Corn Flakes |The Kelloggs' Legacy | 4
from wondering I'm Steven Johnson and this in American innovations and today we conclude our series on cornflakes John Harvey Kellogg and his brother will keep Kellogg fought bitterly with each other other through out most of their lives and even though the men never saw eye-to-eye on anything one fact is clear their innovations forever change the American breakfast experience but the Kellog success doesn't just belong to damp it was as much a product of their hard work as it was the times in which they lived America's changing all around will Kellogg embraced the Industrial Revolution's newest innovations electricity telephones refrigeration rail transport without these his cereal empire wouldn't have been possible John Harvey Kellogg envision cereal as a means to a healthier lifestyle at a time when indigestion was was a huge problem across the country. The Nation collectively had a stomach ache and John Harvey Kellogg and early Pioneer Wellness wanted to provide a cure through better food food religion and clean living and even though the cornflakes of the late eighteen hundreds were nothing like the cereals we know today. There's no denying that without the Kellogg brothers inventions vision and savvy breakfast as we know it could have been wildly different. Our guest on today's episode is Howard Marquel. He's he's a medical historian and professor at the University of Michigan. He's also the author of an extensive biography of John. Will Kellogg called the Kellogg's the battling brothers of Battle Creek the book traces the lives of the Keller brothers from their early days through the bitter battles. They waged against each other. We'll talk with Howard about how he discovered. The the story of the Kellogg brothers also discuss how their innovations change the world of medicine and business and of course what we eat for breakfast today that's next American. Innovations is brought to you by chase so you're about to retire or maybe you're about to become an empty nestor either way. You're looking to downsize their challenges that come with this time in your life like what happens. If you sell your old home before you found a new one sounds excatly stuff you faced a lot in your time and you know that when you're facing challenges it pays to be creative to be innovative at chase. They get it and they've got your back as chase customer. You're guaranteed. Close on your next home quickly or you get a thousand dollars simply. Put Chase gets you in your next home. Faster learn more car chase dot com slash. Ai Chase make more of what's yours. Homeland in products are subject to credit and property approval rates program terms and conditions are subject to change without about notice. Not all products are available in all states for all amounts other restrictions and limitations apply home lending products offered by J. P. Morgan Chase Bank. Na an equal housing lender Howard marquel welcome to American innovations. Thank you so we really enjoyed listening to this series of episodes on the Kellogg brothers and it's all based on on a book that you wrote and I just wanted to start with the question of how you got to that topic of me written books about influenza and other pandemics and disease. How did you get into a kind of a cereal magnate and kind of that nineteen sixty revolution in nutrition and health at Kellogg brothers introduced right so the the title that because the Kellogg's battling brothers of Battle Creek but the book look I wrote before was called an anatomy of addiction about Sigmund Freud and a Johns Hopkins Surgeon William Halstead whose name you might not know but he's responsible for almost all of the safety techniques that we use to this day in the operating room and I was actually in Vienna having a great research trip with colleagues and I was going home the next day and I suddenly felt a somebody knife in the back and when I did herniated two discs six and a flying home was just such joy but when I got home it was a very slow recovery and I was thinking. What would my next book be and and are really I wasn't interested in the dynamics of the two brothers. I was more interested in John Harvey Kellogg and all of his papers. I were at the University of Michigan Archive Library the Bentley Library so generally you know when as you know when you design a book project you have to know where the paper is where early archives and there about three hundred boxes of this material writing in Ann Arbor where I live and I thought that was the first convenience project I've ever I've ever done you're all going to be about him and I and then the more you get into a book. It's like jumping in a giant lake and you're swimming around. You don't know quite where you are aren't then you figure it out and I said to my editor time like you can't just be about John. Harvey Kellogg it also has to be about will who has his assistant for twenty five years but you know the dynamics between the two brothers was so fascinating and of course it really carried a narrative arc to the story that I called called my utterance and it's gotta be about both and she said well. I knew you were going to do that the whole time and why didn't you tell me meal out but that and that's that's how it came to be but it was initially. You know you're right. I've written mostly about epidemics and addiction and school health all sorts of things but I'd never written about alternative medicine. If you will bill or I never tackled really fully biography of two men. You know I had another question about the archives here. It's my understanding that the Kellogg company today a kind of tightly restricts the information available about about