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Kellogg, Will Keith - Overview, Personal Life, Chronology: Will Keith Kellogg, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact

john corn business creek

Kellogg Company


Will Keith Kellogg invented corn flakes, one of the most popular types of breakfast cereal. He had a genius for business and developed advertising campaigns that were considered to be ahead of their time. He was one of the first advertisers to make use of test markets and product sampling, and to use modern, four-color magazine ads. Despite his reputation for being a difficult person, he was extremely generous in his philanthropic endeavors.

Personal Life

Willie Keith Kellogg was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, on April 7, 1860. He changed his first name to Will in 1938. His parents, Ann Janette Kellogg and John Preston Kellogg, who were Seventh Day Adventists, had 16 children—Willie Keith was their seventh child. He grew up in Battle Creek among a community of Seventh Day Adventists who were known for their austere life style and their preoccupation with health.

Kellogg was a shy boy with very few friends. He had no specific interests or hobbies, nor did he display any particular talent. Kellogg was not academically gifted either; in fact, his school teachers thought that he was a slow learner, and by the time he was a young teenager, he had dropped out of school to work for his father’s broom company where he spent about eight years as a salesman.

In 1880, Kellogg married Ella Davis, and the following year, he took a three month business course at Parson’s Business College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After finishing the business course, he obtained employment at the nationally famous Battle Creek Sanitarium, which was run by his older brother, John Harvey Kellogg, M.D. Dr. Kellogg had taken over the Adventist Health Reform Institute and had renamed it Battle Creek Sanitarium. Will Kellogg worked there as a bookkeeper, shipping clerk, and cashier, and also performed various other administrative duties.

John H. Kellogg believed that his patients could achieve good health through a good diet. He wrote several books on “biologic living” that promoted his theory on health and nutrition. Dr. Kellogg advocated that certain conditions and ailments could be treated with hydrotherapy, plenty of exercise, and a strict vegetarian diet. He experimented with nuts and grains to produce tasty alternatives to meat and potatoes, and came up with granola in 1877. He also developed peanut butter, protein substitute foods, and a grain substitute for coffee.

Will Kellogg helped his brother promote his health foods, his books, and his theories. He ran a subscription service for the health books, and managed the Sanitas Nut Food Company, which developed the first patented process for making a flaked, cooked wheat cereal. This discovery had come about by accident in 1894, when a batch of cooked wheat was inadvertently left out over night and had dried. Instead of throwing out the dried dough, Kellogg ran it through the company’s rollers, which usually processed freshly-cooked grain into a large sheet. When the dried grain was processed in this way, it turned into flakes. Will Kellogg convinced his brother to bake the flakes and to serve them with milk. The cereal was so popular that, after patients left the sanitarium, they ordered the flakes by mail. Later, the two brothers experimented in making flakes using other grains, and introduced corn flakes in 1898.

John Kellogg did not treat his younger brother very well. He expected Will to shine his shoes and shave his whiskers, and was not generous with his wealth. John lived in a huge house on a large parcel of land, and while his sanitarium grossed more than $4 million a year, he paid Will only $87 a month. In 1906, at the age of 46, Will broke away from his brother to start his own business. He found that he had a keen business sense. He was driven to become successful. Perhaps his fierce determination stemmed from the particular family dynamics that affected Will Kellogg so strongly—he was, for years, an underdog to his flamboyant brother, John. Will Kellogg developed his delicious cereals and advertised heavily. He was known for his large billboards and his beautiful cereal boxes, some of which were designed by the famous artist Norman Rockwell. Eventually, Will Kellogg became one of the country’s most wealthy citizens.

Kellogg’s relationships with his associates and friends have been described as stern and domineering. He even fired his second son, John L. Kellogg, because John left his wife. John had worked for the cereal company for 17 years and had patented more than 200 packing processes, including one using wax paper. After banishing his son from the firm, Kellogg decided to groom his grandson, John L. Kellogg, Jr,. for president. In time, however, Will Kellogg became displeased with his grandson and demoted him, which subsequently led to John L., Jr.’s suicide.

