Battle for Breakfast

Spoonful of Cereal, by Skeeze, Pixabay
Photo by Skeeze, Pixabay

Grab a spoon because today on Museum Bites we’re scooping into a delicious bowl of crunchy cereal.  Granula, the first cold breakfast cereal was created by James Caleb Jackson (1811-1895) in 1863.  The near epidemic rates of dyspepsia caused by the lousy, high protein diets of 19th century Americans, prompted Jackson to open his aptly named Jackson Sanatorium in Dansville, New York. Sanatoriums were a 19th-century version of a spa minus the hot yoga, seaweed wraps and botanical facials. Instead, guests were put through the rigors of healthy living.  Regular exercise, lots of clean water and fresh air, and a well-balanced, vegetarian diet that included Granula, were all on the menu.

Granula, photo courtesy of the Dansville Area Historical Society
Granula, photo courtesy of the Dansville Area Historical Society

Despite its gravel-like consistency (it required an overnight soak in a milk bath to make it chewable) and bland taste, folks gobbled up the Granula.  Jackson began selling his revolutionary new food to the public through his Our Home Granula Company.

In 1866, Ellen Gould White (1827-1915), a former Jackson Sanatorium guest and founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, established her own sanatorium called the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan.  She, too, promoted wellness, a meat-free diet, but took it a step further and banned guests from smoking and drinking alcohol or caffeine.  Attendance was weak (go figure).  To help boost attendance, White hired a young, Battle Creek native and fellow Adventist, John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943).

Battle Creek Sanitorium Granola, photo via Library of Congress
Battle Creek Sanitorium Granola, photo via Library of Congress

In 1876, after earning his medical degree, Kellogg took over running the Institute.  He did some rebranding and began serving up a tastier and less tooth chipping breakfast cereal called…Granula. Sound familiar?  It wasn’t long before the Battle Creek Sanatorium became the hottest travel destination.  Despite the strict exercise and diet regime, Kellogg entertained a host of A-listers, including President William Howard Taft, Thomas Edison, Amelia Earhart, and Charles William Post, who later went on to invent Grape Nuts cereal.  James Caleb Jackson however, was not so impressed.  He got wind of Kellogg’s Granula patent infringement and sued.  Kellogg lost and changed the name to Granola.

Like the kale smoothies of today, ready-to-eat breakfast cereal became the hip new health food.  Dr. Kellogg, with the help of his younger brother, William Keith Kellogg (1860-1951) capitalized on the cereal craze.  They established the Sanitas Food Company and began manufacturing granola and a brand new cereal called Corn Flakes.  With the help of the Kellogg brothers, Battle Creek Michigan became the cereal capital of the world.

Photo by Kellogg Co. photographer (NARA) via Wikimedia Commons-1
Photo by Kellogg Co. photographer (NARA) via Wikimedia Commons

By 1902 there were 42 companies in Battle Creek hoping to cash in on the cereal craze.  Unfortunately, the success of the Kellogg brothers fueled their sibling rivalry.  Disagreements about how and what to manufacture led to a major falling out and in 1906 little brother, Will left to start the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company (later renamed the W. K. Kellogg Company).  A series of patent infringements and lawsuits ensued.  Will eventually won in court, but the Kellogg kinship was lost.

Photo by ZimZamZulu, Pixabay
Photo by ZimZamZulu, Pixabay

Today, cereal aisles are stocked with a head spinning number of choices.  Dried fruit, nuts, marshmallows, cookies, and lots and lots of sugar have been pumped into our cereal boxes.  The obscene amounts of sugar, not to mention the marshmallows and cookies, would have scandalized James Caleb Jackson. A competitive market has also produced some snazzy advertising, especially on Saturday mornings.  We’ve danced with California raisins, gone coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, learned Trix are for kids, Lucky Charms are magically delicious, and Frosted Flakes are grrrrrrreat!   But the absolute best is naturalist, Euell Gibbons teaching us that certain parts of a pine tree are edible.

Cereal is not only a breakfast item, but a snack as well as a dessert.  Think Chex mix, Rice Krispy treats and my personal favorite, Special K bars.  Here’s my mom’s recipe from the 1970s.

Special K Bars recipe-resized
Gracie’s Special K Bars

The tattered recipe card is a sign of how much my family enjoyed feasting on these treats.  Whip up a batch and see (taste!) for yourself. 🙂

Fun Fitness Fact:  The main players in the cereal wars were definitely on to something.  They each lived well into their 80s or 90s. Keep in mind they dined on an all natural, marshmallow and cookie free version of cereal.

James Caleb Jackson (1811-1895) – 84 years old

Ellen Gould White (1827-1915) – 88 years old

John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) – 91 years old

William Keith Kellogg (1860-1951) – 91 years old

Next week, we’ll chomp into some prehistoric teeth. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!



Dansville Area Historical Society

Kellogg Company

Michigan History Center

PBS: The History of Cereal

University of Texas Health-San Antonio


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