will himself so what was the process of finding materials to work with in in terms of his story yeah well we'll papers are kept by the we'll Kellogg Foundation and they very tightly control those papers and will not allow you to quote from from them unless they can edit the book or manuscript that you produce which no historian can do and the Kellogg company while it doesn't have a lot of personal personal stuff per se on will has a lot of annual reports and all sorts of other things but like many major companies that archive is an internal archive men only for the use use of employees so that was a big roadblock fortunately not only did will write a lot of letters to other places where the archives were in fact open the two brothers suit each other constantly for over ten years and there were piles and piles of depositions there were almost you know literally reading plays because they're written in script form and from those you could get a great sense of how well spoke and also but he thought aww and particularly what he thought about when they were inventing cornflakes or he was working for them as and other issues so it was possible to do a work around and get a great deal of information about we'll. Kellogg now some of will's stuff has been published in an old corporate biography some of his diary so you could use that and also there was this wonderful unpublished memoir by his grandson Norman Williamson Junior. That was very helpful so so that's basically how I approached it. Put it was a roadblock but it was just a joy now the other issues that I am from Michigan. You can probably hear it in my flat. Mr An an accident so the the great thing you did as a as an elementary school child is you went onto field trips one was to the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn Michigan Michigan and he saw the Assembly Li- most of my peers love that and the other was that you took the long trip from the Detroit suburbs to battle creek to cereal city and it was just as wonderful place of those five miles of conveyor belts and beautiful stainless steel pots and all sorts. I think that everybody was dressed. In white and you could smell corn toasting and at the end of the line in the boxing room they gave you two things a Tony The tiger bowl and and a little box as it was called in nineteen sixty six still sugar frosted flakes. That's the name and that Fox was warm and toasty and it was finished long before we got the school bus to go back home. I still have my Tony. The Tiger Ball but it was the best bowl of cereal ever for hand and I I guess I've been looking for that for that bowl of cereal ever since two I actually that was one of the things that I thought was so interesting about the story. The the that's a small part of it but is fascinating is the creation of this kind of breakfast cereal hub. There's like a Silicon Valley of breakfast cereal that happens right in this little tiny town in the middle the mitten basically in nineteen hundred over a hundred different cereal companies and many of them you know flopped and failed but you know c w post was a copycat and or other companies companies as well but it is fascinating that it it it happened there and by the way the reason why the Kellogg family lived there that they were seventh day adventists and they came to follow Ellen James White the founders of the seventh day adventist church which was originally in Rochester New York but they came to Battle Creek and that was sort of the Vatican City city of the the seventh day adventist church. I want to take a little bit more context on John Kelly at that period first off. Can you say a little bit about the role that religion played in his yeah. Come Science and an role as a health advocate yeah so you know John. Harvey Kellogg was sort of the Darling of James James and Ellen white even when he was a young teenager he was such a bright young man and such a charismatic and brilliant doctor and he offered had had dinner at their house on cold nights he slept over so he picked up a lot of ellen white's ideas about not just Christianity per se but also the notion Russian and this was very common in many denominations of Christianity after the second after the second grade awakening but there were many denominations of preach. Your body is a temple temple and if you don't take care of your body you will not ascend to heaven when the rapture happens so he got a lot of those ideas initially from her support for American innovations nations comes from capital one with the spark cashcard from capital one you earn unlimited two percent cashback on all of your business purchases think about attic unlimited two percent cashback on everything you buy for. Your Business. 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Now's the time to tell your story. Tori wicks DOT COM is the place to make it happen. Get started today and build a website you'll be proud of and if you go to Wicks DOT COM uh-huh and use the coupon code. Ai You'll get ten percent off when you're ready to go premium. That's WICKS DOT com code for ten percent off any premium plan. Kellogg is such an interesting figure. John Keller is such an interesting figure because he's he's kind of wild hybrid of some ideas that actually were very ahead of their time that feel very contemporary and and it have you know whether it's actual scientifically visionary visionary things or just modern things sound very kind of new age in a twenty first century new age and then there are these ideas like female genital mutilation and Eugenics and all these things that are important to us today and that are pretty much clearly kind of beyond the Pale. That's one of the things that makes him such