The Early Years of American Ready to Eat Breakfast Cereal: The Breakfast Cereal Revolution Until 1930

Kellogg's Toasted Cornflake Co.

 Even though James Caleb Jackson had invented breakfast cereal as we mostly know it, he was unable to turn it into an industry and bring it into the mainstream of American food consumption.  The honor for that belongs to three individuals and the companies they created: John Harvey Kellogg and his brother Will Keith Kellogg, and Charles William Post.
      John Harvey Kellogg was born in 1852, the fifth son of John Preston and Ann Janette Kellogg.  John Harvey's first job was in his father's broom factory in Battle Creek, Michigan, which he started at 10 years old after leaving school. John Harvey's father sent a large portion of the proceeds from the factory to support the Seventh Day Adventist Church, and in 1854 he became a printer's devil for an Adventist publication after James White, one of the co-founders of the Adventist faith, visited the factory[1].  John Harvey proved to be a skilled and intelligent worker, and soon was doing editorial work for the Adventists' main newspaper.
    John Harvey spent much time with the Whites at his job in the print shop, and eventually grew to be extremely close with them.  At the urging of the Whites, John Harvey attended the Hygieo-Therapeutic College in New Jersey, and continued on to study medicine at several other universities after his graduation[2].
  Battle Creek Sanitarium
     Eventually, John Harvey came to take charge of the Western Health Reform Institute, an Adventist institution, once more at the urging of the Whites.  He was reluctant to do so however, and agreed to stay on for only one year (he ended up holding the position for nearly 70 years)[3].  Kellogg grew the Health Reform Institute(which he eventually renamed to the Medical and Surgical Sanitarium) to become a massive place of health and wellness, and heading up the Sanitarium, he became one pf the most well-known figures in turn of the century medicine[4].  Similarly to Sylvester Graham's teachings, Kellogg's recipe for healthfulness advocated an avoidance of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco and promoted moderate exercise and a low calorie diet.  It was absolutely revolutionary for the time and catapulted Kellogg to the forefront of medicine.
     One of the most important things to Kellogg's recipe for health was diet.  He was likewise horrified at practices in the kitchen, and called at the time modern cookery "the greatest bane of civilization at the time"[5].  He served largely vegetarian meals at the Sanitarium, which were notoriously bland and often saw patrons sneak out of the Sanitarium to a local restaurant that served the culinary contraband they craved.  The blandness of the food at the Sanitarium was not lost on Kellogg, and he experimented with ways to make vegetarian food less bland, which eventually led to the creation of Corn Flakes and Caramel Coffee, a drink highly favored by C.W. Post while he was a patient at the "San"[6].
     John Harvey was starkly contrasted by his younger brother Will.  Will was 8 years younger than his older brother, and grew up introverted and shy, and was thought to be extremely unintelligent in school since his undiagnosed nearsightedness prevented him from reading from the blackboard during class.  After several business ventures, however, he joined his brother at the Sanitarium, managing the affair behind the scenes.  He kept the books, worked in the kitchen, occasionally shaved John and shined his shoes, answered correspondence, rounded up escaped patients, and eventually even managed the health food (it is worth noting here that John founded many health food companies, including the Sanitas Nut Food Company) and publishing departments of the Sanitarium[7].  Will, forced to be more aware of the outside world than his older brother and in possession of a much keener business mind, watched enviously while individuals like Post made fortunes on foods very much like those already produced at the Sanitarium.
     Prior to selling cornflakes commercially, John Kellogg was giving breakfast cereals to his patients.  He crumbled zwieback (a twice toasted bread whose name comes from the German phrase for "twice baked") and added oats and cornmeal.  He coined his concoction Granula, but following a lawsuit from James Caleb Jackson, the original inventor of Granula, he changed the name to Granola [8].  The first flake cereal(and thus first recognizable breakfast cereal) to be produced and sold commercially by the Kelloggs was called Granose Flakes [9].  They were produced under the Kellogg Food Company Marquee, and were wheat flakes produced by feeding cooked wheat through two rollers, which was then scraped from the rollers and baked.  The first attempts at creating flakes were disastrous.  The wheat fed through the rollers would not form proper flakes and came out mushy and shapeless. The crew working to produce the flakes, which included Will and John's wife Ella, accidentally left one of their batches of cooked wheat soaking overnight when they left the Sanitarium's kitchens frustrated and discouraged.  The overnight soaking did the trick however, and the resulting flakes were everything that Will and John had been looking for.  The first year of production, 1896, saw Will sell over 113,000 pounds of the cereal, a remarkable feat considering that John had limited the audience that Will was allowed to sell to to former patients of the Sanitarium and readers of the publications Good Health and Battle Creek Idea, both published by the Sanitarium[10].
