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Cereal City - How It All Began


            The story of Battle Creek as the “Cereal City” began in the 1830s with the birth of a new religious sect in upper New York state.  From this unlikely beginning, the  ready-to-eat breakfast industry grew into a world wide phenomenon.

            The Seventh-day Adventist, or SDA, church had its roots in upper state New York among the followers of William Miller, who predicted the Second Coming of Christ in 1844.  “Millerites” criss-crossed the land, urging listeners to prepare for the Advent day.  As the predicted dates came and went without incident, the bitterly disappointed Millerites sought answers elsewhere.

            Some Adventists accepted the Saturday Sabbath-keeping practices of the Seventh Day Baptists.  Ellen Harmon and her husband James White were among the leaders of this new faith, spreading the word through a powerful preaching style, prophetic visions and a gift of conversion through publication.

            The first known Sabbath-keeping Adventist to come to Battle Creek and win any converts was Joseph Bates, one of the co-founders of the group, who visited briefly in 1852.  By 1855 there were a few SDA families living on the west side of the village.

            Responding to the tolerant atmosphere of early Battle Creek, these pioneer Adventists invited Ellen and James White to move their struggling preaching and publishing ministry here.  The tiny but energetic group flourished in the west end and by the 1860s there were several hundred Seventh-day Adventists living here.

            Ellen White and her husband worked tirelessly to lead their group of believers.  However, James White’s health began to suffer and in 1865 the couple visited the Dansville, New York, health cure, “Our Home on the Hillside.”  Here Dr. James Caleb Jackson offered many of the popular health reform ideas of the period, including hydro-therapy (the water cure) with an emphasis on rest and plenty of sunshine.

            At Dansville the Whites were impressed with the progress they made in regaining their health. 0n their way home to Battle Creek, they stopped in Rochester, New York.  There, on Christmas Day 1865, Ellen White had a vision showing her that Adventists “should establish their own water cure and vegetarian institution where a properly balanced, God-fearing course of treatments could be made not only available to Adventists, but to the public generally -- where they could not only be treated with sensible remedies but also be taught how to take care of themselves and thus prevent sickness.”

            On September 5, 1866, Ellen White’s vision was made real with the opening of the Western Health Reform Institute in a small two-story farmhouse on North Washington Street.  The Institute offered a unique combination of several theories of health reform designed to heal the whole person, by caring for the mind, body and spirit.

            The Adventists believed in abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, as well as moderation in diet, work and the use of pharmaceutical drugs.  Patients at the Institute were taught to cure themselves whenever possible using “natural” means, including water, sunshine, exercise, rest and proper diet.

            Over the next ten years, the Institute enjoyed moderate success and an addition was built on the farmhouse to accommodate more than 20 patients at one time.

            In 1875 there was a major change.  The young Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, son of a prominent local Adventist family, had received his medical training at the University of Michigan and the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City.  He returned to Battle Creek to join the staff of the Institute.  The Whites, who had partially subsidized his schooling, offered to appoint him medical director, despite his youth and lack of practical experience.  Preferring to devote his career to writing and research, Kellogg declined.

            When the offer was repeated again the next year, Dr. Kellogg reluctantly agreed to serve for one year.  That year stretched to 67, as Dr. John Harvey Kellogg remained as medical director until his death in 1943 at the age of 91.

            The dynamic doctor immediately launched a series of innovations.  First he replaced to traditional term “sanitorium” with the new name, “Sanitarium.”  The Battle Creek Medical and Surgical Sanitarium was to be a sanitary “place where people learned to stay well.”

            Kellogg improved the water therapy treatments, added more scientifically based treatments, including exercise, hired a professionally trained staff and introduced surgery into the hospital. 

            But his most far reaching reform was to revise the diet of the patients.  The centerpiece of the Battle Creek Idea, as Kellogg called his treatment plan, was reforming the nation’s unhealthful eating habits.

            In the mid to late 19th century, “dyspepsia” -- or chronic indigestion -- was an almost universal complaint, especially among the emerging middle class.   The American diet, typically high in fat and low in fiber, fueled farmers and laborers who did a lot of hard physical work.  But the more sedentary life style of bankers and businessmen in the cities did not require the same number of calories.  The office workers soon found themselves suffering from indigestion, as they sat at their desks after eating hearty breakfasts of ham, bacon, eggs, sausage, pancakes, porridge, buttermilk and coffee.

            Kellogg advocated a low fat, high fiber vegetarian diet of fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables to cure this chronic dyspepsia.  To make this healthy, but potentially bland, diet appealing to his patients, the Sanitarium kitchen continually experimented with new dishes.  These experiments were under the direction of Ella Eaton Kellogg, a college-trained dietitian, as well as Dr. Kellogg’s wife.  More than 80 grain and nut-food products were developed in her laboratories, including such modern staples as peanut butter and flaked breakfast foods.

            Thus the healthy-living principles espoused by the early Seventh-day Adventists led directly to the development of the ready-to-eat flaked foods which made Battle Creek famous -- and which we proudly set on our breakfast tables each morning.