a fascinating figure. It seems to me and and what did you. Mak- that having spent so much time kind of living through his life well he's a problematic figure a lot of his ideas he you know he read several languages and he read the medical literature quite extensively. He was also a very good surgeon. He did over ten thousand procedures in his career so he followed just about everything but he would shoehorn born new ideas and new science to fit his worldview that had already been developed largely through his Christian faith in the seventh day adventist church but he had a lot of ideas that we would find uncomfortable at the very least he didn't really do genital mutilation per se but what he was against as were many many many doctors whether they were seventh day adventists are not against the solitary vice of masturbation and and so there were things that he would prescribe that sound very horrible binding the genitals of pudding carbolic acid on the a finger tips or even you know doing and then there was actually rarely they were mutilating. I guess if you they were not they were not good eyedrops right he would put sutures through the penis and things like that terrible idea and they're in his textbooks but and the U. Janet thing is very complicated because he was was like have to tell you if you study a white anglo-saxon Protestant men and their wives in late nineteenth early twentieth century Tree America. You'RE GONNA find a lot of genesis you don't have to lift a particularly among progressively history of honored singer. Teddy Roosevelt Yeah Yeah Yeah this was this pseudoscience captured their inherent racism things that they were taught that the Nordic races were superior earlier to the other reasons. They were taught this in school lot of America. You know we don't think about this but this was common. Teaching Presidents talked about the senator's scientists university presidents and so on so it was very common. He took it to another extreme now. His eugenics is very interesting form as he called it you thanks and it was almost like Lamar archaism where if you adopted good behaviors exercise good eating and so on you could intern pass that on to your property. The hardcourt eugenicist thought he was silly when he said that the other thing that is maybe some lighter in its implications but the striking about chunk. Lx Life is that here you have someone who is working on so many different levels some of them actually quite quite laudable some of them you know pretty malevolent with all these ambitious goals of transforming people in their lives and their health and society but his ultimate it will cut of largest in fact actually is what we have for breakfast yeah that ends up being the way that he truly changes the world. What what can you just like. What was the American breakfast invest before the Kellogg brothers got got into this world so young the poor mothers of the country would have to think about you have a wood burning stove and it's the middle of winter. You've got to start that going and then if you're making a grain like mosh or early forms of oatmeal your cooking that for forty five to sixty minutes let's or you're making eggs. If you're wealthy or near a farm and bacon potatoes were very common breakfast as well but they would all be sort of simmered numbered upper sauteed or whatever the chef term is in the grease from last night's meal so it's a lot of heavy fried fatty meals and if there's meat involved particularly perform refrigerators it tended to be heavily salted or cured these were very heavy salty time consuming meals and after nineteen o five nine zero six would you could have a box of cereal. Gosh even dad could make breakfast and it also coincided with another national trend the development of clean a homogenize pasteurized milk that was being sold in refrigerated counters that was being transported in refrigerated trucks and that instead of the old system of getting a cup of milk from the grocer that was taken out of dirty. Can it was now a hygienic way to serve milk and you can't really have a bowl cornflakes without at least a half a cup of milk by the way that that that breakthrough the safe milk yeah transformation. That's one of the Great Health Revolutions of the twentieth century. I mean that really it really isn't it. It really is I rail out a lot about that. At the book and the old fashioned way was that it would come on a horse and buggy in milk cans and grocers grocers would buy a can and they would dole it out into another receptacle that the housewife took into the grocer was brought home. There was no refrigerator so if it was cold hold you could leave it out on the fire escape or the window but it went bad very quickly and even in transport it could be carrying all kinds of bacteria area. There was also the problem that a lot of milk was adulterated by unethical grocers farmers or in between people and it could be watered down and that would be the best of all worlds or it could be adulterated with white chalky substances and really made into a UN nutritious mess ends ends really important for infant feeding because a lot of infants were dying of diarrhea because they were getting tainted milk yeah. It's another reason another thing we need to say to our kids like yeah. You know back in the day the milk would kill you. Yeah yeah should appreciate your having a bowl of cereal talking to die and right three days. The the motto wouldn't have got milk it would be you can have it exactly so as he's kind of products start to get developed. These kind of ready ready to eat breakfast. Cereals Kellogg's kind of together start collaborating on John is initially or really for most of his life