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Battle Creek and Health Reform

by Richard A. Schaefer, Excerpt from LLUMC Legacy: Daring to Care

John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., influenced the worldwide development and philosophy of Seventh-day Adventist medicine more than did anyone except Ellen G. White. He also provided early scientific evidence to document much of Mrs. White's counsel on health. One of America's first bio statisticians and greatest health educators, Kellogg made major contributions to the health of the nation over the years.

Kellogg, the Speaker
To promote "biologic living," Kellogg spoke to hundreds of thousands of Americans throughout the nation in over five thousand public lectures. He spoke in Chicago's Central Music Hall. He addressed an audience in the open air in the Toledo, Ohio, municipal park at the request of reform Mayor Samuel M. "Golden Rule" Jones. He lectured at Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, Tuskegee Institute, Stanford University, Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons, and numerous other places. He outlined health practices to seven thousand persons in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City at the request of Mormon President Wilford Woodruff. This led to lectures at the Salt Lake City Women's Club and the University of Utah. 1

Mrs. Mary F. Henderson, a prominent Washington hostess and wife of Missouri Senator John Brooke Henderson, was one of Kellogg's converts to healthful living. "Following a Kellogg lecture in the nation's capital, Mrs. Henderson poured all the contents of her famous wine cellar, reputed to be the finest in the city, into the gutter. Later she sent her chef to Battle Creek to learn how to cook the proper kind of vegetarian foods. " 2

Kellogg coined the phrase "biologic living" to sum up the system of healthful living he spent his life promoting—a system that, generally speaking, reflected the influence of the health counsels of Ellen White and of the era's most sensible health reformers. To help people stay well and prevent disease he taught obedience to natural law as a moral duty, necessary to physical and mental health. Biologic living also required total abstinence from alcohol, tea, coffee, tobacco, and animal flesh. It included proper diet, adequate rest and exercise, fresh air, healthful dress, and (in case of illness) simple, natural remedies. 3

Around 1891 Kellogg told Dr. David Paulson how the Battle Creek Sanitarium was able to keep five years ahead of the rest of the medical profession. If something new was advocated, he instantly adopted it if, from his knowledge of Mrs. White's writings, it was sound. When other physicians finally accepted it, after slowly feeling their way, Kellogg had a five-year head start. On the other hand, Kellogg rejected some of the new medical fads because they did not measure up to the light given Mrs. White. When other doctors finally discovered their mistake, they wondered why Kellogg had not been caught as they had. 4

Kellogg, the Author
Because Kellogg realized that his spoken words could be forgotten, for seventy years he also promoted his views in print. During that time he published nearly fifty books, one of them 1,680 pages in length. His most comprehensive book on nutrition was The New Dietetics. Henry T. Finck, an editor of the New York Evening Post, said that in his opinion Kellogg's research for the book qualified him for a Nobel Prize as a "life saver." Philosopher Will Durant, himself a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote that the book was one of the one hundred best books ever published. 5

Kellogg's books had a circulation of over a million copies. Some were the first authoritative scientific works ever published in America in their respective fields and were used as textbooks in public schools. 6

Kellogg, the Surgeon
Kellogg came to be recognized as one of the nation's leading surgeons. He studied with a number of American and European specialists. In 1889 he spent about five months assisting Dr. Lawson Tait in Birmingham, England. At the time, Tait, whose specialty was abdominal and gynecological surgery, had performed a record 116 successive surgeries without a single fatality. This record was unusual in a day when physicians expected 15 to 20 percent of patients undergoing abdominal surgery to die. Tait's record was unbroken in the United States for five years until Kellogg, using Tait's methods plus his own distinctive biologic regimens (special pre- and post-surgery diet and aftercare), set a new record: 165 successive abdominal surgeries without a fatality. 7

Kellogg also visited the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which was at the time the chief center for experimental surgery in America. Here he won the friendship of Drs. Will and Charles Mayo. The Mayos quickly recognized Kellogg's abilities. Charles Mayo amazed one of his patients during an examination by saying, "I see that Dr. Kellogg performed an earlier operation for you."

" You are right," was the startled reply, "but how could you know who had done the operation?"

