Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry

An accidental discovery by the Kellogg brothers led to the making of corn flakes, the first mass-produced, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal. The popularity of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes spawned countless imitators as the cereal industry experienced massive growth.

Summary of Event

Until the late nineteenth century, most Americans ate the same types of breakfast that their European ancestors had eaten. Diets had been rich in meat, which could be preserved easily in the days before refrigeration. Before being edible, grains had to be cooked and made into bread or gruel. Canned foods were yet to be introduced, and fruit and vegetables were scarce when out of season. Nutritional science was in its infancy, and consumers had no way of knowing if they were getting a healthy diet. Corn flakes
Kellogg, John Harvey
Kellogg, W. K.
Kellogg, Ella Eaton
Dry cereal industry
[kw]Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry (1894-1895)
[kw]Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry, Kellogg’s (1894-1895)
[kw]Launch the Dry Cereal Industry, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes (1894-1895)
[kw]Dry Cereal Industry, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the (1894-1895)
[kw]Cereal Industry, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry (1894-1895)
[kw]Industry, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal (1894-1895)
Corn flakes
Kellogg, John Harvey
Kellogg, W. K.
Kellogg, Ella Eaton
Dry cereal industry
[g]United States;1894-1895: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry[5900]
[c]Business and labor;1894-1895: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry[5900]
[c]Health and medicine;1894-1895: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry[5900]
[c]Agriculture;1894-1895: Kellogg’s Corn Flakes Launch the Dry Cereal Industry[5900]
White, Ellen G.
Jackson, James Caleb
Post, C. W.

One of the first groups to promote diet as a means of improving health was the Seventh-day Seventh-Day Adventist Church[Seventh Day Adventist Church] Adventists. In addition to their religious beliefs, they also advocated moderate eating habits, temperance, and vegetarianism. In 1866, Seventh-day Adventist leaders Ellen G. White White, Ellen G. and James White had established the Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. The institute, which featured water treatments known as hydrotherapy, was successful, but it lacked the expertise of a medical doctor. To that end, the Whites partially financed the medical education of one of their parishioners, a teenager named John Harvey Kellogg. Kellogg would complete his medical training and then return to the institute, which he did in 1875. One year later, he became its medical director.

Kellogg immediately began instituting changes in the facility, including changing its name to Battle Creek Medical and Surgical Sanitarium. “The San,” as it was soon called, was to become a place where people not only came to get well but also learned to stay well. Kellogg shifted the sanitarium’s focus from theology to medical and dietary treatment. His “Battle Creek Idea” revolved around preventive and curative treatments such as a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and a variety of hydrotherapies. Kellogg encouraged his patients to avoid all meat products and base their diet on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains.

Kellogg’s mission tapped into what had been a growing health craze in the latter part of the nineteenth century. People believed they could gain control of their bodies through diet, exercise, and other modern curatives. Vegetarianism and temperance were among the popular fads, and the Battle Creek Idea fit right into that scheme. In 1877, one year after Kellogg took over, the San treated three hundred patients. By 1886, less than ten years later, that number had quadrupled, and the San had become the largest institution of its kind in the world.

Kellogg hired his business-minded younger brother, W. K. Kellogg, to handle the bookkeeping and marketing, and he placed his wife, Ella Eaton, in charge of the San’s kitchen. A trained dietician, Eaton oversaw the creation of more than eighty new grain- and nut-based dishes designed to replace meat in the diets of wealthy clients.

The breakfast product that would be the precursor to Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was developed in 1894 as an alternative to the hard-to-chew zwieback toast. To create a product that would be easier to chew and digest, the Kelloggs experimented with a variety of grain combinations. The successful corn flakes recipe was developed by accident when a batch of cooked wheat was left to sit out all night. The next morning, the cooked wheat was processed through heavy rollers and emerged in flake form. The end product, then called Granose, was served, with salt, to sanitarium patients. Kellogg applied for his “Flaked Cereals and the Process of Preparing Same” patent on May 31, 1895. The patent application covered the original wheat flakes, as well as barley, oats, corn, and other grains.

Technically, Granose was not the first breakfast cereal, but it was the first to be available in a ready-to-eat form. Another early health pioneer, James Caleb Jackson Jackson, James Caleb , invented a cereal product called Granula in 1863, but the bran-based nuggets were so dense that they had to be soaked overnight before they could be eaten.

Patients wanted to purchase the Granose cereal and other sanitarium foods, leading the Kellogg brothers to found the Sanitas Nut Food Company to market their food products. Kellogg had little interest in the business end of cereal manufacturing; his priority was the health and well-being of his patients. W. K. Kellogg, frustrated by his brother’s lack of interest, decided to form his own cereal company to take advantage of the new fad.

A devastating fire at the sanitarium in 1902 put those plans on hold, and not until 1906 did the new company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, go into business. This small company, which had started out in a one-story wooden factory, would grow to become the Kellogg Company, the world’s largest cereal manufacturer.

By his own choice, Dr. Kellogg did not profit from his discovery, instead supporting his large family (which included forty foster and adopted children) with the proceeds of his writing. He remained the director of the sanitarium until his death in 1943.

The Kellogg brothers were not the only people to succeed in the early days of the cereal industry. Inspired by their success, a former sanitarium patient named C. W. Post Post, C. W. began manufacturing cereal and grain-based products in 1895. His first offering was Postum, a grain-based coffee substitute, but he quickly followed with Grape Nuts cereal in 1898 and his own version of the flaked cereal in 1904, first called Elijah’s Manna and then renamed Post Toasties in 1904.


The early days of the cereal boom have been compared to the California gold rush or a boomtown in an oil-producing region. Would-be cereal barons took advantage of the Battle Creek Medical and Surgical Sanitarium’s reputation by prominently advertising that their products, too, were “Made in Battle Creek.” With no regulations in place to prevent fraud, some cereal companies extolled the exaggerated health benefits of their products. At its peak, the cereal boom spawned forty-four companies hoping to create the next profitable product in the ready-to-eat breakfast cereal market. Few of the early cereal companies survived the boom, but Kellogg’s and Post continued their success; another contemporary, the Battle Creek Cereal Food Company, became part of the Ralston Purina Company in 1927.

The breakfast cereal industry continued to grow throughout the twentieth century, aided by the burgeoning advertising industry. These multibillion dollar industries have changed the way many Americans start their days. In an ironic twist, the same product that started out as “health food” during the late nineteenth century would come under fire in the late twentieth century. Nutritional experts decried the amounts of sugar, processed flour, and artificial colors and flavors in a product that has been marketed primarily to children.

Further Reading

  • Bruce, Scott, and Bill Crawford. Cerealizing America: The Unsweetened Story of American Breakfast Cereal. Boston: Faber & Faber, 1995. Overview of the American cereal industry, from its roots in Seventh-day Adventism and the health and diet movement to corporate mainstay.
  • Money, John. The Destroying Angel: Sex, Fitness, and Food in the Legacy of Degeneracy Theory, Graham Crackers, Corn Flakes, and American Health History. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1985. Focuses on the more puritanical United States at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries and the products and practices designed to help fight patients’ baser urges.
  • Schwarz, Richard W. John Harvey Kellogg, M.D. Nashville, Tenn.: Southern, 1970. A biography of John Harvey Kellogg, co-inventor of corn flakes, the first ready-to-eat breakfast cereal.

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