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A Religious Sect Accidentally Created A Great American Industry

by: Geoff Ficke

During the Civil War years of the 1860’s the Seventh Day Adventists opened the original Western Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. This religious group was keenly interested in healthy living and undertook some of the earliest research on the benefits of foodstuffs naturally derived from Native American crops. The result was their creation of the earliest breakfast cereals.

For the rest of the 19th century the Seventh Day Adventists consumed their breakfast cereals made from oats, corn, wheat and sorghum. They never really attempted to fully commercialize their recipes for these cereals.

Their original health institute became the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium. One of the doctors at the sanitarium was named W. K. Kellogg. Dr. Kellogg, a devoted follower of the Seventh Day Adventists, was keenly interested in healthy diet and the effect of diet on sick patients. While seeking a foodstuff to replace bread in the diet of his patients, he stumbled into an answer that created an iconic American industry.

Dr. Kellog was boiling a pot of water that contained wheat. His attention became diverted and the wheat overcooked, thus softening. He removed the softened wheat and let it dry. When he returned later he found that the overcooked wheat had begun to turn brittle. He began to break apart the wheat and it broke off into little flakes. Amazingly, the wheat flakes had a most enticing taste. Dr. Kellogg had accidentally invented the process essential to mass-produce wheat cereals and corn flakes.

Today we know the Kellogg Company as one of America’s great brand names and purveyors of numerous popular breakfast cereals. The Kellogg Company was later followed by C. W. Post and General Mills in making the prepackaged breakfast cereal industry one that is uniquely American.

Dr. Kellogg spent the rest of his life seeking to create healthy products that would improve and extend life. However, the accidental discovery of the process necessary to produce dry cereals is his great legacy. Every day millions of people all over the world start their day with a tasty, nutritious bowl of cereal that owes its provenance to an overcooked pot of wheat.

Many great inventions and product improvements owe their existence to accidents, mistakes that open new doors and plain dumb luck. The key to commercially profiting from these errors is to always keep an open mind in the face of the unexpected. Dr. Kellogg was looking for a new type of bread. His mistake in overcooking a pot of wheat has contributed to making his name one of the most famous in the world.