" That's easy," replied Mayo. "The scar is small and neat, just like a signature." 8

The Mayo brothers spent several days observing the methods used at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. By that time Kellogg's surgical skills had been officially recognized by his election to the American College of Surgeons.
Some of Kellogg's surgical skills resulted from the manual dexterity he cultivated throughout his career. In odd moments and while traveling by train, he often practiced making small stitches on a piece of cloth, to improve his speed and accuracy in closing a wound. 9

After the turn of the century Kellogg limited his career almost entirely to gastrointestinal surgery. By so doing, he performed the complicated procedures much faster than did most surgeons of his time. He was careful, however, that speed did not interfere with precision. After watching Kellogg perform nine surgeries in rapid succession, Dr. Howard A. Kelly remarked that Kellogg had just performed some of the most skillful surgery he had ever seen. Kelly himself was one of America's foremost abdominal surgeons, a member of the renowned surgical team at Johns Hopkins University Medical School.
During his lifetime Kellogg performed more than 22,000 operations, the last when he was eighty-eight years of age. 10

Kellogg, the Dress Reformer

Throughout his career, Kellogg insisted that optimum health and proper dress are closely associated. He took particular exception to the corset, which he firmly believed displaced the internal organs and interfered with their healthy function. Some nineteenth-century physiologists, after observing that men breathed with their entire chest while women used only the upper part of the chest, concluded that perhaps this was due to an inherent difference between men and women. Kellogg strongly disagreed, saying that it was the corset that prevented women from breathing naturally. Kellogg persuaded many of his female patients to ignore fashion and discard their corsets.

One evening Mrs. Kellogg's beautiful collie came to walk Kellogg home from work. Deciding to perform a little experiment, Kellogg took a brand new pink corset discarded by one of his patients and tightly laced it around the dog's big chest. Just as Kellogg began observing the effect on the animal's respiration, someone knocked on the door. Not wanting his visitor to see the pet in its new garb, Kellogg stepped into the outer office. When he returned, the collie was gone. Kellogg was a great believer in breathing fresh air, and his office windows were wide open on that warm summer evening. The dog, not entirely devoted to the advancement of medical science, had jumped out a window and had run all the way from the Sanitarium to Kellogg's home wearing the pink corset. Kellogg quickly mounted his bicycle and rode home, where he was met by a reproachful Mrs. Kellogg. "He soon decided it was the better part of wisdom to abandon the experiment." 11

Kellogg on Vegetarianism

One of Kellogg's greatest contributions to healthful living was his emphasis on a vegetarian diet. "Of all the factors necessary to maintain health, Kellogg believed that a proper diet was the most important.

" No food came under more sustained attack by Dr. Kellogg than meat of any kind. He argued that, contrary to public opinion, its free use lessened rather than promoted physical strength. To help persuade persons [who were] unaffected by fear of the physiological risks of meat-eating, Dr. Kellogg added moral and religious arguments. He contended that the taking of any kind of life tended to brutalize human instincts and, in effect, accustomed man to 'murder and violence.' A careful study of the early chapters of Genesis, he maintained, should convince sincere Christians and Jews that God had not intended for men to eat meat originally, but had only allowed its use after the Noachian flood." 12 when all vegetation was destroyed. Kellogg often emphasized that God's permission to eat meat was granted on the condition that it be free from blood. Basing his ideas on certain Scriptures (Leviticus 7:26-27; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23; 15:23), Kellogg said a person should eat no meat until he had washed out all the blood (thus, of course, also removing most of the flavor).

The increase of disease in domestic animals gave Kellogg additional evidence against meat. To dramatize his point, Kellogg sent for a prime beefsteak from the Post Tavern, Battle Creek's most exclusive restaurant. He then directed a Sanitarium bacteriologist to subject the steak—and also some fresh barnyard manure—to microscopic examination. There were more harmful germs in the beefsteak. Kellogg also demonstrated that lengthy cooking did not destroy all the germs. 13

However, in those days most people did not know the meaning of the word "germs." After looking through a microscope one woman asked Kellogg, "How large are they?"

Trying to help her appreciate the size of a germ, he answered, "If we were to lay twenty thousand of them in a row, they would measure approximately one inch."

" Oh," replied the woman, "I am not afraid of them little fellers. " 14

The Jungle
Supports Kellogg

Shortly after the turn of the century, muckraker Upton Sinclair wrote his famous novel, The Jungle, which exposed unsanitary practices of the meat-packing industry. Public pressure for governmental inspection convinced many people, that with more careful inspection, meat would soon become acceptable for human consumption. To enhance its image and to reassure the American public, the packing industry circulated a jingle entitled, "And He Ate Meat!"

