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|John Harvey Kellogg Serves Corn Flakes at the San (March 7, 1897)|
Today in Odd History, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg dished up the first serving of corn flakes at the Battle Creek Sanitarium (known affectionately as the San).
These were not the corn flakes that have since adorned breakfast tables around the world. Those would not make their appearance until 1906, when Dr. Kellogg's brother, Will Keith Kellogg, added sugar to the recipe and began marketing them as a breakfast food. (Dr. Kellogg so thoroughly disapproved of this development that he sued Will in a fruitless attempt to keep the Kellogg name off of mass-produced breakfast cereals.) These were an unsweetened addition to the diets of Dr. Kellogg's patients, who suffered from a variety of ailments that Dr. Kellogg believed could be cured by a strict vegetarian diet, vigorous exercise, sexual abstinence, and regular enemas.
The San, like its director, offered up a strange mix of solid medical thinking and superstitious quackery. A fervent Seventh-Day Adventist (who would eventually part ways with the church, which was annoyed by his increasing insistence upon running all of the church's medical facilities, and concerned about the "strange doctrines" which he had begum to teach), he embraced the Adventists' approach to healthy living, and the church was instrumental in his early career. He took over the Sanitarium when he was 24, a newly minted doctor whose medical training had been partially financed by James and Ellen White, two of the founding members of the Adventist Church. The Whites had been running a Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan, where hydrotherapy (the practice of dunking the patient, or various parts of the patient, into cold water) was offered. They had done moderately well, but neither of them was either a physician or a business person. Dr. Kellogg was both. He renamed the Health Reform Institute, using the British term "Sanitarium" to describe its focus on modern medical treatment. Hydrotherapy remained a staple of the therapeutic menu, but he continually added new treatments, many of his own invention. He welcomed new technologies, from radium therapy to Fletcherization (chewing food until it dissolves; he would abandon Fletcherization, though, when he decided that it destroyed wholesome fiber). He also pioneered new forms of abdominal surgery, with remarkably low mortality rates.
Dr. Kellogg was, first and foremost, a physician. He traveled the world to advance his medical knowledge, and belonged to a number of medical societies. He was ahead of his time in many respects. For instance, he wrote about the dangers of smoking years before the Surgeon General issued any warnings. And he attempted a number of innovative surgeries. When Sojourner Truth came to the San in 1883, suffering from ulcers on her legs, Dr. Kellogg reportedly grafted some of his own skin onto her body. Many of his writings about food and health also demonstrate his devotion to science. Unfortunately, they also reveal his lapses in scientific judgement. In his essay about pork, for instance, he correctly identifies the pig as a carrier of trichinosis and tape worms, and describes the microscopic appearance of these parasites in the meat. However, he also insists that the high body fat of swine is due to the toxic corruption which builds up in their tissues, until it is deposited under the skin as fat.
Such toxic corruption was an obsession with Dr. Kellogg. He firmly believed that the bowel and the stomach were the source of 90% of all illnesses, and that as toxins built up in the bowel (a condition he referred to as "autointoxication," caused by eating meat, drinking alcohol and coffee, smoking, overindulging in sex or spicy foods, or any number of other disagreeable activities), the rest of the body's systems would begin to fail. The high-fiber diet at the San was designed to clear out the bowels, as was the daily enema regimen to which the patients were subjected. He was particularly concerned about "intestinal flora," so he fed each patient half a pint of yogurt after each enema, and administered the other half pint via another enema. If the patient's condition still failed to improve, Dr. Kellogg would simply remove a portion of the intestine. He might do upwards of 20 such procedures per day.
If the enemas and the yogurt and the corn flakes and the surgeries failed to improve the patient's condition, Dr. Kellogg had another explanation for their stubborn illnesses. He accused them of being masturbators. He abhorred sex, and particularly masturbation, nearly as much as clogged colons. Masturbation, he believed, caused sleeplessness, eating disorders and acne. He devoted 97 pages of his 664-page treatise on sex, Plain Facts for Old and Young to what he called "The Secret Vice."
Of course, Dr. Kellogg also had a cure for masturbation. "A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys," he wrote, "is circumcision... The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anesthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind... In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement."
It is perhaps telling that the good doctor composed a good deal of Plaint Facts while on his honeymoon. Although he was married, the marriage was never consummated. He and his wife kept separate apartments throughout their lives. (Dr. Kellogg maintained that this was due to the deleterious effect of sexual activity upon physical health. Some commentators, though, have speculated that Dr. Kellogg was either impotent, as a result of mumps, or that he suffered from klismaphilia, a sexual disorder in which enemas replace intercourse.)
Icy baths in radium-infused water and bone-jarring rides on the vibratory chair aside, most of the patients who came to the San did improve. This was due, in large part, to Dr. Kellogg's careful selection of his patients. The seriously ill were almost never admitted. If they were, he released them before their conditions proved fatal. (Sojourner Truth, for instance, died at home several months after her stay at the San.) His patients suffered from the diseases of the rich — obesity, overwork, and boredom.
It may be a testament to the efficacy of Dr. Kellogg's "biological living" that he himself lived to be 91. Or, it may be only a testament to his genetic makeup. His brother Will lived to be 91, as well.
Picture of Dr. Kellogg with cockatoo is from Great American Quacks: The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Front cover of Plain Facts for Old and Young is from The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health
Picture of the Sanitarium is from Sojourner's Years in Battle Creek
DTs Today in All Kinds of History
Christian Science Monitor: What's for Breakfast?
Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (Battle Creek Historical Society)
Dr. J. H. Kellogg Discovery Center, from the Adventist Heritage Ministry
Great American Quacks: The Museum of Questionable Medical Devices
Sojourner's Years in Battle Creek
Pork — Or the Dangers of Pork-Eating Exposed, by J.H. Kellogg, MD
The full text of Plain Facts for Old and Young is available from the Electronic Text Center at the University of Virginia Library
More corn flakes and yogurt enemas: The Road To Wellville, starring Anthony Hopkins, Bridget Fonda, and Matthew Broderick. Only loosely based on the historical story, The Road to Wellville was adapted from T. Coraghessan Boyle's brilliantly satirical novel of the same name. A mercilessly funny sendup of the health-crazed culture of the late 19th century, it's definitely not for everyone, but if you can stomach it, it provides rich food for thought.