resistant to the idea of making a ton of right right well. Where does that come from. Well you know he created. He is best remembered for his role in clerk lakes but he created a lot of health foods. He was responsible for getting soya milk and almond milk and other nut. MEESE milks manufacturers a lot of foods that he created but he created them all for his flock for his patients but back then if a doctor advertised his wears if he took out ads or in some way commercialized voiced his work there was held to pay with his local medical society all the way up to the American Medical Association and he was even though Oh he did some things that were on the fringes or that was not what Orthodox medical doctors practice he very much wanted to be part of you know the elite cadre of American physicians and if he had done something like come out with John Harvey kelloggs cornflakes he would there will be charges which is brought up against them so in addition to the the food innovation particularly will one of his key roles was in the kind of marketing and advertising side of that's where a lot of the kind of new ideas also were developed yeah. Can you give us a little bit of a sense of this specific techniques that will pioneered in terms of marketing to to specifically typically mothers and two kids right that was his demographic mothers and kids so there was wonderful pictures of mothers serving nutritious meals to their children in in these ads they also had little coupons so that you could get free samples of the cereal and for children he invented the toy in the box and the first one was a coloring book called the Kellogg's Funny Jungle Land Coloring Book and there was a double advantage to this the kids loved it of course and it also took up more more room in the box in the cornflakes and was much cheaper to make than a cornflakes so everybody wants but the toy in the box was a huge innovation. I can't I don't know of a single kid or adult who hasn't smiled when you say there's that toy in the box in your box of cereal and so he was brilliant then he invested millions wins and millions and millions of dollars every year to this very day even the creation of their own set of cartoon characters you know. Tony The tiger and snap crackle Oh pop and so on so they didn't have to pay people like the Disney Studio to borrow theirs they were really really right on on top of that the throughout Wales career he also used some of the kind of health and wellness brand that was associated with his brother's career yes and so there's always this kind of complicated aided dance between will kind of adding a little more sugar too yeah lakes and you know introducing this kind of more commercial advertising ising techniques and animated characters and things like that but at the same time there is kind of aura of health and wellness respectability that he got from his brad healthy nutritious. It's just right healthy nutritious breakfast for you know a box with fifteen cents or something like that ten cents you know the sugar ization of cereal happened after will had retired. I mean the level of sugar frosted flakes and all that what he did he added a little bit of sugar and a little a bit of salt to the cornflakes by the way he had incredible pallet so when he said this tasted good it did to a lot of people so while John Harvey Kellogg went nuts when he found out about that. It was not as much as we have today. Were there you know vitamins that are basically served in sugarcubes or their their actual marshmallows in the NBA reese's peanut Butter Cup cereal. thankless children have purchased. That's only for them but it has been brought into our home well. I I must confess I. I'm a cocoa KRISPIES guy. The guy not so different but during will's career the idea of health and nutrition was very very important to him and he was one of the first cereal makers to add a vitamins you know X. Fortify his cereals with vitamins. I in a spray form on top of the flakes and then later in the recipe itself. He was very interested as his brother was in regular bowel habits that was very important to the Kellogg family and so will was very much interested in all that the the other part of cereals that would be much more recognizable to dad's and mother's today today and especially to kids with you know candy coated cereals. That's really a post nineteen. Fifty to nineteen fifty five phenomenon will died in nineteen fifty one well. I think that gets to one of the the key can of themes that run through the story which is today we think of kind of processed foods and kind mass-marketed supermarket cereals as not so healthy and as maybe something we want to steer away from in Kellogg's age you know early nineteen hundreds they were kind of WanNa sign of of health and wellness but also kind of sense of being modern in a way they were the kind of the new thing and I think what what you're saying is that in a way that was accurate because of what the norm had been before that it was so bad right that having a sugar kind of process cereal was in fact acton improvement over the girl that we were eating before right and especially thing about Luthan about nine hundred fifty s with the sugars ation of cereal but in the nineteen nine hundred zero one thousand nine hundred ninety s when it's basically it's cornflakes shredded wheat is another company but will later made his own shredded wheat bran flakes that's pretty much it and those really were healthier alternatives to what a lot of people had been eating and the notion of processed food because it is corn in its natural state. A kernel of corn is very different to a cornflake. You have to a lot of things to that corn kernel to to make