardship had nothing to do with genetics,
but eugenics legislation was still in place — and sterilizations were practiced — into
the 1970s. As for Kellogg, he died in 1943. He nearly hit the century he had always proclaimed
he would live to: he was 91 years old.

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Comments

  1. This story is also related to the diagnosis of neurassthenia, which is itself an interesting story. It is a vague disease with many symptoms but they all come down to "nervousness" or what we now would call anxiety or stress. This was a fad diagnosis in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

  2. As a child in the 1950s I remember seeing the Kellog light bath in some cartoons, mostly created in the 1940s I suspect. I had no idea what they were about, but later learned that the principle was to sweat out impurities in the body. Thanks for giving the details on its creator.

  3. And let's not forget, the seventh day adventists later became the branch davidians. Ya know, David Koresh's guys.

  4. All the wacky health ideas of the 19th and early 20th century should be understood in the context that mainstream medicine at the time was legitimately terrible. This all changed with the science-based reforms of the 1920s and 30s, when the practice of medicine started to vastly improved. But the "alternative practioners" of the previous era weren't always wrong in their criticisms of the mainstream, even if their remedies may have been equally useless or dangerous.

  5. I grew up Adventist and they hurry past all the other stuff he did. According to what I was told he revolutionized hospitals (not hard when you think of the death pits they were at the time) and accidentally invented cereal. I did enjoy my free cereal at the end of the Kellogg’s tour though! Great video!

  6. Wow, proud to see my hometown featured on Biographics.
    My mother worked as a nurse at "The San" during the 1960s when it was just a hospital.

  7. I didn't get this "problems with grain"-part. How about grinding it and making bread? You can keep it for some days and eat it for breakfast. Humans are doing this since 5000 years. Maybe I am mistaken…..

  8. Cheers Simon, naturally I had to eat a bowl of Honey Nut Cornflakes just because I can imagine it annoying the good Doctor that it isn't the cereal as he wanted it to be.

    Maybe the racial purity thing also isn't what I want to be.

  9. KHAN: Nothing ever changes, except man. Your technical accomplishments? Improve a mechanical device and you may double productivity. But improve man and you gain a thousand fold.

  10. I challenge you to find a story from history where a person was devout in some religion and only caused positive events through their beliefs.

  11. Eugenics is not inherently evil. If we allow any and all people to continue to breed without survival of the fittest. by pure statistics we will dissolve into piles of goo. Which is already happening in america.

  12. His cereals were supposed to stop masturbation but millons of individual and mutual experimenters continue to prove his theory wrong.

  13. It's only fitting that I should watch this while I eat a bowl of Rice Crispies. I was saerching for something to watch while I eat these, and this seemed perfect.

  14. My wife had our second baby at The Sanitarium hospital in Sydney. Also referred to as The San. There was also a steak house nearby we visited on her first day up after the delivery. Eugenics, that's definitely out of left field. Not for me thanks.

  15. Interesting video. That guy was obviously freaking crazy Kellogg going right back to some of the crazy practices that they used to do back in the day all the way up to his ideals. But amazingly that company has what has held up to the test of time. I've got a comment on the fact that so many people out there can be caught up in so many different mainstream media Outlets and believe it as truth even though it's not! It really makes you feel sad in your heart when you hear about people going down a deep road or a hole whatever way you want to interpret it. But in conclusion this was a very interesting video and I hope that I never fall down into a hole that crazy in my life!

  16. I love it he was stopping people masturbating while walking around with a cockatoo on his shoulder childish bathroom humour just took me over

  17. Exercise, vegetarian diet, no caffeine, no processed sugar, no alcohol, no pepper, eat close to the ground and regular cleanses. Definitely not more odd than the Keto diet

  18. After Kellogg's somewhat spotty record of trying to improve public health, maybe we should get a biographic of someone with a better record? I'd like to suggest a Charles Atlas biographic!

  19. I find it frightening, saddening, and amusing in equal measure that our world appears to have been shaped by dangerously crazy people. Thanks to Simon and his team for another great piece of work.

  20. Just a little clarification: Seventh Day Adventists believe one is unconscious in the grave ⚰until Christ returns, at which time, the dead will be resurrected. 🔔🎺 "Heaven" to them is this world made new 🌎after the second coming.😉

  21. I hope you guys do one on General Antonio Luna, i hear Mcarthur regarded him as "The Only True General We've Ever had" (Philippines)

  22. Very interesting ; I would strongly recommend the film 'The Road to Wellville' in which Anthony Hopkins plays the madcap abolitionist of young men's wet dreams , Mr Kellogg . Worth a viewing .

  23. You could say he was nutty and a bit of a flake that spoke honeyed words but got crunchy when criticised. Kellogs crunchy nut corn flakes

  24. Could we see a video on General McCrystal, the JSOC commander who called the shot to kill Zarqawi and some controversial topics (and while I’m at it, other terrorist leaders?)?

  25. Love your channels!! Amazing research. Thank you for the hard work. I have a request. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky. I think your followers would enjoy it!

  26. Hit the « like » button? Oh Simon, don’t you know we hit the button THEN watch the video, knowing it will be your usual quality offering?

  27. Lol! Its a Saturday morning and my Seventh Day Adventist neighbors went dead quiet while I played this video. Have fun at church! ⛪

  28. Circumcision as a cure for masturbation?! No wonder Warren Harding was an evil prick. That photo of him must have been taken right after the procedure…

  29. Can we please have vids on mythology creatures? A brief origin of different ones like Norse, Celtic and Asian animals like the mid-guard serpent, kelpies and dragons? One on the difference between Weston and Asian dragons?

  30. Dr. John Kellogg and Post were rivals. Actually, they despised each other.

    During a party in which they attended, Post called Kellogg a dog. To which Kellogg replied, "You know what dogs do to posts."

  31. Watching this while eating toasted coconut Cheerios😂 I saw about this on History channel documentary History of Food. It mainly focused on the cereal aspect. It was a very fascinating mini series

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