Americans and countries where American snacks or products are sold are certain to be familiar with the brand Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s brand extends far beyond Corn Flakes and includes familiar foods such as Eggo waffles, Special K, Pringles, Pop-Tarts, and Incogmeato.
Two brothers, Will and John Kellogg founded the brand by producing and promoting corn flakes over 100 years ago. While Will was a business and marketing tycoon, his brother John Kellogg was an eccentric physician who became the “first health guru” in the United States.
John Kellogg was a great physician, ahead of his time, but also a very strange man. From inventing devices to clean out the bowels, his original purpose of corn flakes, to his opinions on sex and race, John Kellogg might be one of Michigan’s most fascinating historical figures.
John Harvey Kellogg
John Harvey Kellogg was born in Tyrone, Michigan, on February 26, 1852. John Kellogg was a medical doctor, health activist, inventor, nutritionist, and eugenicist. During his life, he was the director of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Unlike the commonly known and tragic mental health sanitariums in the US, Battle Creek Sanitarium was a Seventh-Day Adventist Church-sponsored health facility. Battle Creek Sanitarium, or the “San” as it was often called, can best be described as a health center that combined multiple aspects of a European spa and hydrotherapy institutions into a hospital and high-end hotel.
John Kellogg treated many famous people at the San, including Warren G. Harding, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, and William H. Taft. John Kellogg and his younger brother Will Keith Kellogg grew up Seventh-day Adventists, and faith played a large role in Kellogg’s medical beliefs.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church believes in a Seventh-Day Sabbath, or the seventh day of the week, Saturday, is the biblical Sabbath. Seventh-Day Adventists attend church services on Saturdays and believe in Christian mortalism and conditional immortality (immortality is a gift granted by God). They discourage consuming things deemed “unclean” in the Bible, like alcohol, tobacco, drugs, caffeine, and most church members will adopt a vegetarian diet.
Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well wait until you see where John Kellogg went with these ideas.
Health Reform & Beliefs
John Kellogg was one of the major leaders of progressive health reform and the second clean living movement that occurred between 1890-1920. The clean living movement was a time in US history when beliefs in health reform and practices became incredibly popular.
John Kellogg believed that a person should strive for “biologic living.” Biologic living operated on the idea that to maintain a healthy mind, body, and soul; someone must eat a good diet (preferably vegetarian or strict adherence to the Seventh-Day Adventist’s teachings about food), exercise, and partake in recreational activities.
John Harvey Kellogg was an early supporter of the germ theory of disease, which was just starting to become popular and the basis of medicine. The germ theory of disease is a scientific theory that microorganisms too small to see with the naked eye, known as pathogens (germs), can cause diseases.
Prior to the acceptance of germ theory, there were several competing ideas about what caused infection, and many people believed in the miasma theory. The miasma theory was the idea that a “miasma” caused diseases like the bubonic plague, chlamydia, and cholera.
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A miasma was “bad air,” a poisonous vapor or mist that made people ill, but a miasma couldn’t be passed between people. The miasma theory of disease is why plague doctors’ bird-like masks were created. The beak would be filled with perfume, lavender, vinegar, or camphor, which would “keep the bad air from entering the body.”
Along with a belief in germ theory, John Kellogg used his interests in alternative therapeutic practices, such as “sinusoidal current,” which was a precursor to electric stimulation. According to Kellogg, this electric therapy could treat lead poisoning, obesity, tuberculosis, and vision disorders. John Kellogg also offered the following treatments at Battle Creek: electric light baths, continuous tub baths, nutritional guidance, vibrotherapy, and more.
John Kellogg was considered to have been “well ahead of his time in relating intestinal flora and the presence of bacteria in the intestines to poor health and disease.” He was a strong supporter of enemas and was known to give himself several enemas daily.
While at the San, guests could receive standard enemas or use one of Kellogg’s enema devices or specialty enemas. That’s right: Kellogg’s smorgasbord of bottom treatments included mechanical apparatus, should the patient require.
The enema device was a machine that could shoot 15 quarts (16 liters) of water per minute through a patient’s rectum into the colon. He essentially created a pressure washer for humans, which was as uncomfortable as it sounds.
John Kellogg fancied himself a bit of an inventor and, in pursuit of a truly clean abdominal interior, ended up creating the grossest chair ever. A person would be strapped into this chair, without pants on, and the device would vibrate so violently that it would involuntarily cause the person to defecate.
Another treatment for a healthy gut that Kellogg recommended was for a person to consume a pint of yogurt a day. Half would be eaten, and the other half would be used for a “yogurt enema.”