In 1943, John H. Kellogg wrote a conciliatory letter to his brother, acknowledging that he had treated him badly, but Will did not read the letter until after John died several years later. Despite Kellogg’s unhappy family life, he was involved in numerous philanthropic activities for which he is remembered. He retired from his company in 1938, and was blind for the last ten years of his life. He spent most of his retirement years at his Arabian horse farm in Pomona, California. Will Kellogg died in Battle Creek on October 6, 1951, at the age of 91.

Chronology: Will Keith Kellogg

1860: Born.

1881: Took a business course at Parson’s Business College.

1894: Developed first flake cereal.

1898: Invented corn flakes.

1903: Established the Battle Creek Toasted Flake Company.

1930: Established W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

1938: Retired from business.

1951: Died.

Career Details

While Will Kellogg worked for his brother, at Battle Creek Sanitarium, he acquired the necessary business skills which helped him later, when he formed his own company. After Will and his brother accidentally discovered the wheat cereal flake, they experimented with other grains such as barley, oats, and corn. In 1898, the brothers introduced corn flakes. It was the corn flake that made Will’s fame and fortune. Initially, corn kernels were flattened into flakes, but they were tough and relatively tasteless. Will tried using corn grits which made a more flavorful and crispy flake. Will recognized the money making potential of the flaked corn cereal and wanted to sell the product to retail grocery stores, but John never agreed. As a result, Will founded his own company, the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company, in 1903. He further developed the corn flake by adding malt, sugar, and salt.

Kellogg had a particular flair for promoting his product. He advertised heavily, initiating slogans and phrases to promote brand identification. For example, in 1907, Will Kellogg introduced an ad campaign that was considered to be risqué at the time. He proclaimed that “Wednesday is Wink Day in New York.” Every woman who winked at her grocer on a Wednesday received a free box of corn flakes. Sales of the product increased drastically. Kellogg invested a great deal of money on advertising—he built electric bill boards and commissioned well-known artists to design his cereal boxes.

Social and Economic Impact

The development of the corn flake changed the breakfast habits of Americans. The popularity of the Kellogg brother’s cereals spawned a breakfast cereal rush in Battle Creek around the turn of the century. Several competing companies opened in the area. Charles W. Post, who was at one time a patient at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, set up business in Battle Creek and developed Postum, a coffee substitute and Grape Nuts, both of which remain on the grocery shelves a hundred years later. Post’s cereal business gradually grew into the General Foods Corporation. Dozens of other factories, less long-lived, were set up as well.

In 1930, Will Kellogg created the Kellogg Foundation. The Kellogg Foundation was initially formed to provide medical care to children around the world. The organization’s mission today is “to help people help themselves through the practical application of knowledge and resources to improve their quality of life and that of future generations.” Kellogg also supported numerous schools, bird sanctuaries, experimental farms, biological and conservation labs, and medical clinics. His big red Kellogg’s signature is recognized all over the world.

Kelly, Joan (1928–1982) - European, Women’s History [next] [back] Kellogg, Louise Phelps (1862–1942) - U.S. Frontier History

User Comments

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almost 8 years ago

This was an amazing website for my report on Will. K. Kellogg's life!

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almost 5 years ago

What were the names of W.K.Kellogg s sisters?

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over 5 years ago

Is Bodie Kellogg, age 64, related to the Kellog Company and Will Kellog?

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over 3 years ago

Man, i wish he was still alive, i really want to meet him.

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almost 4 years ago

Today on the public radio program by Garrison Keillor, he mentioned that today is the birthday of William Kellogg, born in Tyrone, NY who moved away soon thereafter. I think you need to check your source of information about his birthplace.

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almost 8 years ago


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almost 8 years ago

It was really good thanks

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over 7 years ago

this was very good info thanks

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about 6 years ago


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almost 4 years ago

This January 2015 I viewed a program about the Kellogg brothers. I am related to the Kellogg's by marriage. Around 1967 my father Harvey Jerome Dale was surprised with an inheritance from Battlefield, Michigan.
His inheritance came from the Kellogg Family. My fathers father's name was Roy Saunders Dale who lived in London, Ontario Canada.
I have some of the antiques sent to my mother and father which came from the estate of the woman who married a Kellogg. The name of whom I don't know. I would like to know more of the chronology and family tree if possible, as both of my folks have passed away.


Catherine Dale
50 Battlefield Drive
Stoney Creek, Ontario
Canada L8G 1T9

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about 1 year ago

I guess this family became so rich that they forgot the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist.