“What’s more American than Corn Flakes?”
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 cast 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.