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The Kelloggs

THE BATTLING BROTHERS OF BATTLE CREEK
Written by HOWARD MARKEL
Format: Hardcover, 544 pages
Publisher: Pantheon
On Sale: 08/08/2017
Price: $35.00
ISBN: 978-0-307-90727-1
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open close ABOUT THE BOOK
"What's more American than Corn Flakes?" —Bing Crosby

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.

“In this illuminating account, medical historian Markel chronicles the long-running animosity between Michigan brothers John and Will Kellogg, “the Cain and Abel of America’s heartland” . . . Readers will never look at corn flakes or Post Toasties (created by C.W. Post, who stole the Kelloggs’ recipes) in quite the same way again.”
BookPage
 
“A turbulent tale . . . Markel’s amazing amalgamation of biography and history, covering the pursuit of health in late-nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, industrialism, and the invention of cold cereals is adorned with fetching photographs and illustrations. Sibling rivalry has rarely been so dastardly and delectable.”
—Tony Miksanek, Booklist (starred review)
 
“The story of the Kellogg Brothers is the story of innovation, of determination, and the creation of a giant industry as American business came of age just prior to the Second World War.  It is a tale of grit, controversy, faith and the emergence of the ‘wellness’ movement. In the hands of Markel, a trained historian, physician, seasoned writer and chronicler of America, this tale comes alive. A fabulous read.” 
—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
 
“Delightful . . . Markel refreshingly resists the temptation—not resisted by films and novels—to deliver caricatures . . . A superb warts-and-all account of two men whose lives help illuminate the rise of health promotion and the modern food industry.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
 
“A rollicking tale of family intrigue and inventiveness. This full exegesis of the Kelloggs’ unseemly personalities makes for a riveting read.”
—Andrew Solomon, author of Far and Away
 
“Howard Markel’s The Kelloggs recounts the incredible exploits of the Kellogg Brothers—John and Will—who turned nineteenth-century medicine upside down for the better. Markel does a marvelous job recounting the birth of the Kellogg cereal empire and the Battle Creek sanitarium. An amazing American story!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage
open close ABOUT THE AUTHOR
HOWARD MARKEL, M.D., Ph.D., is the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine, director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan, and editor in chief of The Milbank Quarterly. His books include Quarantine!, When Germs Travel, and An Anatomy of Addiction. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and The New England Journal of Medicine. Markel is a member of the National Academy of Medicine and lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
open close READ AN EXCERPT
Introduction: The Cain and Abel of America’s Heartland
 
This morning, more than 350 million people devoured a bowl of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Hundreds of millions more started their day with a cornucopia of crunchy, and frequently sugar-laden, flaked, popped, puffed cereals. While perusing the cereal box, peering over the bowl, and gripping a spoonful of the stuff, few of these sleepy diners know that two men created those famously crispy, golden flakes of corn.  John Harvey and Will Keith Kellogg were brothers from the Michigan hamlet of Battle Creek. Together, they introduced and mass-marketed the concept of “wellness.” And in so doing, they changed how the world eats breakfast.

John and Will began their ascent into the pantheon of American history by building the Battle Creek Sanitarium, a once world famous medical center, spa, and grand hotel. For more than half a century, “the San” attracted droves of people actively pursuing health and well-being. The brothers also developed a successful medical publishing house, an exercise machine and electrical “sunbath” firm, cooking, medical, and nursing schools, an undergraduate college, and sundry other profitable health product companies.  Yet throughout these endeavors and for most of their lives, the “Kellogg boys” hated each other’s guts.

From the late 19th century to World War II, John—the eldest by 8 years—was one of America’s most beloved physicians. His books were worldwide “bestsellers.” The advice he dispensed in these volumes, lectures and his magazine, Good Health (“the oldest health magazine in the world—established 1866”), was followed by millions of people, including some of the most prominent celebrities of the day.   In 1921, his “lifesaving” research on digestion and diet was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology. Eleven years later, a 1932 poll ranked him second on a list of 25 important American luminaries and lauded him as “the noblest man” in the United States; only Herbert Hoover ranked higher (a status that would drastically change for the beleaguered president). 

During this same period, Will became one of the world’s most successful industrialists. In 1906, he founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, the original name of the Kellogg Company, which today enjoys more than $14 billion a year in net sales of breakfast cereals, snacks, and other manufactured foods in 180 nations around the globe. With cunning and élan, Will Kellogg revolutionized the mass production of food, invested a fortune to advertise his wares to the public, and, as a result, made an even bigger fortune. When he was done amassing his wealth, he created the charitable means to give it away to those most in need of help and support.

Behind all these triumphs the Kelloggs’ filial relations were a mess. For decades John and Will fought, litigated, and plotted against one another with a passion more akin to grand opera than the kinship of brothers. Born the sons of two early votaries of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a denomination predicting the imminent end of the world and the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, they were unable to contain the destruction wrought by their long running quarrel. In their dotage, each brother came to regret their feud’s acidic effects even if they were never able to reach a peaceful resolution. In light of their incredible success, how could things have gone so horribly wrong between them?
open close TABLE OF CONTENTS
Author’s Note xi
 
Introduction: The Cain and Abel of America’s Heartland xiii
 
PART I “MICHIGAN FEVER”
1 “Go West, Young Man” 3
2 The Chosen One 20
3 New Brooms Sweep Clean 37
4 Long-Distance Learning 59
 
PART II AN EMPIRE OF WELLNESS
5 Building the San 87
6 “What’s More American than Corn Flakes?” 109
7 “Fire!” . . . and Cease-fire 146
8 The New San 166
 
PART III MANUFACTURING HEALTH
9 The San’s Operations 195
10 A “University of Health” 212
11 Will’s Place 236
 
PART IV BATTLES OF OLD AGE
12 The Prison of Resentment 271
13 The Doctor’s Crusade Against Race Degeneracy 298
14 A Full Plate 322
15 “Uneasy Lies the Head That Wears a Crown” 336
16 The Final Score 370
 
Acknowledgments 389
 
Notes 393
 
Index 481