The Kellogg Who Would Be King


The Kellogg Who Would Be King
by Jim Middleton

An update on this story can be found elsewhere in this blog. Click here. 

       Some people are born to greatness, some have greatness thrust upon them, and some go out and chase it with a club.  A century ago, when fortunes could be made with a little imagination and a keen sense of self-promotion, a little obscure education could earn you the appellation "Professor." And, if you frequently lived in a city called Battle Creek and possessed the last name of Kellogg, greatness would almost seem to shrink wrap itself around your frame.

        Now this isn't going to be another tale of success surrounding the Kellogg family that made Battle Creek the Cereal City or the Mecca of Health; this Kellogg bore no resemblance to his noteworthy namesakes.  He merely took full advantage of his well known last name and the human animal's desire to get rapid results with a minimum of effort.

        This is the story of Frank Jonas Kellogg, the often married "Anti Fat King" whose shrewd dealings earned him the admiration of contemporary businessmen while getting the sort of headlines that would be right at home at any supermarket checkout stand today.  His contribution to nutrition was minimal; you could almost say minimalizing.  He wanted you to shed those unwanted pounds and not harm your stomach "with a lot of drugs and useless medicine."

Location, Location, Location
     The environment in Battle Creek in the 1890's was ripe for exploitation.  Dr. Kellogg's Sanitarium had established the city as a center for "biologic living," and several individuals had set up either storefronts or dummy addresses in Battle Creek to take advantage of the city's reputation.  Their versions of cure-alls usually involved stiff doses of morphine or alcohol, whose distribution was largely unregulated in the days before the FDA.  Most of these enterprises were of the moment and left only a legacy of empty bottles and unfulfilled promises.  What is unique about Frank Kellogg is that his involvement with Battle Creek  preceded the patent medicine and cereal booms; in addition, he actually remained once he struck paydirt and, however unwittingly or unwillingly, shared his wealth with the community.

Ohio, Family, and the Civil War
     Frank Jonas Kellogg was born August 4, 1845, in Lapeer, Ohio to Russell and Sophia Kellogg.  With some creative arithmetic, he added a year to his age and enlisted in the Union Eighth Cavalry in 1862, serving as a sergeant throughout the Civil War.  When his parents moved to Battle Creek in April of 1874 to set up a cutlery business, he came with them.  Little else is known of his Ohio years.  He had evidently obtained some advanced training before his arrival, for he heralded himself as being "versed in the businesses of ornamental pen art, cartooning, and sign writing."  Frank Kellogg would spend his years in Battle Creek making extensive use of these talents.

     With him came two noteworthy brothers: James Daniel, an unspecified "medicine maker," and Russell Jr., who became known as the area's "Strawberry King."

Prince of the Printed Word
     Contemporary papers were peppered with brief announcements designed to keep the public advised of the activities of Frank Kellogg.  One of the first was of his marriage to Martha Kennie of Detroit on June 7, less than two months after his arrival in town.  She was a dressmaker, and where Frank Kellogg would wear the title "Professor," she chose the working name of "Madam Kellogg."

     In 1878, less than a year after Thomas Edison heard "Mary Had a Little Lamb" repeated back to him from the first phonograph, the Battle Creek Daily Journal proudly announced that "Professor" Kellogg would display this "Marvel of the Age" to what became a packed Hamblin Opera House.

     The couple wintered in Florida, they toured Europe, and they even had plans to bring European fashion to the Midwest: "Madam" Kellogg's French Taylor System of Dress Cutting was just part of her program to bring an English edition of "La Couturiere" to the New World, complete with color plates.

     Frank Kellogg seemed to be busy with the local geological society during this time; no mention of any innovations bearing his name can be found until 1883, and then it is in a cryptic note that he had just obtained a patent from the patent office at Washington for a "rule of measure" of his invention.  James Daniel Kellogg, Frank's older brother, was also living in Battle Creek by this time and was known as a "medicine maker."  This specific phrasing seems to be deliberately chosen to separate his activities from those of a "pharmacist" or even "druggist."  Perhaps the notion of entering the world of patent medicines came to Frank Kellogg through his brother.  Whatever the reason, sometime around the turn of the century, Frank Kellogg embarked on his career as the "Anti Fat King."

Cautious Publicist
     The first known advertising that appeared in Collier's weekly magazine came in early 1902 and depicted a man in the full bloom of obesity puffing for air.  Professor Kellogg, the ad read, could take care of "the big stomach" and "brighten the rest of your life." And, benefactor that he was, Professor Kellogg would do it with a "TRIAL PACKAGE FREE BY MAIL!" The product, while nameless at this time, would eventually be known as Rengo, Malto-Fructo, Sanitone Wafers, or merely, Professor Kellogg's Brown Tablets.  Given his cartooning background, Frank Kellogg probably drew his own advertising.  The drawing style of his ads was in keeping with the cross-hatching detail popular in the late 19th century.  If nothing else, it was certainly cheaper to draw an overindulgent victim of gluttony or the satisfied patron of Rengo than to rent an "unsolicited testimonial" from companies that specialized in creating such letters, although "hundreds" of such testimonials were available and on file at the offices of Professor Kellogg.

