Kellogg’s: a staple of morning diets. Who could forget the green rooster posted on front of the cereal box with the big bowl, filled with crispy corn flakes? Most of us prefer to add sugar. I do. And I’m pretty sure everyone else does. But originally Kellogg’s most famous creation was intended to be as dry and tasteless as its namesake. As a matter of fact it was intended as a sort of dietary health remedy. The illness: masturbation.
The Kellogg’s brand was started out by John Harvey Kellogg, a Michigan physician, and his brother, Will Keith Kellogg. Together the two of them ran a sanitarium and health spa in Battle Creek, Michigan. Some of their more notable guests there included Sojourner Truth, Henry Ford, and President Harding. Both brothers belonged to the Seventh Day Advent church, which preached a strict and literal adherence to the Bible, as well as forbidding the use of drugs, caffeine, and alcohol. They also happen to be strict vegetarians. But the area that had the most spiritual influence on Kellogg was sexuality.
Like the Adventists Kellogg believed in the body’s purity as a vessel of God. But he took his religious fervor a step even more: he believed that all forms of sexuality were innately bad and that the way to avoid this sin was to abstain from it completely and live a celibate life. Kellogg was true to his word, in fact. He lived a completely celibate life, even in his marriage. He and his wife never consummated and, in fact, slept in separate rooms. To have children they simply adopted, rather than risking the sin of natural reproduction.
All this sounds a little odd, right? That isn’t even the half. To Kellogg, the only thing worse than sexual intercourse was “the pernicious habit of onanism,” otherwise known to the layman as “masturbation.” To Kellogg nothing, including smallpox, the plague, or wars had produced a greater flaw in the human condition. Masturbation was a shameless, self-gratifying exercise that he saw as pollution.
Kellogg was so incensed by the idea of self-pleasure that he wrote several books about it, condemning the practice. In one of his works he specifically listed 39 symptoms of a person afflicted with “onanism,” which included mood swings, epilepsy, growth development problems, and general social ineptitude. Other effects Kellogg associated with the practice: leprosy, vision problems, insanity, and eventually death.
Kellogg devised several equally crazy cures for the practice. One of them involved sewing up the foreskin with a silver wire to prevent erection. Another involved burning the clitoris with carbolic acid. And weirder still: conducting circumcision without anesthesia, in the hopes that the physical pain would have a permanent, deterring effect on the mind.
But the best, most reliable cure that Kellogg relied on was dietary restriction. In Battle Creek health spa, the guests were kept to a rigorous vegetarian diet and, like the Adventists, forbidden from drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. Spicy foods were forbidden at the sanitarium, since it was said that they increased the desire for sex. What WAS permitted to eat: mostly dry foods, such as whole grains and nuts (no pun intended).
Kellogg decided to take this and make it into a homegrown recipe. He mixed corn meal and oats into dough and then baked them into biscuits, which were ground into small pieces. At first this was called “granula,” but then Kellogg rescinded the name once he found out it was already in use by James Caleb Jackson, another dietary specialist. So he modified the name with one “o” and changed it to “granola.”
But the Kellogg’s brothers’ most famous homegrown staple was created by using whole-grain dough to make toasted crackers. This was done by cooking, cooling, and running the wheat through rollers, which produced flakes from the flattened grain. Later they decided to use corn instead of wheat, making their world famous “corn flakes.” And thus the breakfast cereal was created.
The Kellogg brothers started out as business partners, trying to sell their new product as an anti-masturbation remedy. While John Harvey had more of a religious motivation, his brother, Will Keith, was more of a businessman. He thought that the corn flakes wouldn’t sell as they were, and wanted to add sugar to spruce up the taste. After purchasing the rights from his brother Will Keith devised his own recipe and, in 1906, created his own company, which later became the Kellogg Company. Needless to say, the brothers went through many legal feuds with each other over the rights to the brand label.
If you’ve ever eaten corn flakes (pretty much everyone has), you probably won’t notice any decrease in your sexual energy. It certainly isn’t a magical remedy for masturbation. Which means that Kellogg’s perfect cure for self-pleasure was, in fact, a failure. But it was, as his brother discovered, the perfect cure for the common breakfast. With just a little sugar added.
Davies, Madlen “What do Corn Flakes and masturbation have in common? Mr. Kellogg believed sexual desires caused disease and invented the plain cereal to stop self-pleasuring” Dailymail.co.uk. Aug 4, 2015.
Soniak, Matt “Corn Flakes Were Part of an Anti-Masturbation Crusade” Mentalfloss.com. Dec. 28, 2012.