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Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and the Battle Creek Sanitarium            

The Battle Creek Sanitarium began as the Western Health Reform Institute, based on the visionary ideas of Seventh-day Adventist church founder Ellen White.  The institution, and the health reform ideas taught there, were brought to international prominence through the charisma and medical genius of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg.   


The Seventh-day Adventist Origins of the Battle Creek Idea           

The Seventh-day Adventist church had its beginnings in upper New York state in the 1830s among the followers of William Miller, who predicted the Second Coming of Christ.  The Millerites crisscrossed the land, urging listeners to prepare for the Advent day.  As the predicted date of March 21, 1844, and then a second date came and went without incident, the disappointed Millerites sought reasons for the apparent failure of their expectations.  Some became acquainted with the Saturday Sabbath-keeping practices of the Seventh Day Baptists and accepted that belief in addition to their faith in the eventual Second Coming of Christ.           

One Millerite seeking answers was Ellen Harmon, who became an evangelist traveling around New England with her husband, James White.  Combining a powerful preaching style with prophetic visions and a gift for publicity through publication, the Whites continued to tour eastern and Midwestern states with a handful of other Adventists, as the former Millerites became known.           

Early in the 1850s a few Adventists settled in Battle Creek.  In 1855 they invited James and Ellen White to join them in this young Michigan town, which offered a tolerant home for their small, but rapidly growing sect.  The church flourished in Battle Creek and by the 1860s there were several hundred Seventh-day Adventists in town. 


Health Reform Visions           

Prophetess Ellen White began having visions relating to health care and diet reform as early as 1863 when she was shown the wisdom of two meatless meals a day.  Two years later she and her ailing husband visited the Dansville, New York, health cure.  “Our Home on the Hillside.”  Dr. James Caleb Jackson, who ran the spa, advocated many health reform ideas, including an emphasis on sunshine, rest and hydro-therapy or water cure.  The Adventist leaders were impressed by the progress they made in regaining their health at Dansville, but they were not comfortable with some of the regime which they considered frivolous.            

On their way home from Dansville, the Whites stopped in Rochester, New York, to visits friends.  There, on Christmas Day 1865, Ellen White had the vision which led directly to the founding of the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek nine months later.           

As she later described it, she saw that the Adventists “should establish their own water cure and vegetation institution where a properly balanced, God-fearing course of treatments could be made available not only to Adventists, but to the public generally – and where they could not only be treated with sensible remedies but also be taught how to take care of themselves and thus prevent sickness.” Among the first contributors to the proposed institution were John Preston and Ann Janette Kellogg, parents of the fourteen-year old future doctor, John Harvey Kellogg.   


The Western Health Reform Institute           

On September 5, 1866, Ellen White’s vision was realized as the Western Reform Institute open in a small two-story farmhouse on North Washington Avenue.  The staff consisted of one doctor, Dr. Horatio Lay, “a number of competent Assistants for the Male and Female Departments” and two patients.  Over the next ten years the Institute enjoyed moderate success and an addition was built to accommodate more than 20 patients at a time.  The medical staff also edited the monthly Health Reformer magazine.           

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.  The patients were taught to cure themselves whenever possible using “natural” means, including water, sunshine, exercise, rest and proper diet.             

In the era immediately following the blood-letting of the Civil War, this was a novel approach.  At that time medicine frequently meant purging, leeches, alcohol-based patent remedies and crude surgical practices with high mortality rates.           

Many “doctors” and “nurses” never attended medical school or received formal training.  Instead they read books and relied upon empirical training.  The first nurses at the Institute were Adventist farm women who volunteered their time to do everything from chopping wood to administering massages.  The Whites soon recognized the need for more thoroughly trained staff, as well as for more professional administration.  They felt that the teenager John Harvey Kellogg had the potential to provide the leadership the Institute needed.  They partially subsidized his medical education at the University of Michigan and the Bellevue Hospital Medical College in New York City. 


Dr. John Harvey Kellogg becomes director           

In 1875, Doctor Kellogg returned to Battle Creek to join the staff of the Western Health Reform Institute.  The Whites immediately 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 medical director until his death in 1943 at the age of 91.             

The dynamic doctor immediately launched a series of innovations.  First he replaced the traditional term “sanitorium” with the new name, “Sanitarium” or “San,” as it quickly became known.   The Battle Creek Medical Surgical Sanitarium was to be a sanitary “place where people learn to stay well.”           

He assumed editorial control of the monthly publication, which he renamed Good Health, refined and improved the water therapy treatments, added more scientifically based treatments, revised the diet of the patients and hired a professionally trained staff.           