     Now, the gracious generosity of free samples could not go on forever.  For starters, the free sample came with an additional, unsolicited 30 day supply--and a request for $5.  If you sent the money, you were placed on a perpetual monthly mailing of product and invoices.  If you didn't respond to the initial request, you were put through a cycle of letters that first repeated the $5 request, then diminished the demand to $3.50, then $2.50, then suggested a return of the unsolicited product.  A sixth and final letter sternly intoned, "This is our final letter to you!"  From all accounts, it was.  "Professor" Kellogg could be a man of his word.

     It should be noted that the same advertising page in Colliers carried ads for Stuart's Dyspepsia tablets, of Marshall, Michigan, which claimed that Napoleon died from onion-induced indigestion, and for a product called "Postum" that promised a cure for "coffee heart" if served up "Black and Rich."  As quaint as these claims seem today, they were taken seriously by enough people in the unregulated United States to send a steady stream of cash into Calhoun County, and specifically, into the pockets of Frank J. Kellogg.

     While bold in his advertising for such outlets as Colliers or The Family Magazine, Frank Kellogg could be more subdued in local print.  The Battle Creek city directories tell his tale: before 1894, he earned no mention.  In the following years, he was listed as a salesman, then specifically a "toiletries" salesman, an occasional "travelling agent," and even an employee at the Kellogg Sanitas company.  The 1903 edition brought the first indication of his own business, but even then it was not in patent medicine, but in "food manufacture."

The Businessman
     Before he advertised in Colliers, Frank and Martha Kellogg were both successful enough in their pre-patented enterprises to build a three story structure on Battle Creek's fashionable Maple Street.  For all the effort, however, the luxury was short lived.  The house served as their address for only two years, 1891-1893, before being sold to Jerome Chapin.  It wasn't long thereafter that Frank and Martha parted ways, with the Professor spending the rest of his life moving back and forth between marriages, apartments, business locales; and, more than occasionally, his parents' house.  With all of the activity in his personal and business life, Frank Kellogg somehow managed to stay active on the board of directors of Battle Creek's City Bank, the local geological society, Battle Creek's Nature Club, the Knights of Pythias, the Elks club, and keep his staff entertained at the theatre.

The Community Activist
     Reportedly a millionaire by the dawn of this century, and unencumbered by such burdens as a regular address, Frank Kellogg turned his attentions to what Battle Creek really needed--a good Civil War memorial.  He had already introduced the city to the miracle of recorded sound; now came time to commemorate the valiant efforts of the Union Soldier.  Preliminary meetings he began in 1896 dragged on into 1899, then 1900, and then 1901, as committees reformed, regrouped, unwound, gathered capital, established budgets, examined sites, and argued over designs.  "Some low-lived skunk without the fear of a punishment in the hereafter" vandalized the work in progress in 1901, and finally, after an unspecified exchange of words, Frank Kellogg left the project.  It took another 17 years to come to fruition, by which time the Professor earned only a footnote of recognition for his efforts in getting the project started.

The Strange Case of the Missing Wife
     If something gets into print and can be requoted often enough, it takes on the air of truth; so it seems to be with the marriages of Frank Kellogg.  Many articles refer to his five wives; truth to tell, he had but four by all accounts.  His first wife, "Madam" Martha, held the reins of matrimony until 1893, approximately the time that their home on Maple Street was sold.  There may be a connection. With her, Frank Kellogg toured Europe and presented illustrated lectures of what they saw there; they both apparently lived well while promoting her "French Method."  Without her, he remarried.

     Wife number two was Minnie Hebb, and they grew attached July 7, 1894, in a Marshall ceremony.  Minnie was known as a performer of "dramatic readings" in the area, and staged several one-woman shows, the best received being "The Passion Play of Oberammergau" in 1901; it blended her performance with stereopticon images borrowed from the local Knights of Pythias, for a truly high-tech, multi-media effect.  She was also called upon at ceremonial gatherings to present dramatic recitations.  One of the most dramatic of those came in  ....  when Minnie Hebb was to recite ... to the hushed crowd.  The crowd was hushed because the selection had just been presented by .... moments before.  She improvised a reading of .... on the spot, and as it is said, "a good time was had by all."

