Post 59: John Harvey Kellogg: Innovator and crisis-maker

This post summarises some of the reading that students are assigned prior to three lectures that I will deliver on 22 and 23 May 2012.

The Kellogg surname is famous in Adventist history. John Preston Kellogg (1807-1881) fathered sixteen children, including Dr Merritt Gardner (1832-1922) and Dr John Harvey (1852-1943). Will Keith (1860-1951), another and younger son, is more than any other individual the founder of the worldwide Kellogg enterprise that still feeds multitudes and, in Australia, challenges the market share of Sanitarium Health and Wellbeing.

The patriarch John Preston Kellogg joined the Sabbath-keeping Adventists in 1852 and immediately became (according to the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia) “a strong pillar in the young movement and a liberal contributor to its growing needs.” During 1855 he helped to finance the establishment of Adventist publishing in Battle Creek; in subsequent years he supported tent ministry in Michigan, fostered publishing initiatives as well the Health Reform Institute (founded 1866).

Merritt Gardner Kellogg, after 1859, probably became the first Seventh-day Adventist to reach California; certainly he helped to establish Adventist work in the West. Later he sailed on a voyage of the Pitcairn to the islands of the South Pacific, and later still he designed and superintended the building of the Sydney Sanitarium in Wahroonga (opened 1903, see my book on the first hundred years of “The San”).

Will Keith Kellogg was the seventh son of John Preston; in 1880 he changed from working in broom manufacturing and sales to a role in the Battle Creek Sanitarium. During the next 25 years Will rose from janitor to business manager. One of his tasks was to make the cereal flakes (invented by John Harvey) into palatable and wholesome food for patients. Little by little the Sanitas Food Company fed far more than just patients; it became an enterprise that stimulated the development of a competitor, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company. Intense rivalry erupted between siblings John and Will. Years of legal conflict between the two brothers ensued; when he won, Will waived all claims for damages and John Harvey paid him a king’s ransom in legal expenses, $225,000.00. By 1950, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation had given away $50,000,000.00 to various charities.

The Life of John Harvey Kellogg

We mentioned John Preston, Merritt and Will simply to create a setting within which to understand John Harvey. His working life started at age 10, in his father’s Battle Creek broom factory; by 12 he was learning the printing business and soon setting the type for Ellen White’s How to Live series; at 14 he was a proofreader; at 16 a public school teacher. He did attend high school in his seventeenth year, and graduated. By 1873, with the encouragement of James and Ellen White, John was a student at Bellevue Medical College in New York, where he probably spent more money for the additional expertise of tutors than for regular tuition. Student John also edited the Health Reformer, and in 1876 the still-young doctor was appointed superintendent of the somewhat ailing Western Health Reform Institute.

In due course new buildings and new wings were necessary for the institution that was initiated in 1866 as “a home for the sick, where they could be treated for their diseases, and also learn how to take care of themselves so as to prevent sickness.” The Western Health Reform Institute morphed into the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Eventually, ongoing nursing and medical instruction spawned the American Medical Missionary College in 1895. At various times Kellogg studied surgery under famous practitioners in London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna, becoming known in his home country and overseas as one of ablest surgeon of his era. Famous people were drawn to Battle Creek where superb surgery was available, plus a “proper” diet, natural remedies and simple treatments, all delivered with loving care.

John Harvey Kellogg was both experimenter and inventor: of dry cereal breakfast foods, meat substitutes, electric appliances, machines for the treatment of human ailments and devices to assist exercise initiatives. His writing graced many magazines and filled over fifty books; he lectured on health and temperance, preached in churches and was often a featured speaker at camp meetings.

By 1927 Kellogg was building a mammoth addition to the Battle Creek Sanitarium that was soon confronted by the stresses of the Great Depression and, in 1942, was sold to the United States government. However, Kellogg’s passion for healthcare simply caused him to relocate across the street. With no children of his own he and his wife had reared forty children and adopted many. John Harvey Kellogg’s long life ended on 14 December 1943.

The Conflict Between Kellogg and the Church

Richard Schwarz’s denominational history was published in 1979 as the first such textbook written by an Adventist historian. The fact that Schwarz wrote a PhD dissertation (1964) and a major book (1970) about Kellogg means that his Light Bearers to the Remnant offers perceptive analysis in the chapter entitled “The Kellogg Crisis.” The conflict between the doctor and his church included a number of different parameters.

First, Kellogg was apt to complain of a “general backsliding” amongst Adventists in the matter of health reform, and that “ministers discouraged the people by their example.” Contrasted with his medical training and wide reading, Kellogg deemed ministers to be “of very meager ability.” He also charged that they wasted money and were dictatorial, “in the habit of managing everything.” When at last Kellogg’s cereal and vegetable creations seemed economically profitable, he perceived that ministers demonstrated “a most greedy disposition … to take possession of our Food Business and utilize it for building up Conference enterprises.”

Second, the success of Kellogg’s medical and welfare work made some leaders worry that evangelism was being eclipsed, especially in view of the “undenominational and unsectarian” nature of his initiatives. Kellogg created the Michigan Sanitarium and  Benevolent Association (1897) and wanted his Battle Creek Sanitarium to enjoy recognition as a charitable organisation with tax-exempt status. Association members signed an agreement that the sanitarium’s work would be “of an undenominational, unsectarian, humanitarian, and philanthropic nature.” Despite Kellogg’s assurances designed to quiet the fears of church leaders, he declared that the institution could not be used “for the purpose of presenting anything that is peculiarly Seventh-day Adventist in doctrine.” Long years before, Ellen White had stated that “It was in the purpose of God that a health institution should be organized and controlled exclusively by S. D. Adventists.” This ideal was being compromised, and the funds generated by the mammoth enterprise in Battle Creek were no longer available to help Adventist mission initiatives in other states or lands.

