Great Leaders: John Harvey Kellogg

“Is God a man with two arms and legs like me? Does He have eyes, a head? Does He have bowels? Well I do, and that makes me more wonderful than He is!”

~John Harvey Kellogg

Anyone who eats breakfast knows the Kellogg name. So yes, the first person I’m featuring on this list of great leaders is the inventor of the corn flake. When you sit down at the table in the morning to enjoy your delicious bowl of cereal, do you ever think about it having been invented to stop you from masturbating? Well! I bet you will now!

By today’s standards, John Harvey Kellogg was looney tunes. He was indeed a doctor, but in that time less was known about the human body and so prognoses were reached using a lot of artistic licence passed off as fact. Kellogg was a staunch Seventh-Day-Adventist, friends with Ellen B.White, a vegetarian, and believed that “self abuse”, and really any sex at all for reasons other than procreation (no more than 12 times a year) was the reason for many human ailments. His cure? Circumcision without anaesthetic for men, and the application of carbolic acid to a woman’s clitoris. As a single physician, Kellogg may not have been able to administer his “cures” to very many people…but he ran a sanatorium in Battle Creek Michigan for much of his career, and so while he did not actually accept chronic masturbators as patients, his and many other influential people’s (including Ellen B. White’s) writings on the subject during that time were well-circulated due to their fame, and so the treatments were administered all over the country.

Now, about that cereal. Kellogg was not the first to invent breakfast cereal. A man by the name of James Caleb Jackson is the acknowledged inventor of the first cold breakfast cereal called Granula. He was influenced by Sylvester Graham (creator of the graham cracker), another advocate of anti-masturbatory propaganda. When Kellogg tried the cereal he liked it, stole it, and called his granola to serve to his patients. None of these foods existed before this time period, and they were all created as an alternative to meat, which was thought to be tied to carnal desire, and you guessed it, caused you to masturbate or have sex, which would kill you. Kellogg was said to believe this so much that he never consummated his marriage with his wife, and they actually maintained separate residences for the length of their marriage. There’s a funny movie called the Road to Wellville about Kellogg’s Sanatorium in Battle Creek Michigan. The Road to Wellville is a name taken from a booklet that used to be included in every box of Post Grape Nuts because, of course, Post was a patient at the Sanatorium. Post approached Kellogg on several occasions to partner up and form a breakfast cereal empire, but was refused by Kellogg each time. Post went on to start his own sanatorium and make many millions off his own cereals. In the end, it was Kellogg’s uneducated brother Will Keith Kellogg who started the breakfast cereal company, thereby making millions.

SO.  Why did I not only include but START my blog on great leaders with this man? First, the entire story is pretty funny and I needed to laugh. Second, I believe it’s important to note that smart and innovative things can come from let’s say…misguided people. And third, it’s good to remember that we rarely end up where we intend to end up. John Harvey Kellogg wanted to be a renowned physician, cure people of sex, and advocate a healthy lifestyle. He ended up being immortal because of corn flakes. I don’t think any of us would argue that cereal could disapear and no one would notice. So when you’re trying to make an impact one way and it doesn’t work, think of Kellogg…you may have inadvertently invented a new breakfast 

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6 Comments

  1. bec

    so – kellog may be interesting and your final paragraph makes some interesting points. but would you say he’s a great “leader”? wouldn’t he just be a great inventor or something?

  2. briannacarson

    Well, ok. Last year I went to the Maximum Impact Simulcast on leadership, and there was a woman who’d gone from homeless to Harvard. You could say she’s a great student, hard working, an inspiration…but she was held as an example of great leadership. Why? She didn’t set out to lead anything or anyone. But what she has accomplished makes her a leader. She struck out on her own, she beat the odds, she is an example to follow. In his day, so was Kellogg. His ideas and products have influenced our lives, so yeah, in the sense of leading the public with new ideas and notions, I would definitely say he’s a leader.
    And thanks for asking, I thought people may wonder 🙂

  3. bec

    that woman sounds like a leader despite not setting out to do so. kellog’s ideas and notions, however, were to physically harm people’s genetalia to “cure” sex drive. these ideas may have influenced people in his day but in a good way. his product was the cornflake which wasn’t brought to the public by him but by his brother. i’m still thinking that this guy may not make the best leadership poster boy.

  4. bec

    shoot – i meant to say “influenced people but NOT in a good way”.

  5. briannacarson

    Well Bec, I’ve been thinking about this awhile. I think you’re right. Maybe I should call this series “Great Leaders and notable people” or something…what do you think?

  6. Hey Brianna,

    Great posts, as always! Check out Alexander Cruden, I think he’s got a really cool story. John Piper wrote him up a few years ago. Amazing story.

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