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The Odd History of Kellogg's Corn Flakes

Updated on April 14, 2017
This is about to get really weird...
This is about to get really weird...

Doctor! Doctor!

Corn flakes have long been a reliable, if bland choice for breakfast. The Kellogg's Cereal Company was the first to produce corn flakes, which then spawned a craze for cold cereal and led to the creation of childhood favorites like Frosted Flakes, Sugar Smacks, and Lucky Charms. Few people know however, that the creation of Corn Flakes was not the work of a creative mill worker. No, they were created by a medical doctor named John Harvey Kellogg, for a very particular medical purpose which is rarely talked about.

Don't eat that! Not because of the 1000 calories, because it'll inflame carnal passions!
Don't eat that! Not because of the 1000 calories, because it'll inflame carnal passions!

A Few Strange Ideas...

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was a very religious dietitian from Michigan, born in 1852. As a young graduate from New York University's medical school, he began to develop theories which connected food intake to emotional well-being. In addition to being an 7-Day Adventist, a strict Christian group which does not allow consumption alcohol and smoking, John Kellogg was also director of a Sanitarium. Patients in his care could were not only prohibited to drink or smoke, they also could not eat meat, because Kellogg believed vegetarianism was the only proper way to live. Not because he objected to it morally however, John Kellog refused to eat meat because he believed that eating flavorful foods "aroused carnal passions." He especially believed this to be true among young boys, whom he feared would be damned by their dirty minds and accompanying actions. In other words, he was convinced that no sin which plagued humanity was as deadly as masturbation. He is actually quoted as saying "neither plague, nor war, nor smallpox have produced the results so disastrous to humanity the habit of onanism." Had he just been a strange man with strange ideas, no one would have paid attention to Kellogg. But unfortunately for his patients, he was, against all odds, a doctor.

Here, try this stuff my brother burnt. Trust me, I'm a doctor.
Here, try this stuff my brother burnt. Trust me, I'm a doctor.

Waste not...

What do a quack doctor and breakfast cereal have to do with each other? Since this story just isn't weird enough yet, I'll tell you. John Kellogg believed that gastronomically pleasing foods and flavors were a recipe for passion. By extension, passion meant masturbation, and according to the views of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, death was imminent once a boy succumbed to his desires.

To prevent all of these horrifying deaths, he decided to curb both the food based and sexual appetites of his young male patients with a novel new treatment; some stale toasted wheat that his brother had made by accident.

Post is even deceptive when naming products
Post is even deceptive when naming products

Mass Production

Dr. Kellogg obtained a patent for his cereal and joined forces with his brother Willy to create the Santias Food Comapny in 1895. Willy, the original creator of cornflakes, tried to take some ownership for his invention, which admittedly, had been an accident. John Harvey refused to work with Willy to tweak the recipe, creating a constant tension between the two brothers. At one point, Willy tried to add small amounts of sugar to the formula, which led to the pair's ultimate falling out. The duo split up, leaving John to form the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. Willy's company quickly collapsed as it lost out to its main competitor, his brother.

Meanwhile, the doctor found immense success, and went nearly unchallenged in the cold cereal industry for years. This changed after William Post, a patient of Dr. John Harvey, stole the recipe for Corn Flakes and created a rival cold cereal company. Today, William Post's company (Post Cereals) continues to compete intensely with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg's.

So there you have it, the history of Corn Flakes. Believe it or not, Graham Crackers were produced around the same time as Corn Flakes, for the same purpose; protecting young boys from themselves. How do you feel about Corn Flakes now that you know what they're for? I still think they're a great, reliable choice when I don't want an absurd amount of sugar in my breakfast. I'm just glad to know that I can eat breakfast without a prescription.


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    • Lynn Savitsky profile image

      Lynn Savitzky 2 years ago from New Jersey

      I learned about Kellogg's strange ways ages ago, and they're as fascinating as they are disturbing. I'd had no idea the name behind so many of my favorite cereals was such an extremist.