a cornflake and that was considered modern look at the stuff we can make out of thin air. Practically you know it was a new and improved product and that really goes with a much broader ethos in trend in American culture and society at the early part of the twentieth century. You could actually improve approve upon nature with human ingenuity. Now we now know medically that eating a bowl of cornflakes cornflakes have what's called a very very high glycemic index so it's easier to digest but it will raise your blood sugar very high and then it'll raise your insulin very high to take that take care of that excess the sugar in the bloodstream and then you'll have a plummeting of both and you'll be hungry very quickly thereafter. That's why we now suggest low. Oh glycemic grains like oatmeal and not roll though but actual oatmeal like steel cut oatmeal because it takes a lot longer to digest in. You're not hungry by eight ten. Am and so that's lucky charms. Where would it fit in that. I I think cornflakes would be about twenty times each Dr Yeah by the way that's general foods product so I'm not I didn't really studied but yeah but there's they're all these candy kind no. That's that's okay all right. I'm I tell you I would never suggest the still I just WanNa. Get bring it back. You know for for the last question to what you were saying at the beginning which I thought was so oh striking which is kind of set out to write this book about John and then found your way into will because he was such an interesting character. I think that that is that's kind of a wonderful observation observations. I think that's true of a lot of great books that the you know I I would. I would wager a disproportionate number of really good to have that kind of swerve in their process with author thinks they're writing one thing at the start and then they got drawn organically into slightly different book at in a way that's that's kind of the way innovation off it works right where you're trying to solve the problem and you get pulled into another one but I'm curious you know looking at having gone through this whole process and Kinda living with these brothers for multiple multiple years in researching and writing this you know what is the thing that stayed with you or kind of most surprised you about that about that story will i. I'm flattered that you think by that makes me smile and I think it's true that all good books and all great innovations that if you know exactly what you're gonNA find you'll probably going to find it and and it's also about good science too is that you probably should keep an open mind and go were the data takes you go where the archives take you as far as the. Kellogg brothers first of all John Harvey Kellogg was a brilliant man. A charismatic man who innovated a Lotta need ideas and also hit a lot of very bad ones but it was a very interesting testing figure in American medicine will is one of the major tycoons of the twentieth century and of American patients without fear of anyone contradicting getting such a statement what struck me most was how absolutely destructive their relationship was to each other their relations nations were so horrible they didn't speak for many years in yet they needed each other the doctor needed will to run his medical empire and indeed to help him come up with with cornflakes and will who was a broom salesman when he started working for the sanitarium needed his brother to get a really good job even though he didn't think so at the time but you couldn't find a better finishing school a better business school to run the Kellogg's company then running and being Dec- coo if you will of the Battle Creek Creek Sanitarium but it came at such a huge psychic cost will was really good at making cornflakes. He loved the Kelloggs cornflakes company but his life was very very sad. He had two failed marriages. he fired his son from the company. he fired his grandson and his grandson than committed suicide data at a very young age. He never felt satisfied in his own skin. he was very sad. Insecure man despite his many great accomplishments and you know we would be remiss if we didn't mention his greatest accomplishment was creating the W K Kellogg Foundation which is a now how he nine billion dollar foundation as one of the largest foundations in the world that help children and families all around the world to this day so you know he really was is a great man. Only he didn't feel that way and there was a comment from his grandson. His grandson wrote an unpublished memoir. His name was Norman Williamson Simpson Junior and he said when we buried our grandfather no-one shed a tear and to me that was the saddest story that ever came out of Battle Creek Michigan well Howard cow. Thank you so much for this conversation. This is the best kind of interview you've got fascinating history and and dietary advice don't eat too much. Don't exercise that muscle that brings the forty mile. That's my best uh-huh from wondering this has been the American innovations. I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you like our series please give us a five star review and tell your friends to subscribe were available on Apple podcasts Jason spotify NPR one and every major listening APP as well as at wondering Dot Com American innovations has hosted by me Steven Johnson for more information information on my books about science and innovation you can visit my website. WWW Steven Berlin Johnson dot com this series was based on the book the Kellogg the Battling Brothers of Battle Creek written by Howard Marquel. Our producer for this episode is Adriana cargill executive produced by Marshal Louis and Hernan Lopez us for wondering.