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date: 31 July 2021

Kellogg, John Harveyfree

(26 February 1852–14 December 1943)

Kellogg, John Harveyfree

(26 February 1852–14 December 1943)
  • Richard W. Schwarz

Kellogg, John Harvey (26 February 1852–14 December 1943), physician, surgeon, and health reformer, was born in rural Livingston County, Michigan, the son of John Preston Kellogg and Anne Stanley, farmers. In 1852 Kellogg’s parents accepted the religious teachings that led to the organization of the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1863. This decision had a marked influence on their son’s life. By 1856 the family had resettled in Battle Creek, Michigan. Part of the proceeds from the sale of their farm was used to relocate the infant Adventist publishing plant from Rochester, New York, to Battle Creek, where Kellogg’s father now operated a small store and broom shop.

Kellogg’s primary education was sporadic; work in the broom shop took precedence. At the age of twelve, he was invited by James White, a principal founder of Seventh-day Adventism and its initial publisher, to learn the printing trade. Ellen White, White’s wife and the new denomination’s prophetess and cofounder, had begun to write extensively on matters of health and hygiene. Kellogg set type for some of her early articles on health. An avid reader, he devoured the writings of earlier health reformers Sylvester Graham and Larkin B. Coles and became convinced of the superiority of the life style they advocated, which included temperance, vegetarianism, and the use of natural remedies.

Originally planning a teaching career, Kellogg taught for a year at the age of sixteen in a district school in Hastings, Michigan. Convinced by this of his need for more formal education, he enrolled in 1872 in a teacher training program at Michigan State Normal College in Ypsilanti. Later that year, Adventist leaders, who had become aware of their need for professionally trained physicians if they were to criticize conventional medical practices, sent some of their brightest youth to study at Russell Trall’s reform Hygieo-Therapeutic College in Florence Heights, New Jersey. Kellogg was persuaded to be part of this group.

Five months at Trall’s awakened Kellogg to his need for more conventional medical training. Encouraged by the Whites, he spent the next term at the University of Michigan Medical School. He then transferred to Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City, where he received an M.D. in 1875.

Kellogg intended to use his medical education only as a basis for teaching better health habits. In 1873 he became James White’s chief editorial assistant in the production of the Adventist monthly, Health Reformer. The following year he was named editor, a position he held until his death. In 1879 Kellogg changed the name of the journal to Good Health.

Kellogg first demonstrated his interest in reforming American dietary habits with the publication in 1874 of a hygienic cookbook. That same year he authored Proper Diet for Man, which advocated vegetarianism, a key ingredient in the health regimen he later termed “biologic living.” His system called for abstinence from alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tea, coffee, and condiments, and sparing use of eggs, dairy products, and refined sugars.

Kellogg advocated biologic living as a total way of life. He believed practitioners should follow a regular exercise program, get plenty of fresh air and sunshine, observe correct posture, and wear sensible clothing. He advocated drinking eight to ten glasses of water daily. Always suspicious of conventional drugs, Kellogg preferred to treat illnesses with hydrotherapy. His Rational Hydrotherapy (1901) was for several decades a standard text in the field.

In 1866 the Adventists established a small reform medical institution in Battle Creek. Ten years later this Western Health Reform Institute, with only twenty patients, seemed about to fold. Kellogg was persuaded to become its superintendent “for one year” but retained this position until his death. By the turn of the century, Kellogg had expanded the institute, which he renamed the Battle Creek Sanitarium in 1877, to accommodate 700 patients.

In 1879 Kellogg married Ella Eaton, a visitor to Battle Creek who had become interested in the sanitarium health program. The couple had no natural children but reared more than forty foster children, of whom they adopted several. A college graduate trained in domestic science, Ella Kellogg was a valuable collaborator in her husband’s later food experiments. Her participation in the national Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Young Women’s Christian Association provided opportunities for her husband to share his ideas in these circles. Friends remembered that the Kelloggs gave little evidence of sentimental affection but demonstrated mutual respect for each other’s abilities.

Kellogg’s position at the sanitarium and a concern about mortality rates in abdominal surgery eventually convinced him to qualify as a surgeon. In 1883 he spent five months studying surgical procedures in London and Vienna. He returned for a similar period in 1889, spending part of the time as assistant to England’s leading abdominal and gynecological surgeon, Lawson Tait. Combining Tait’s methods with his own “biologic” treatments, Kellogg later claimed a record of 165 abdominal surgeries without a fatality. He performed 22,000 surgical operations in a career that lasted until the age of eighty-eight.

Early in his career as sanitarium superintendent, Kellogg noted patient dissatisfaction with the institution’s restricted, monotonous diet. Enlisting his wife’s help, he set out to change this. Because he was convinced that the cereal grains basic to the diet he favored were more easily digested after prolonged baking, the Kelloggs developed a slow-baked, multigrain biscuit. These biscuits were then coarsely ground and named “Granola,” which was based on the name of New York health reformer James C. Jackson’s earlier creation, “Granula,” which dated from the early 1860s.