Methuselah ate what he found on his plate,
And never, as people do now, Did he note the amounts of the calorie count;
He ate it because it was chow. He wasn't disturbed as at dinner he sat,
[Devouring] a roast or a pie,
To think it was lacking in granular fat,
Or a couple of vitamins shy.

He cheerfully chewed every species of food,
Untroubled by worries or fears,
Lest his health might be hurt by some fancy dessert,
And he lived over nine hundred years!

Since boyhood Kellogg had enjoyed writing poetry. He quickly challenged such misrepresentation by writing a jingle entitled, "Methuselah's Meat":

What Methuselah ate
Was not on a plate,
For plates were not yet invented.
Being discreet,
He ate Paradise meat,
And thus old age prevented.
For Paradise meat
Was delicious to eat,
And kept him in finest condition.
And 'twas hung on trees,
And not made to please
The deadly Live Stock Commission.15

Kellogg and the meat-packers locked horns several times, once after the meat-packing industry had arranged for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to prepare a poster depicting meat as a highly desirable food. Copies were displayed in every post office. Kellogg thought this was a misuse of taxpayers' money and immediately protested. At his own expense, Kellogg printed a large number of the same posters with a conspicuous message at the bottom: "See the other side." On the reverse side, Kellogg listed meats that he had subjected to microscopic examination in the Sanitarium laboratories, along with the number of colon germs per gram found in each, compared with the number of colon germs per gram of barnyard manure. The manure contained fewer germs than did several kinds of meat.

Now it was the meat-packers' turn to be furious. They lodged a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to secure an injunction to stop Kellogg from circulating the "revised" posters. Kellogg was delighted. Public hearings would give him a greater opportunity to expose the unfitness of meat as a food. The government sent a lawyer to Battle Creek to research the case. After seeing Kellogg's evidence, the lawyer decided to drop the whole matter. Kellogg happened to see the attorney several weeks later in a Chicago hotel lobby. "You know, Doctor," said the attorney, "I haven't tasted meat since I saw you in Battle Creek!" 16

Kellogg emphasized that man's natural diet was vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains; and he widely advocated such a diet. "To the religious, he would refer to the early chapters of Genesis, where the Creator provided the first man with a diet of fruits and seeds. If he was speaking to the non-religious or more secular, especially those inclined to accept the Darwinist view of man's origin, Kellogg would stress the similarity between the digestive tract of the great apes and that of man. Gorillas, orangutans, and the other higher primates, he pointed out, were all natural vegetarians." 17 He also demonstrated the economic folly of producing meat, noting that it takes one hundred pounds of grain to produce three pounds of beefsteak-grain that could have been used for food. "To vary the vegetarian diets of his patients, Dr. Kellogg invented some grain and nutfood products, including peanut butter and flaked breakfast foods." 18

Peanut Butter
One day Kellogg was walking past the Sanitarium's kitchen when he smelled something burning. He burst into the kitchen and saw that the young man who was supposed to be roasting some peanuts was instead visiting with his girlfriend. Kellogg reproved the young man for burning the peanuts and informed him that he would have to pay for the nuts. Salvaging the remnants of his pride and the peanuts, the young fellow walked home.

As he entered the house, one of the peanuts fell to the floor. He was still so upset that he picked up a nearby hammer and smashed the peanut. He noticed that instead of shattering as he had expected, the peanut turned into a strange-looking paste. He sprinkled several peanuts on the floor, hit them all with the hammer, and they all responded the same way. He scraped up the paste, put it on a platter, walked to Kellogg's office, and waited outside the door. Kellogg would not see him. He was a busy man.

Just as Kellogg charged toward surgery, the young man held out the platter for Kellogg to inspect. Kellogg paused and asked, "What's this?"

" Peanut butter," the boy replied. Kellogg tasted it with his finger and liked it. "Take it to the kitchen," he said. "I'll give you fifty dollars for that platter." And so, under Kellogg's direction, peanut butter was made and sold in downtown Battle Creek shortly thereafter. 19

Dr. Kellogg's Cornflakes and New Food Products
One day a female patient broke one of her dental plates on a piece of zwieback (toast). Kellogg decided to develop a precooked cereal. He spent many hours with some steel rollers and steamed wheat, inventing wheat flakes, then cornflakes, and eventually beginning the flaked breakfast cereal industry of America. However, it was his brother, W. K. Kellogg, who made it an international industry.