Third, it became increasingly clear that Kellogg’s concept of the Sanitarium as a “private, distinct, independent corporation” was of a piece with his desire to separate it from church control. It seemed to Ellen White that Kellogg had gathered enormous power without the wisdom he needed to use it wisely. Her letters to him were at times circulated to others making Kellogg feel she viewed him (he said) as “a plotter and a schemer and a selfish, covetous, ambitious wire puller.”

Fourth, given these attitudes, it was almost inevitable that Kellogg would resent and finally reject Ellen White’s testimonies of reproof. He suggested that Ellen White was misinformed, or that the General Conference president had “poisoned” her mind against him, or that her son Willie was “tampering” with her messages. After nine years sojourn in Australia, Ellen White accepted Kellogg’s invitation to stay in his home during the momentous General Conference session of 1901. Kellogg was unpleased when she questioned the contracts that he required employees and other health food manufacturing plants to sign, and unaccepting of her concept that the Battle Creek institution “should be moved into the country and not be so large.” The antipathy escalated when Kellogg planned to rebuild on a grand scale after the disastrous fire of 18 February 1902. As a boy John Harvey Kellogg was nurtured by James and Ellen White during Adventism’s formative years; early in the new century Kellogg the famous surgeon set a trajectory that would create an increasing gulf between him and the Adventist prophet.

Fifth, in the minds of most Adventists, Kellogg’s best-remembered problem has a damning name, pantheism. He encountered ideas in the 1880s that Ellen White was able to parry until he proclaimed the immanence of God in all living creatures, as at the 1897 General Conference session. A smoldering fire became an inferno in 1902, when Kellogg wanted the church to sell half a million copies of his book The Living Temple. The initiative seemed a perfect way to finance the rebuilding of the Sanitarium and eliminate other debts; the contents of the book confirmed Arthur G. Daniells’ concern that the doctor was “grazing about very close to pantheism.” William W. Prescott (Gilbert Valentine’s two-volume PhD dissertation and two books offer an illuminating context for Prescott’s engagement with Kellogg) noted Kellogg’s claims that “there is a tree-maker in the tree, a flower-maker in the flower,” and “God himself enters into our bodies in the taking of food.”

Sixth, the use of money became an increasing problem. One instance: Kellogg’s determination to develop a sanitarium in England was confronted by Daniells’ commitment to avoid the kind of debt that had crippled the church during the 1890s.

Seventh, all these sources of conflict seemed to coalesce by 1902 in such a way that relationships between Kellogg, church leaders and church entities disintegrated beyond repair. In Kellogg’s eyes, tithe was being “squandered” in a way that was a “burning disgrace.” When his book The Living Temple was rejected Kellogg ordered an initial printing of 5,000 copies, but a disastrous fire leveled the Review and Herald plant on 30 December 1902. Kellogg’s 1903 bid to oust Daniells from the General Conference presidency failed, along with his further attempt to rally support for his fundraising book. The fact that Battle Creek College had moved to Berrien Springs and become Emmanuel Missionary College (now Andrews University) caused Kellogg to dream of a replacement, another educational institution in Battle Creek. The thought was anathema in the minds of the church’s elected leaders. While in the early years of the new century the General Conference was consolidating church departments under its umbrella, Kellogg was skillfully laying plans to take the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium out of church control. Schwarz cites the frustration of Daniells in 1905, who said of Kellogg:

He had not had an opportunity to tell us what he thought of us for at least a year, and so he pulled out the stopper and let it run. In our first interview he talked for most of the time from 8:30 to 12:30 at night. In the next interview he must have talked three solid hours…. When we would attempt to explain any point or protest against false statements of facts, he would appear to get very angry, and claim to be very much injured by our statements. At last we became so weary and disgusted that we decided that it was useless for us to meet him any more.

Richard Schwarz’s chapter “The Perils of Growth 1885-1905” (in Adventism in America, Gary Land, editor, 1986) offers a succinct, expertly contextualised account of “Kellogg and Pantheism” and “The Kellogg Problem.” Gilbert Valentine in The Prophet and the Presidents (2011) ably sketches the difficult issues that confronted Olsen, Irwin and Daniells as General Conference presidents during this challenging era. Two articles (one by Alonzo L. Baker entitled “My Years with John Harvey Kellogg,” and one by Richard W. Schwarz entitled “The Kellogg Schism: The Hidden Issues”) were published in Spectrum 4:4 (Autumn 1974) and remain relevant as treatments of this important subject.

The Sad Finale

Veteran leaders A.C. Bourdeau and G.W. Amadon visited John Harvey Kellogg for seven hours early in November 1907. A transcript of their interview with him may be read in the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre files. It is a sad document indeed. On 10 November 1907, 350 Battle Creek church members present at a business meeting voted unanimously to drop Kellogg’s name from their church roll. Fourteen months later, 28 members of the Michigan Sanitarium and Benevolent Association dropped Daniells, William White and many other Adventist ministers from amongst the Association’s membership that was, at the time, over 700 strong.

John Harvey Kellogg, one of the most creative Adventists ever, had decimated the church by taking from it a workforce larger than that which remained. Kellogg more-or-less maintained his Adventist beliefs and practices for another thirty-six years, outside the fellowship of the spiritual community he had done so much to foster.

Arthur Patrick, posted 19 May 2012.

Note: the lectures will aim to suggest that we as a church can learn a lot from the Kelloggs’ engagement with us and John Harvey’s disengagement from our movement!