Kellogg shared health reformer Horace Fletcher’s enthusiasm for prolonged mastication of food. To encourage this, Kellogg requested patients to begin meals with a saucer of dry Granola or several slices of zwieback. Finding this unsatisfactory to patients, he began experiments with the assistance of his younger brother, Will Keith Kellogg, that led to the development of wheat flakes. The two men subsequently adapted the flaking process to corn and rice. John Kellogg patented his process in 1894, but he soon found that entrepreneurs rushed in to imitate his products. The most successful of these, Charles W. Post, patterned his “Grape Nuts” after Granola and his Postum after a cereal-based coffee substitute manufactured at the sanitarium. Kellogg maintained that he was “not after the business; I am after the reform; that is what I want to see.”

Will Kellogg’s attitude was different. As manager of the brothers’ Sanitarium Food Company, he wished to increase their products’ appeal and to begin extensive advertising. This was particularly important after the patent on the flaking process was declared invalid in 1903. In 1905 Will persuaded John to sell him the rights to the manufacture of corn flakes and established a new company to produce and market them. This led to a highly profitable business; unfortunately, however, it also led to hard feelings and repeated lawsuits between the brothers.

In addition to prepared breakfast cereals, John Kellogg developed a variety of imitation meats made from wheat gluten and nuts for use at the sanitarium. Some of these were marketed commercially with modest success. Peanut butter, also a John Kellogg idea, caught on widely but was not marketed successfully by either Kellogg. The same was true of an artificial milk developed by John Kellogg from soybeans in the 1930s.

Recognizing education’s role in reform, Kellogg established schools of nursing, hygiene, physical education, and home economics at the sanitarium. In 1895, with Adventist support, he launched the American Medical Missionary College in Chicago to train doctors who would promote the concepts of biologic living. Kellogg served as its president until the loss of Adventist support led him to merge the college with the University of Illinois Medical School in 1910. In 1923 Kellogg combined the various sanitarium schools with a liberal arts program to form Battle Creek College. He served as the college’s president and chief financial supporter until 1938, when it became a casualty of the Great Depression and the declining income from his food creations.

For the first twenty years after becoming sanitarium superintendent, Kellogg enjoyed wide Adventist support and helped to develop a number of Adventist sanitariums in various parts of the United States and abroad. These relations grew increasingly tense after 1895 because Adventist leaders resented Kellogg’s dominant personality and what they saw as his effort to divert church funds from evangelism to medical work. The situation worsened when the Battle Creek Sanitarium was destroyed by fire in 1902. Differences over the size of a rebuilt sanitarium and over theological interpretation led to Kellogg’s expulsion from the Adventist church in 1907.

Kellogg retained control of Good Health and the Battle Creek Sanitarium. By the 1920s he had expanded the sanitarium to accommodate 1,200 patients. These included important personalities who ranged from manufacturers Edgar Welch and Joseph Patterson to political reformers Gifford Pinchot, William Jennings Bryan, and Ben Lindsey. Success led to unwise expansion of the sanitarium in 1927 and its decline during the subsequent depression. Kellogg shifted his major interest to a smaller institution near Miami, Florida, which had been the gift in 1930 of aviation magnate Glenn Curtiss, but which never attained the prominence of the Battle Creek institution.

Kellogg developed a wide variety of exercise equipment for use by his patients. He also became enamored with the eugenics movement and in 1914 established the Race Betterment Foundation, endowed with profits from his cereal creations, to publicize and promote eugenics. He promoted biologic living through numerous and varied speaking engagements and by writing nearly fifty books on aspects of health. He also served from 1878 to 1891 and from 1911 to 1917 on the Michigan State Board of Health.

Kellogg’s cereal creations changed the average American breakfast. His extensive speaking and writing called attention to the importance of diet, exercise, and natural remedies in preserving and regaining health. Many of his ideas were accepted, at least in part, by physicians, nutritionists, and physical therapists. Some of his surgical techniques were widely imitated. After Kellogg’s death in Battle Creek, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox summarized the views of many when he wrote that Kellogg was one of the country’s “greatest individualists and leaders in medicine,” whose “contribution to national health and well-being was very great and will be long remembered.”


Collections of Kellogg’s papers are at both the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. His widely sold subscription book, Home Hand-book of Domestic Hygiene and Rational Medicine (1900), provides an early overview of his efforts at health education. More mature presentations appear in The New Dietetics (1923) and How to Have Good Health through Biologic Living (1932). His Victorian views of sex are demonstrated in Plain Facts for Old and Young (1901). Harmony of Science and the Bible on the Nature of the Soul and the Doctrine of the Resurrection (1879) represents Kellogg’s first venture into theology; his The Living Temple (1903) brought on a major confrontation with Adventist leaders. The monthly issues of Good Health (1879–1944), which all contain editorials or articles by Kellogg, show the development of his ideas and interests. His thirty-year correspondence with Ellen White is preserved by the Ellen G. White Estate of Silver Spring, Md. The most complete assessment of Kellogg’s life and work is Richard W. Schwarz, “John Harvey Kellogg: American Health Reformer” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Michigan, 1964). Some of this material later appeared in the same author’s John Harvey Kellogg, M.D. (1970). Kellogg’s place within the health reform movement is treated in Ronald L. Numbers, Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White (1976), and James C. Whorton, Crusaders for Fitness: The History of American Health Reformers (1982).