During 1877 the San treated over 300 patients and a larger building was erected.  This four-story brick structure was soon outgrown and a large addition was built in 1884.  By 1886, 1,176 patients were treated in one year and the San had its own electrical plant and farm to help supply power and fresh food.  Two years later a surgical hospital was constructed to handle the increasing number of surgical and charity cases.  Without fanfare Dr. Kellogg continued to accept many charity patients at the San, so that access to good health would not be limited to the rich or famous.           

Dr. Kellogg’s brother, Will Keith, came to work at the San in 1880 as bookkeeper and business manager.  The continued growth of the institution was due to no small measure to the younger Kellogg’s business acumen.  By 1885 the San had become the “largest institution of its kind in the world.”           

As a Sanitarium pamphlet pointed out, “at that time there existed no [other] institution which combined the comforts of the home and the hotel with the medical advantages of the hospital and the added facilities and equipment requisite for the administration of baths of every description, electricity in its different forms, medical gymnastics, and other rational agencies, with careful regulation of diet.”             

The main building was again expanded in 1890-91 to lodge between 300 and 400 patients at one time.  Additional boarding facilities were available at 15 “cottages” on or near the San grounds.             

The rapid growth continued throughout the 1890s.  In 1891 alone, more than 1,600 patients were treated.  The fruit, daily and vegetable farms expanded to nearly 400 acres and housing for several hundred nurses was built.  The main building was expanded to over 300 feet, accommodating more than 500 patients. 


Disaster and rebuilding           

When fire completely destroyed the main San building and hospital in February 1902, Dr. Kellogg immediately vowed to rebuild an even larger Sanitarium, despite Ellen White’s advice to keep the new structure small and simple.  However the doctor persisted with his elaborate plans and three months later the cornerstone was laid.  The $700,000 rebuilding effort was directed by W. K. Kellogg.           

The six-story fireproof brick building was dedicated in May 1903, only fifteen months after the conflagration.  The elaborate Beaux Arts façade ran along Washington Avenue for 550 feet.  Three wings extended 120 feet in the rear, housing the treatment rooms for men and women and the indoor gymnasium facilities.  A tropical garden with palm and rubber trees was located behind the lobby of the main building.  Physicians’ offices and parlors occupied the main floor while guest rooms filled the upper floors. Surgical cases were housed on the fifth floor with operating rooms located at the north end of the top floor.  The state of the art kitchens were also on the sixth floor, to keep cooking smells, which travel upwards, from distracting the guests on the lower levels.           

Over the next few years there were increasing areas of disagreement between the church leaders and the Sanitarium administration.  By 1907 both parties considered the problems irreconcilable.  The Kellogg brothers were “disfellowshipped” from the church and the administration of the Sanitarium was no longer under church auspices.  Although they were formally separated from their denomination, both Kellogg brothers lived by Adventist principles for the rest of their lives.  At the Sanitarium, Dr. Kellogg continued to observe the Saturday Sabbath and to promote Adventist health ideas. 


Continued expansion and financial reverses           

The innovative course of treatment offered at the San, the success rate in difficult surgical and medical cases and the research work done in the laboratories continued to enhance the institution’s worldwide reputation.  Meanwhile the booming economy was creating more and more wealthy patrons who could afford to spend money and time seeking better health.  In ever-increasing numbers, the rich and famous traveled from around the globe to be pampered and pummeled at Battle Creek’s famous health spa.  Guests like industrialist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. came for several weeks at a time “to get advice and a general looking over.”           

By 1927 even more space was necessary and a three-million dollar addition was completed the next year.  The fifteen-story Towers Addition, designed by Chicago architect M. J. Morehouse, contained over 600 patient rooms and suites, banquet rooms and medical offices.  Opulent interior details, including black marble columns with gold leaf capitals, catered to the tastes of the elegant clientele.           

The crash of the booming economy dramatically reduced the number of wealthy patients who could afford to come to the San for extended stays.  In the early 1930s, occupancy dropped over seventy-five percent. As patronage declined financial difficulties threatened the very existence of the institution.  The San went into receivership in 1933 but continued to operate on a reduced basis.           

Finally by 1942 it became necessary to sell the huge building complex and move the San to smaller quarters.  The federal government purchased the Washington Avenue complex and converted the buildings into Percy Jones General and Convalescent Hospital.  The orthopedic rehabilitation facility continued to serve the nation’s veterans through the Korean War.  Since 1954 the building has housed federal offices.Dr. Kellogg was not discouraged by the financial setbacks.  He moved the San up the street to the Fieldstone Annex building and continued the work he began over 60 years earlier. 



