Dr. John Harvey Kellogg – Inventor of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes

John Harvey Kellogg
John Harvey Kellogg

When eating your breakfast cereal of corn flakes or granola, have you ever wondered who came up with the idea of manufacturing these foods? It might surprise you to know that they were invented by a 19th century physician and surgeon who was devoted to healthy living and the use of natural remedies.

John Harvey Kellogg grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, the son of a family of small shopkeepers and devoted Seventh-Day Adventists. As a youth, he worked with James White, the principle founder of the church, to publish the Health Reformer, a monthly publication for Adventists. Many of the articles in the publication were on health and hygiene and advocated temperance, vegetarianism, and the use of natural remedies. In 1872 the Church sent him to study at the Hygieo-Therapeutic College in New Jersey. After 5 months, Kellogg enrolled at the University of Michigan Medical School and then at Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. He received an MD in 1875 and later studied surgery in London and Vienna, qualified as a surgeon, and performed 22,000 operations during his career, which lasted until he was 88.

Kellogg became editor of Health Reformer in 1874, changing its name to Good Health in 1879, and serving as editor of the journal until his death in 1943. He also published 50 books on various aspects of healthy living and advocating vegetarianism; regular exercise; plenty of fresh air and sunshine; drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day; and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee.


Battle Creek Sanitarium

In 1876 Dr. Kellogg became the superintendent of Western Health Reform Institute, a small  medical institution of 20 patients run by the Adventists. By 1900, it had been renamed the Battle Creek Sanitarium, and was a health spa that promoted a vegetarian diet and forbid its guests from drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. By 1920 it had expanded to 1200 patients, some of them prominent industrialists and politicians. Kellogg invented a range of exercise equipment for his patients and sought to improve the patients’ diet. He developed and patented a variety of new foods including Granola and Corn Flakes, peanut butter, soy milk, and imitation meats.


Postcard showing breathing exercises at Battle Creek Sanitarium, circa 1900.
Postcard showing breathing exercises at Battle Creek Sanitarium, circa 1900.



While a medical student in New York City in 1874-75, Kellogg became convinced there existed a widespread need for ready-cooked foods, at least ready-to-eat cereals. At the Sanitarium, he applied this idea in the production of Granola, which consisted of a mixture of oatmeal, corn meal and wheat meal made into cakes with water and exposed to a temperature sufficient to dextrinize the starch to make it more readily digestible. The product was ground to give it a granular form convenient to eat with milk, cream, or fruit juices. This product became the forerunner of several other similar products similarly dextrinizining the starch content of cereals. This was considered important as certain forms of indigestion were relieved by the use of dextrinized foods, although the reason then was not wholly clear. After trying granola at the sanitarium, many guests wanted to eat the cereal at home, so Kellogg established the Sanitas Food Company to make and sell the product. Dr. Kellogg had help running Sanitas from his younger brother Will Keith (W. K.) Kellogg.


Corn Flakes

Dr. Kellogg also became convinced that indigestion and decay of the teeth were encouraged to a marked degree by failure to use the teeth sufficiently in the thorough mastication of food. Accordingly, he made it a practice to require his patients to begin each meal by chewing slowly a small slice of dry zwieback. One day a patient came into the office complaining the zwieback had broken her teeth, making it apparent that zwieback as a dry food was impractical in several classes of patients – those with artificial teeth, with sore teeth or diseased gums, or without teeth. They needed something they could chew without running the risk of injury to their teeth or other inconvenience. Kellogg experimented with producing toasted or dextrinized cereals in a form which, while dry and crisp, could be properly offered to such persons without the addition of milk or cream, which would destroy the value of the dry food’s capability to stimulate an abundant flow of saliva. After some months, he developed the process for making toasted cereal flakes, which became widely used in the manufacture of toasted corn flakes, toasted rice flakes, wheat flakes, etc. Wheat flakes were produced first, quickly followed by toasted rice flakes and other cereal flakes.

Kellogg's Corn Flakes Advertisement 1910.
Kellogg’s Corn Flakes advertisement 1910.


Creation of W. K. Kellogg Company

By 1905, the Sanitas company was also selling corn flakes, producing 150 cases a day. Sanitas had more than forty competitors by then, as other cereal companies sprang up in Battle Creek.   One of Dr. Kellogg’s patients at the Sanitarium was C. W. Post, who later started his own cereal company. Kellogg claimed that Post stole his formula for the corn flakes.   Kellogg’s brother wanted to expand the business even more, but Dr. Kellogg disagreed and also disagreed about adding sugar to the cereals. They ended up starting two different companies when Will left the Sanitarium and started the W. K. Kellogg Company in 1906. With a commitment to advertise heavily, Kellogg first sold his flakes under the Sanitas name. On the box was the slogan “The original bears this signature,” followed by “W. K. Kellogg” in Kellogg’s handwriting. Within a year, Kellogg’s name replaced Sanitas on the box, and sales were climbing.   Kellogg’s success caught his brother’s attention. In 1908, Dr. Kellogg changed the name of his own food company to the Kellogg Food Company and began selling corn flakes overseas in packages similar to those his brother used. Business dealing between the two brothers, based on W. K. Kellogg’s ties to Sanitas, also strained their relationship. In 1910, Kellogg sued his older brother; the court case dragged on for years. In the end, Kellogg won his suit, although he and Dr. Kellogg rarely spoke again for the rest of their lives. Some of the profits of the W. K. Kellogg company flowed into the Race Betterment Foundation, created in 1914 to publicize and promote eugenics, then later into the W. K. Kellogg Foundation.

Books in the Nixon Library

The P. I. Nixon Medical Historical Library owns several books by John Harvey Kellogg. Plain Facts for Old and Young, published in 1879, called attention to the great prevalence of sexual excesses of all kinds, the heinous crimes resulting from some forms of sexual transgression, and the terrible results following the violation of sexual law and had chapters specifically for boys and for girls. It reflected his advocation of sexual abstinence and his severe views on masturbation. Rational Hydrotherapy, published in 1900, described the history of the use of hydrotherapy and a resume of the physical, anatomical, and physiological facts related to its use. It also illustrated and described 200 different hydrothermic procedures and provided a summary of diseases benefited by their application. Light Therapeutics provided a practical manual in the use of the electric light bath in the treatment of disease. The New Dietetics: What to Eat and How, published in 1921, was written to present the known facts at the time relating to human nutrition for the service of “the physician, the trained nurse, the intelligent housewife, and to every student of nutrition, as well as to the professional dietitian.”

Come to the Nixon Library to read Dr. Kellogg’s books to find out more about his theories on nutrition and natural remedies.



“Harvey Kellogg, MD – Health Reformer and Antismoking Crusader,” Am. J. Public Health: 92(6): 935, June 2002.

“Kellogg Company,” Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed., Reference for Business. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/businesses/G-L/Kellogg-Company.html. Accessed 5/19/2014.

“W. K. Kellogg,” Reference for Business – Encyclopedia of Business, 2nd ed. http://www.referenceforbusiness.com/businesses/G-L/Kellogg-W-K.html. Accessed 5/19/2014.

“Breakfast Cereals,” in Cereals section. John Harvey Kellogg. The New Dietetics: What to Eat and How. Battle Creek, Michigan, The Modern Medicine Publishing Co., 1921, pp. 256-258

“John Harvey Kellogg,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Harvey_Kellogg , accessed 5/19/2014.


All the photographs in this post are in the public domain and were retrieved from Wikipedia Commons.

Article Categories: Treasures of the P.I. Nixon