The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek

The Kelloggs: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek

by Howard Markel


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***2017 National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist for Nonfiction***

"What's more American than Corn Flakes?" —Bing Crosby

From the much admired medical historian (“Markel shows just how compelling the medical history can be”—Andrea Barrett) and author of An Anatomy of Addiction (“Absorbing, vivid”—Sherwin Nuland, The New York Times Book Review, front page)—the story of America’s empire builders: John and Will Kellogg.
John Harvey Kellogg was one of America’s most beloved physicians; a best-selling author, lecturer, and health-magazine publisher; founder of the Battle Creek Sanitarium; and patron saint of the pursuit of wellness. His youngest brother, Will, was the founder of the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, which revolutionized the mass production of food and what we eat for breakfast.
In The Kelloggs, Howard Markel tells the sweeping saga of these two extraordinary men, whose lifelong competition and enmity toward one another changed America’s notion of health and wellness from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, and who helped change the course of American medicine, nutrition, wellness, and diet.
The Kelloggs were of Puritan stock, a family that came to the shores of New England in the mid-seventeenth century, that became one of the biggest in the county, and then renounced it all for the religious calling of Ellen Harmon White, a self-proclaimed prophetess, and James White, whose new Seventh-day Adventist theology was based on Christian principles and sound body, mind, and hygiene rules—Ellen called it “health reform.”
The Whites groomed the young John Kellogg for a central role in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and sent him to America’s finest Medical College. Kellogg’s main medical focus—and America’s number one malady: indigestion (Walt Whitman described it as “the great American evil”).
Markel gives us the life and times of the Kellogg brothers of Battle Creek: Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his world-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium medical center, spa, and grand hotel attracted thousands actively pursuing health and well-being. Among the guests: Mary Todd Lincoln, Amelia Earhart, Booker T. Washington, Johnny Weissmuller, Dale Carnegie, Sojourner Truth, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and George Bernard Shaw. And the presidents he advised: Taft, Harding, Hoover, and Roosevelt, with first lady Eleanor. The brothers Kellogg experimented on malt, wheat, and corn meal, and, tinkering with special ovens and toasting devices, came up with a ready-to-eat, easily digested cereal they called Corn Flakes.
As Markel chronicles the Kelloggs’ fascinating, Magnificent Ambersons–like ascent into the pantheon of American industrialists, we see the vast changes in American social mores that took shape in diet, health, medicine, philanthropy, and food manufacturing during seven decades—changing the lives of millions and helping to shape our industrial age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307907271
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/08/2017
Pages: 544
Product dimensions: 6.70(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.70(d)

About the Author

Howard Markel, MD, PhD, is the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, and editor in chief of The Milbank Quarterly. His books include Quarantine!, When Germs Travel, and An Anatomy of Addiction.

David Colacci has been an actor and a director for over thirty years, and has worked as a narrator for over fifteen years. He has won AudioFile Earphones Awards, earned Audie nominations, and been included in Best of the Year lists by such publications as Publishers Weekly, AudioFile magazine, and Library Journal.

Read an Excerpt

Introduction: The Cain and Abel of America’s Heartland
This morning, more than 350 million people devoured a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Hundreds of millions more started their day with a cornucopia of crunchy, and frequently sugar-laden, flaked, popped, puffed cereals. While perusing the cereal box, peering over the bowl, and gripping a spoonful of the stuff, few of these sleepy diners know that two men created those famously crispy, golden flakes of corn.  John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg were brothers from the Michigan hamlet of Battle Creek. Together, they introduced and mass-marketed the concept of “wellness.” And in so doing, they changed how the world eats breakfast.

John and Will began their ascent into the pantheon of American history by building the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a once world famous medical center, spa, and grand hotel. For more than half a century, “the San” attracted droves of people actively pursuing health and well-being. The brothers also developed a successful medical publishing house, an exercise machine and electrical “sunbath” firm, cooking, medical, and nursing schools, an undergraduate college, and sundry other profitable health product companies.  Yet throughout these endeavors and for most of their lives, the “Kellogg boys” hated each other’s guts.

From the late 19th century to World War II, John—the eldest by 8 years—was one of America’s most beloved physicians. His books were worldwide “bestsellers.” The advice he dispensed in these volumes, lectures and his magazine, Good Health (“the oldest health magazine in the world—established 1866”), was followed by millions of people, including some of the most prominent celebrities of the day.   In 1921, his “lifesaving” research on digestion and diet was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. Eleven years later, a 1932 poll ranked him second on a list of 25 important American luminaries and lauded him as “the noblest man” in the United States; only Herbert Hoover ranked higher (a status that would drastically change for the beleaguered president). 

During this same period, Will became one of the world’s most successful industrialists. In 1906, he founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, the original name of the Kellogg Company, which today enjoys more than $14 billion a year in net sales of breakfast cereals, snacks, and other manufactured foods in 180 nations around the globe. With cunning and élan, Will Kellogg revolutionized the mass production of food, invested a fortune to advertise his wares to the public, and, as a result, made an even bigger fortune. When he was done amassing his wealth, he created the charitable means to give it away to those most in need of help and support.

Behind all these triumphs the Kelloggs’ filial relations were a mess. For decades John and Will fought, litigated, and plotted against one another with a passion more akin to grand opera than the kinship of brothers. Born the sons of two early votaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a denomination predicting the imminent end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, they were unable to contain the destruction wrought by their long running quarrel. In their dotage, each brother came to regret their feud’s acidic effects even if they were never able to reach a peaceful resolution. In light of their incredible success, how could things have gone so horribly wrong between them?

Table of Contents

Author’s Note xi
Introduction: The Cain and Abel of America’s Heartland xiii
1 “Go West, Young Man” 3
2 The Chosen One 20
3 New Brooms Sweep Clean 37
4 Long-Distance Learning 59
5 Building the San 87
6 “What’s More American than Corn Flakes?” 109
7 “Fire!” . . . and Cease-fire 146
8 The New San 166
9 The San’s Operations 195
10 A “University of Health” 212
11 Will’s Place 236
12 The Prison of Resentment 271
13 The Doctor’s Crusade Against Race Degeneracy 298
14 A Full Plate 322
15 “Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown” 336
16 The Final Score 370
Acknowledgments 389
Notes 393
Index 481

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