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Dr. John Kellogg Invented Cereal. Some of His Other Wellness Ideas Were Much Weirder

August 2, 2019 in History

By Greg Daugherty

Patients—including presidents and famed industrialists—flocked to his Battle Creek Sanitarium, where treatments included electrical currents to the eyeballs and 15-quart enemas.

Battle Creek Sanitarium, America’s most popular medical spa of the early 20th century, may be best known as the birthplace of the corn flake. But some might say that the biggest flake to come out of Battle Creek was the man in charge: John Harvey Kellogg, the dapper doctor always dressed in a white suit and white shoes, with a white cockatoo perched on his shoulder.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, circa 1899.

Since his death in 1943, Kellogg has gained a reputation as something of a comical quack—due, in part, to his portrayal in T. Coraghessan Boyle’s 1993 novel The Road to Wellville and the movie of the same name, with Anthony Hopkins as the good doctor. In reality, Kellogg was a more complicated figure: a widely respected physician and popular wellness guru who had many forward-thinking treatment ideas—and many that now appear downright wacky.

As one of the nation’s first proponents of integral medicine, he saw himself as a health reformer fighting to improve body, mind and soul through a program he called “biologic living.” His messianic zeal for wellness stemmed largely from his Seventh-day Adventist faith; groomed by the faith’s founders to be a church leader from a young age, Kellogg went on to earn his medical degree with their support. But while he published in respected medical journals, lectured at prestigious universities and kept up with medical research that interested him, his treatments remained largely grounded in his religion’s tenets of dietary and sexual abstinence—much of which had come to the founder in visions and prophesies.

Under the supervision of Dr. Kellogg and his brother Will, the Battle Creek Sanitarium grew from the church’s small “health reform institute” into a national holistic wellness destination—a combination medical center, spa and grand hotel. Dr. Kellogg also lectured, wrote books and edited a magazine, becoming a celebrity doctor whose admirers and patients included several U.S. presidents, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, Sojourner Truth and many others. Also among his patients was Ida Tarbell, the foremost investigative reporter of her day and a woman …read more


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