Sex and Sexuality
John Kellogg, with his Seventh-Day Adventist beliefs, strongly supported abstinence. He was aware of the damaging effects sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis could cause (syphilis was uncurable before the 1910s).
John Kellogg was so disgusted and terrified by the idea and practice of sexual intercourse that he never consummated his marriage. He and his wife would foster children instead of having their own. He also felt that masturbation was a “vile practice” He wrote the following about masturbation:
“The sin of self-pollution (masturbation) is one of the vilest, the basest, and the most degrading that a human being can commit. It is worse than beastly. Those who commit it place themselves far below the meanest brute that breathes. The most loathsome reptile, rolling in the slush and slime of its stagnant pool, would not bemean itself thus.”
John Kellogg also believed masturbation leads to vision impairment, poor digestion, heart disease, memory loss, epilepsy, and insanity. For young boys, John Kellogg would/recommend tying the child’s hands behind their back or in a way that they could not be manipulated, heavily bandaging the penis, or locking a cage over the genitals.
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So far, so kinky, but his experimental treatments also had a decidedly dark side. Kellogg’s more extreme anti-masturbatory treatment included sewing the foreskin closed and circumcision without anesthetic. According to Kellogg, circumcision without anesthetics worked because “as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind. Even more so when done for punishment.”
John Kellogg didn’t just treat masturbation in boys, but girls as well. His solution? Genital mutilation. He recommended pouring/applying pure carbolic acid to the clitoris, which would cause an incredibly painful sore to dissuade the child from touching down there. He also felt that surgically removing the clitoris was another excellent way to treat the most “vile practice.”
And this is where we get cornflakes from, amazingly. Yes, Kellogg’s corn flakes were created to act as an “anaphrodisiac” or something that ceases arousal, sexual thoughts, and sexual desires. The work of Sylvester Graham, the inventor of the Graham Cracker, had inspired John Kellogg.
Graham believed that eating a plain diet would decrease sexual desire and activity. The corn flake was made to be plain, tasteless, and so bland you won’t want to masturbate. Will Kellogg tried to convince John Kellogg to add sugar to the flakes to make them less boring, but John Kellogg felt sugar led to sexual arousal.
Along with a big bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, John Kellogg banned all meats, condiments, eggs, tea, coffee, chocolate, salt, and spices from visitors to the San or to stop masturbation and arousal. All while treating his patients to experimental surgery and disfigurement.
You saw it coming, didn’t you? On top of John Kellogg’s genital mutilation practices, and carefully crafting a cereal so bland it became an anaphrodisiac, John Kellogg was a well-known eugenicist. Kellogg was very outspoken about his beliefs about race and believed in racial segregation.
Kellogg wrote, “The intellectual inferiority of the negro male to the European male is universally acknowledged.” However, Kellogg treated Sojourner Truth and Booker T. Washington at the San and fostered/adopted several black children; his beliefs and actions say two different things.
John Kellogg was friends with the notoriously racist and antisemitic Henry Ford and would treat him at the San. Kellogg wanted to create a eugenics registry and was pro-sterilization of criminals and “defectives”.
These “defectives” were people of color, people with birth defects, the mentally ill, and the physically and mentally disabled. He founded the Race Betterment Foundation, which created several large national conferences about eugenics, the superiority of the white race, and why people of color were a threat to the white gene pool.
He also would hold “Better Babies” contests at these eugenic symposiums. A child would be inspected and measured before being judged in their respective age categories. Winners (white babies and children) were awarded based on their breeding.
Thankfully, little of Kellogg’s medical or social theorizing survives today. Only the corn flakes remain.
Top Image: John Kellogg created many inventions and tested them out on his patients. Source: DigitalGenetics / Adobe Stock.
By Lauren Dillon
Stern, A. 2005. Eugenic Nation: Faults and Frontiers of Better Breeding in Modern America (American Crossroads). University of California Press.
Daugherty, G. 2019. Dr. John Kellogg Invented Cereal. Some of His Other Wellness Ideas Were Much Weirder. History. Available at: https://www.history.com/news/dr-john-kellogg-cereal-wellness-wacky-sanitarium-treatments
Buckley, N. 2019. How John Harvey Kellogg was wrong on race. Battle Creek Enquirer. Available at: https://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/story/news/2019/03/21/john-harvey-kellogg-battle-creek-michigan-eugenics-race-nazis/3202628002/
Silverman, L. 2021. The Wild Story Of John Harvey Kellogg, The Eccentric Wellness Guru Who Invented Corn Flakes. All That’s Interesting. Available at: https://allthatsinteresting.com/john-harvey-kellogg