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W.K. Kellogg

inventor of flaked cereal

W.K. Kellogg

Will Keith Kellogg was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on April 7, 1860, the second son of John Preston and Ann Janette Stanley Kellogg; he also had a sister. His parents ended his education after the sixth grade because they did not believe further schooling was necessary, and Will began working soon after. As a youth, he held jobs as a stockboy and then as a traveling salesman of household brooms for his father’s broom-making business, while older brother John Harvey became a doctor and rose to the rank of physician-in-chief at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Will eventually went to work at the sanitarium alongside his brother, starting as a clerk and eventually becoming a bookkeeper and file manager. He married Ella Osborn Davis in 1880, and the couple eventually had five children -- Karl Hugh, John Leonard, Irvin Hadley, William Keith, and Elizabeth Ann. Ella Kellogg died in 1912; Will married Carrie Staines in 1918.

At the Sanitarium, Will learned a great deal from his brother, a vegetarian, about good nutrition and wholegrain foods, and he began helping John conduct research and develop healthy diets for patients. On August 8, 1894, the brothers were boiling wheat in an attempt to create an easily digestible bread substitute when a pot of their concoction was accidentally left to stand for several hours. By the time the brothers returned to their project the wheat paste had gone stale, but they decided to put it through the regular rolling process anyway. As the dough was rolled the brothers noticed that the individual wheat berries in the mash rolled out into flat, wide flakes. Will decided to bake those flakes and see what happened. The result was a crispy ready-to-eat cereal that proved to be so tasty that many Sanitarium patients began asking to have packages of "Granose" shipped to them after they left the facility. Will subsequently adapted the technique to create corn flakes. The brothers filed a patent for "Flaked Cereals and Process of Preparing Same" on May 31, 1895, and it was issued on April 14, 1896. In 1898, the brothers formed the Sanitas Food Company to produce and sell their cereals.

While John was content to sell the cereals via mail order to former patients, Will wanted to expand their market and, on February 19, 1906, established Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company, the first company in the world to mass market ready-to-eat cereal; John, meanwhile, chose to keep Sanitas. Will's cereal proved immediately popular with the general public, and 175,000 cases of his Corn Flakes were shipped in his first year. Will added Bran Flakes to his product line in 1915, All-Bran in 1916, and Rice Krispies in 1928.

Sanitas Toasted Corn Flakes

1907 ad for Kellogg's Corn Flakes

In 1920, John changed the name of his company to Kellogg Food Company, and both companies sold their dueling but similarly packaged corn flakes while challenging customers to accept no imitators. Will took his brother's company to court and won exclusive rights to the family's name, but lost the right to call his best-selling product "Toasted Corn Flakes," as that trademark was deemed to belong to John. And since "Toasted Corn Flake" was part of Will's company's name, his company was renamed the Kellogg Company in 1922. The two brothers remained estranged the rest of their lives.

Will Kellogg retired as company president in 1929, but remained on as chairman of the board until 1946. Kellogg never lived the lavish lifestyle typical of multi-millionaires, preferring a modest two-story home in a modest neighborhood over a massive mansion in an exclusive community, and getting great joy out of donating money to causes he believed in. Among those many causes were Fellowship Foundation, which he established in 1925 to help young people help the world, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which he endowed in 1934 with a stated mission of helping children in any way its trustees chose; he was also a frequent and generous contributor to his hometown.

Will Keith Kellogg died in Battle Creek on October 6, 1951.


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The Robinson Library >> Miscellaneous Industries

This page was last updated on August 08, 2018.