    Granose Flakes were so successful that under John's direction, Will began to experiment with making flakes out of corn.  Will focused on the corn kernel itself, calling it the "Sweetheart of the Corn[11]", and later advertisements for the cereal featured an attractive young woman also bearing this moniker.  In 1898, Will had created a sellable product.  The new corn flakes were sold as "Sanitas Toasted Corn Flakes".  The packages for the cereal prominently featured the signature of Will Kellogg, with the phrase "none genuine without this signature", which became a feature of many advertisements.  Unfortunately, the new flakes went rancid very quickly due to the high oil content present in the corn, and the fix started the rift that eventually drove the Kellogg brothers apart[12].  Will added cane sugar to the Flakes, which stabilized them and prevented the spoilage problem, but John, being an extremely devout (and arguably the most prominent) Seventh Day Adventist felt that sugar was worse for the body than meat and fought tooth and nail for the removal of the ingredient[13].  John felt that foods should be sold and marketed solely for their health values, rather than their profitability.  Unfortunately for John, the sugar not only stabilized the cereal, it improved the taste, and the combination of improved shelf life and better taste resulted in an explosion of sales for the company.  The rift between the two brothers deepened in 1900 when Will raised money for a food production facility while John was away- a move that infuriated him, since he claimed Will did not have the authority to approve funds for such an enterprise, and ordered Will to pay back every penny[14].
     Despite the success of corn flakes, John was still ambivalent about beginning a new business venture manufacturing them.  He was preoccupied with his other business ventures, and thought little of making money[15].  Will and a man named Charles Bolin, a former patient at the Sanitarium and insurance salesman, approached John with a proposal to manufacture the cereal.  John refused until Will and Bolin came to him with a revised proposal that would separate the cereal manufacturing business from the Sanitarium business in exchange for a large portion of the resulting company's stock, and the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company was born in 1906[16].  Following a dispute about what to call the cereal(John preferred keeping the name Sanitas but Will found the name distasteful), the product became known as "Kellogg's Toasted Corn Flakes", and was sold in packaging identical to the Sanitas Packaging, except the word Sanitas was now replaced with "Kellogg's".    The cereal was so successful that by 1911, over 100 different brands of corn flakes were on the market, with names such as Korn Kinks, Corn-O-plenty, and Krebs Breakfast Flaked Corn[17].  Post even got in on the corn flake craze, manufacturing Post Toasties.
     The feud between the Kellogg Brothers that had started over the manufacture and sale of corn flakes was only the first in a long series of disagreements and battles over the rights to the cereal kingdom.  John was jealous of Will's success as a cereal entrepreneur and felt betrayed by the fact that he had amassed such a large fortune, and as a result changed the name of his Sanitas Nut Food Company to the Kellogg Food Company when Will changed the name of the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company to the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company[18].  The brothers ended up in court, where Will sued John to prevent him from using the Kellogg name as either a company name or a product name.  The case was settled out of court in Will's favor in 1911.  Five years later, in 1916, John sued will over the exact same principle and lost.  Will's cereal company had just come out with a product known as Toasted Bran Flakes, and John was already producing a product known as Kellogg's Sterilized Bran.  Once again, John lost the suit, and was barred from attaching the Kellogg name to any product or company.  Will had won the rights to the Kellogg cereal empire.  Under Will’s leadership, the Kellogg Company grew to enormous heights, and before 1930 produced cereals such as Pep, Rice Krispies, and All Bran.
[1] Bruce, Cerealizing America, 13
[2] Ibid, 13
[3] Ibid, 13
[4]Ibid, 14
[5] Ibid, 18
[6] Carroll, Three Squares, 145
[7]Bruce, Cerealizing America, 47-49
[8]Carroll, Three Squares, 144
[9] Ibid, 144
[10] Bruce, Cerealizing America, 50
[11] Ibid, 50
[12] Carroll, Three Squares, 144
[13] Ibid, 144
[14] Ibid, 53
[15] Carroll, Three Squares, 144
[16] Bruce, Cerealizing America, 51
[17] Ibid, 52
[18] Ibid, 55-56

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