Daily Archives: September 27, 2017

The Battling Brothers

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg is one of the most fascinating and colorful figures in Adventist history. In his youth a protégée of James and Ellen White, he was sponsored by them to pursue medical studies, and at the early age of 24 he was appointed head of the Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek. This first Adventist health institution would develop into the famous Battle Creek hospital, and for decades J.H. Kellogg was the ever innovative supreme captain on this flagship of early Adventism.  Adventist historical sources paint ‘the Doctor’ as a genius, who in many of his ideas was far ahead of his times–a famous medical doctor, an author of dozens of book, an inventor of all kinds of health-related equipment, and the one who developed a number of world-renowned health foods. As time went by the rich and famous of his time would travel to the small town in rural Michigan to seek treatments in the Battle Creek Sanitarium (as the institution would soon be called).

Adventist historians who have written about John Harvey Kellogg (foremost among whom is Richard W. Schwartz[1]) have not only eulogize the great achievements of ‘the Doctor,’ but also admitted that he was often a very difficult man, who was increasingly at odds with Ellen White and the leaders of the Adventist Church. This eventually led to a separation of their ways and even to Harvey Kellogg’s being disfellowshipped from the Adventist Church. His alleged leanings towards pantheism in his book The Living Temple were the direct reason for this drastic measure, but in reality the underlying problem was that Kellogg had simply become too big and toopowerful to still fit into the small Adventist denomination.

In Adventist books little space is usually given to John Harvey’s younger brother Will Keith. This is understandable since the older brother has had a larger impact on early Adventism than his junior brother. But both men were important in their own right, and Will Keith left an even more impressive legacy than John Harvey.  Will Keith died, like his brother, at the ripe age of 91. At the end of his life he was very wealthy and the charity he set up still exists with assets of some 10 billion dollar.

Just a few weeks ago a very well researched (and also very readable) book came off the press that, other than the Adventist literature, deals with both brothers and, especially, with their extremely complicated relationship. It is written by Howard Markel, a professor in the history of medicine at the University of Michigan and is entitled: The Kelloggs: the Battling Brothers of  Battle Creek.[2]

Will Keith’s career started in the employ of his brother John Harvey at the San, as the Battle Creek Sanitarium was popularly referred to. He developed into the business-mastermind behind the gigantic enterprise with more than one thousand employees, but received hardly any recognition from his brother. In fact, they were constantly at odds–John Harvey with his enormously inflated ego and his brother with, at least initially, a gigantic inferiority complex. But when, after 25 years of acid cooperation, Will Keith separated from his brother, and started his cereal empire, built on cornflakes and many other successful products, his own stellular rise began. Unfortunately, the ‘battle of the brothers’ did not stop. Fighting about patents and other business matters initiated a ten-year legal battle, that eventually was settled in favor of Will Keith in the Michigan Supreme Court.

I found this book about the two brothers not only fascinating, but also extremely tragic. They started as committed Adventist christians, but became gradually estranged from their religious roots. Neither of them became happy, in spite of their immense success. Their lives were plagued by an intense bitterness, and they were never able to come to a reconciliation in spite of a last minute effort by ‘the Doctor’.  I asked myself as I was reading: Is this what religion does to some people? Is the Christian faith not supposed to bridge differences and make people into real brothers and sisters?

When in the furture I open the Kellogg cornflakes box, and look at Will Keith’ s signature, that is still displayed on every Kellogg product, I will no doubt continue to remember some of the tragic things I read in this book. It will remind me that christianity has failed if it does not make us ‘nicer’ people who strive for peace in their relationships.

[1] Richard W. Schwartz, John Harvey Kellogg, MD (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1970). [2]  Published by Pantheon (New York, 2017).