The death of Dr. Kellogg           

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg died on December 14, 1943.  He was succeeded as medical director by Dr. James Jeffrey, a former Sanitarium janitor who graduated from the Sanitarium School of Nursing and later became a physician.  Without the charismatic leadership of Dr. Kellogg, the institution gradually declined in importance as American tastes in health care changed.           

In 1957, the San was purchased by a group of Seventh-day Adventist doctors.  History came full circle in 1974 when the Battle Creek Sanitarium Hospital returned to church ownership and control.  During the next decade the hospital changed its emphasis from medical care to psychiatric and substance abuse treatment.  In 1993 the facility merged with two other local hospitals, becoming part of the Battle Creek Health Systems. 


The Battle Creek Idea           

The “Battle Creek Idea” which drew thousands to the Sanitarium was “a rational, scientific medical method of health building and training.”  Dr. Kellogg brought together “in one place and under unified control, all the resources that modern medical science has developed” to heal the sick and to prevent future illness by educating the guests in the “methods of healthful living.”           

The program began with a “complete inventory of the patient’s vital assets [which was] used as the basis for subsequent treatment.”  Education in a new set of habits to “rejuvenate the body [until it] glows and thrills with health” accompanied the prescribed treatment regimen.           

The primary treatment was still hydrotherapy.  But Dr. Kellogg instituted a “rational” or scientific approach to the “versatile and universal” water cure.  The San offered more than 200 varieties of water treatments, including cool, cold, neutral, warm hot, alternate, percussion and vapor sprays or douches; immersion, shallow, sitz, foot, leg or half-baths; hot, tepid, cool, alternate, saline and alcohol, witch hazel, dry shampoo, web mitten, towel, half-sheet and salt rubs; fomentations, compresses, sinusoidal and galvanic electro-hydric baths; air, hot air, Russian and vapor baths.  Many of these “hydriatic applications” which originated in the San, were used in combinations of alternating temperatures and textures to stimulate the body and internal systems.           

Dr. Kellogg believed that “of all the forces of Nature, Sunlight is the most potent, the most beneficial.  The more sunlight the body is able to store up, the greater the vital energy and resistance to disease.”  Sun baths and exercise in the open air were important parts of the San’s regime.  Male patients often exercised out-of-doors in loin cloths or “diapers” to expose as much of their bodies as possible to the beneficial rays of the sun.   Dr. Kellogg himself wore white or light colored clothing to allow the greatest penetration of the sun’s rays.             

When natural sunlight was not available, especially in the cold dark Michigan winters, “artificial sunlight” was prescribed.  Dr. Kellogg invented several forms of light and radiant heat baths to provide guests with the benefits of this “best of all rejuvenators.”           

The Battle Creek Sanitarium Equipment Company, founded in 1890, manufactured many of the therapeutic machines invented by Dr. Kellogg.  The radiant light bath was not only popular with former patients but also with the rich and famous around the world.  The King of England even had one installed in Buckingham Palace in 1902.           

Fresh air, especially the clean, cold invigorating winter air, was a vital force in maintaining health.  Active outdoor exercise in all seasons of the year was encouraged for all patients.           

Exercise, indoors or out, was an important element of the San treatment program since “most women and a large proportion of men who visited the Sanitarium [were] suffering from deficient muscular development and incorrect posture.”  Early in his career at the Sanitarium, Dr. Kellogg realized that exercise to music was “more agreeable, hence more efficient” than drilling in silence.  Therefore, he developed musical accompaniments for exercise routines, foreshadowing today’s aerobics.           

A comprehensive program of “medical gymnastics” was developed to benefit all guests, from bedridden post-surgical patients to overweight and out-of-shape businessmen.  After a careful analysis of the patient’s muscular strength and conditioning, a combination of “light calisthenics, Swedish movements, indoor gymnastics, swimming, outdoor gymnasium work, folk dancing, hikes, boating, automobiling, horseback riding, etc.” was prescribed.  Swedish massage and a variety of mechanical exercise devices, including vibrating belts, chairs, tables and stools, were popular indoor exercise options.  For the feeble patient, automatic or passive exercise was available.           

The Sanitarium surgical and obstetrical departments were world-renowned, employing the services of skilled surgeons with a low mortality rate.  Dr. Kellogg himself was a surgeon of international reputation who performed over 22,000 operations during his career.  The Mayo brothers and other leading physicians consulted with him on difficult cases.  Known for his meticulous operating techniques, the doctor introduced several new abdominal surgical procedures as well as devising a number of surgical instruments and appliances. 



Education was one of Dr. Kellogg’s primary missions and he referred to the San as the “University of Health.”  He believed that each patient should be educated in the principles of “biologic living” – how to stay well once he was made well at the Sanitarium.  He conducted weekly “Question Box” sessions to answer patron’s health questions.  The doctor also lectured extensively across the country and wrote more than 50 books on health topics.           