A semi-charity patient named C. W. Post, with his wife, often visited the Sanitarium's experimental food laboratory. An employee reported their curiosity to Kellogg and said he suspected that the Posts were planning to copy Kellogg's techniques and develop their own product. When it was suggested that they be barred from the laboratory, Kellogg replied, "No! The more people there are who make such products, the more there are who are likely to use them. That is the important thing. " 20

Until his hospitalization, Post had sold his wife's homemade suspenders door to door. Then, apparently copying Kellogg's recipe, with sixty-nine dollars Mr. Post started his own breakfast cereal industry, which today makes Post Toasties and many other products.

One of the most popular of the eighty foods Kellogg invented was Caramel Cereal Coffee. Although Kellogg called it "a very poor substitute for a very poor thing," it was selling about one ton a day when C. W. Post began promoting a similar product called Postum. Through extensive and clever advertising Post captured the coffee substitute market. In time he built a fortune on products with which he had become acquainted at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. 21

More Kellogg Inventions

Early in his career Kellogg became interested in mechanical exercisers. He invented a simple vibrating chair by attaching an ordinary wooden armchair to a small platform that oscillated twenty times a second. He believed that the resulting vibrations increased the circulation of the blood. 22

In the 1890s Kellogg organized the Sanitarium Equipment Company, which constructed a variety of devices to increase the circulation of the blood, to improve digestion, and to aid in weight reduction. Some were his inventions; others originally invented by Gustav Zander, Kellogg adapted and improved. These devices included, for example, a bar to vibrate the hands, arms, upper spine, and head; a revolving ribbed cylinder for applying friction to the bottom of the feet; and a vibrating belt, which has become standard equipment for weight-reducing salons. 23

In 1894, after a decade of research, Kellogg perfected the Universal Dynamometer, a strength-testing device. His dynamometers were used in physical education programs at West Point, the University of Wisconsin, Yale University, and other colleges. In 1907 Admiral A. P. Niblack, the commander of the naval squadron at Annapolis, visited Battle Creek to purchase two dynamometers for the Naval Academy and to learn their proper use. For the next twenty-five years, every cadet took dynamometer tests. 24

For several years, Kellogg developed statistical averages for the strength of different muscle groups. Thus, he could determine the extent to which a patient's strength varied from the averages and could prescribe specific exercises to strengthen the weak muscles. 25

To provide the therapeutic benefits of the sun during the almost sunless Michigan winters, Kellogg devised and installed a large battery of arc lights capable of tanning the skin in minutes. 26 Other Kellogg inventions included: the menthol inhaler to clear nasal passages; his own electric blanket (not developed for public sale); and the mechanical horse, used by President Calvin Coolidge for daily exercise in the White House.

John Harvey Kellogg, M.D.
-- brilliant administrator, medical pioneer, enthusiastic speaker, influential author and publisher, skilled surgeon, zealous dress reformer, persuasive health educator, and prolific inventor — through his God-given talents contributed much to the Adventist church and to the world. And during the mid-1870s and '80s, through his strong leadership, the Battle Creek Sanitarium grew into a school for educating scores of nurses, physicians, and other health professionals.

All contents copyright © 1999 Loma Linda University. All rights reserved
Revised March 18,2001


1. John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., p. 85.
2. Ibid., p. 86.
3. Ibid., p. 37.
4. A Prophet Among You, pp. 491-92.
5. John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., p. 90.
6. Good Health, January 1944.
7. Ibid.
8. John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., pp. 111-12.
9. Ibid., p. 112.
10. Ibid., p. 113.
11. Ibid., p. 57.
12. Ibid., pp. 37-38. (Italics added.)
13. Ibid., p. 38.
14. Good Health, January 1944.
15. These two poems are published in John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., pp. 39-40.
16. Ibid., pp. 40-41.
17. Ibid., p. 43.
18. Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 3 (1972), p. 365. See also Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 22, (1970) p. 935.
19. Local folklore as told to Oliver L. Jacques, former chaplain at the Battle Creek Sanitarium.
20. John Harvey Kellogg, M.D., p. 123.
21. Ibid., p. 122.
22. Ibid., p. 124.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., p. 125.
25. Ibid.
26. Good Health, January 1944.




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