But educating the patients was not the only answer.  More teachers of healthful living had to be trained to carry the message around the nation and the world.  Dr. Kellogg operated several colleges in conjunction with the San, including schools for nurses, dieticians, physical therapists and missionary physicians.  Working at the Sanitarium while they were in school, the students gained invaluable practical experience only available at this unique institution.  This combination made medical personnel trained at the Sanitarium in great demand worldwide. 


Health foods and cereal    

The centerpiece of the Battle Creek Idea was reforming the unhealthful eating habits of patients.  Dr. Kellogg not only opposed meat eating on moral and religious grounds but also for health reasons.  At his Sanitarium lectures, he frequently demonstrated the high number of disease-producing bacterial present in meat.  The doctor felt that man’s natural diet should be vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains.           

To make this healthy diet appealing to his patients, the Sanitarium continually experimented with new dishes under trained dietician, Ella Eaton Kellogg, Dr. Kellogg’s wife.  More than 80 grain and nut-food products were developed in her experimental kitchen, including such staples as peanut butter and flaked breakfast foods.           

The wheat flake which launched the breakfast cereal industry as discovered accidentally in 1894.  One day a female patient complained that she had broken her dentures on the hard zwieback toast served at the San.  Dr. Kellogg determined to find a precooked product which would be easier for patients to chew and digest.  He, his brother, W. K. Kellogg, and his wife, Ella Eaton, worked in the experimental kitchen on a variety of products, none of which proved satisfactory.  Finally, after they accidentally left a bath of cooked wheat overnight, they put the material through rollers and perfectly formed wheat flakes were formed.  The flake, flavored only with salt, was served in the Sanitarium dining rooms under the name of “Granose.”           

On May 31, 1895, Dr. Kellogg filed a patent application for “flaked cereals and the process of preparing same.”  Although the original flaked cereal was made of wheat, the Kelloggs also listed “barley, oats, corn and other grains” in the patent papers.  Despite its inclusion in the list of grains, the corn flake was not successfully manufactured for almost ten year.           

Many patients wanted to purchase Granose wheat flakes and other special Sanitarium foods to continue their healthy eating habits at home.  Doctor and W. K. Kellogg formed the Sanitas Food Company to manufacture their health foods for this limited marked.  Dr. Kellogg was not interested in developing a commercial business.  He had developed the foods simply “for the purpose of improving health and helping (his) patients.” 


Marketing health foods           

One former patient was interested in the wider distribution of food products.  After C. W. Post left the San in 1891, he started his own health resort.  Four years later he began manufacturing Postum, an improved version of Kellogg’s Carmel Cereal.  He was very successful using an aggressive advertising campaign to promote his grain-based coffee substitute.  Post introduced Grape-Nuts cereal in 1898 and became a millionaire by the turn of the century.  His spectacular financial success fueled a “cereal boom” in Battle Creek as scores of would-be millionaires tried to duplicate Post’s feat.           

W. K. Kellogg also saw the wide potential in the Sanitarium food products, especially the wheat and corn flaked cereals.  Since his brother was unwilling to market the products widely, W. K. decided to form his own company.  In 1902, just as he was about to strike out on his own, disaster struck the San.  Dr. Kellogg asked his brother to remain to raise funds and supervise the rebuilding after the fire.  It was not until 1906 that the younger Kellogg started the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company in a one- story wooden factory across town from the San.  This small enterprise eventually became the Kellogg Company, the world’s largest cereal manufacturer, selling hundreds of varieties of breakfast product around the world.           

Although Dr. Kellogg was one of the discoverers of the flaked cereal and other popular floods, he did not wish to profit from these products, neither did he take any fees for the thousands of surgeries he performed and did not receive a salary from the Sanitarium.  He supported himself and his household of more than 40 adopted and foster children with royalties from his books and publications.  Together he and his wife were responsible for initiating several charitable projects, including the establishment of the Haskell Home for Orphans and the Sunshine Center, where underprivileged children and their mothers were taught principles of nutrition and domestic economy. 


Dr. Kellogg’s legacy           

During the 67 years that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was medical director and administrator of the Battle Creek San, he pioneered many of the practices recognized today as essential to healthy living and to the prevention of illness.  At the “University of Health” Dr. Kellogg educated our society about the importance of healthy eating and proper exercise to maintain and improve the quality of life.           

But Dr. Kellogg was more than an influential health educator and prolific inventor.  Through his constant, quiet acts of charity and concern for both children and adults, he lived a life of love and caring for his fellow man.  The short man in a white suit bustling through the halls of the Sanitarium stood as a towering figure in the thousand of lives he touched.