     Frank Kellogg's relationship with Minnie can also be traced through the city's directories.  From 1901-02 they were living at his parents' home at 134 Green Street, running the Kellogg Sanitas Company (not to be confused with the Sanitas Nut Food Company being run by some upstart named Will Keith Kellogg) and making "sanitary supplies" at 85-87 West Main Street.  The next year placed Professor Kellogg's business on Jackson Street, with Minnie taking up rooms at the Phelp's Sanitorium.  1907 found them both living back at Green Street, with the business now in the Turner Block.  Two years later, Minnie was renting a room on Van Buren, with the notation "removed to Detroit, Michigan" following Professor Kellogg's name.  The couple divorced March 9, 1909.

     Minnie eventually moved to California and remained there until her death February 9, 1925 at the Los Angeles branch of the Battle Creek Sanitarium.

Nothing Like a Juicy Scandal
     Records indicate that Frank Kellogg did not waste time seeking consolation.  June 8, 1909 is the entry for yet another slip knot of matrimony for the good professor, this time in Milwaukee to Vivian Oliver.  They were both "removed to Detroit" after the ceremony, taking up residence at 56 Hazelwood Avenue.  Frank Kellogg continued to conduct his operations out of the Sanitone Building, a fictional structure that was just as comfortable not existing in Battle Creek as it was not existing in downtown Detroit.  He remained active with the City Bank as well, conducting himself by train and telegraph.

     There is little of record about the third Mrs. Kellogg until their first divorce on April 19, 1911.  They didn't remarry to divorce a second time; rather, their divorce proceedings entered the Wonderland of Jurisprudence and the realm of journalism now reserved for members of the British Royal Family.  The "Anti Fat King" was becoming the "Anti Marriage King."

     The papers reported the story this way:  first, the couple divorced, Vivian citing "cruelty" and obtaining a nice settlement in April, 1911.  The original complaint alleged "repeated acts of extreme cruelty...consisting of personal violence and permanent physical injuries, attempts to take the life of complainant, refusing and refraining from speaking to her for several days at a time, insane jealousy, the use of obscene and opprobious epithets and names, orders to leave the house...quarrelsome, abusive and tyrannical conduct...and violent outbursts of anger." Frank Kellogg responded with a cross-bill for divorce on "the ground of extreme cruelty and adultery...that the complainant was dissolute in her habits and had brought shame and disgrace" upon the Professor.

     Several times during the trial, the judge was forced to call a halt to the "mirth of the sightseers" who had caught wind of the case.  At one point, affidavits containing exact opposite information were filed by the two chauffeurs employed by the Kelloggs.  They were jailed for contempt.  The entire population of Vivian's home town was subpoenaed as witnesses to  some of her alleged escapades; the mayor and several other officals were placed on the stand.  The court transcripts reportedly exceeded 1000 pages, and an apparently stunned Daily Journal reporter thought it the paper's duty "to relieve our reports from the sickening and distressing details of the testimony and claimed facts in the case."  Frank Kellogg had tried to appeal the original settlement with his counter-suit, hoping for a reduction in alimony.  Instead, he got his wife back--the Lansing Supreme Court annulled the decree of 1911, stating, "Divorce is a remedy for the innocent as against the guilty, and should not be granted where both parties are at fault."

     "Defendant is Dumbfounded," ran the headline in the Daily Journal on July 22, 1912.  Dumbfounded, indeed--Frank Kellogg was living with another woman at the time.

     Another dumbfounding outcome of the trial: the judge set the lawyers' fees for both parties at $4 for taking on the case.

     Vivian Kellogg moved from Detroit to near Paw Paw that year and later petitioned the courts for alimony.  The lawyers were somewhat perplexed how to handle a call for alimony when there was no actual divorce.   The one time millionaire claimed he was living on $25 a week, with a bare $900 in the bank.  He denied secreting any assets.  Vivian Kellogg proclaimed destitution in the press, and the proceedings reentered the courtroom late in 1912.  The final decision was for divorce, with the stipulation that neither party could remarry for two years.  This decree may be what has led to the confusion about the number of wives were attached to Frank Kellogg.  Technically, Vivian was both wife number three and number four.  For simplicity sake, and in the interest of not fostering marital schizophrenia, we will place her in position number three.

     Two years later, Frank Kellogg married his last wife, Violetta, with whom he had been "boarding" since the divorce case began.  This time, he had drawn up pre-nuptial papers.

The AMA Has a Few Unkind Words
     Frank Kellogg had a few more things on his plate during this time.  The American Medical Association had taken to investigating claims made by patent medicines, and had initially overlooked Frank Kellogg's output since he had taken care to label them as food products.  His anti-fat formula was shown to be a combination of thyroid, poke weed, cascara, acacia, and toasted bread.  It didn't do well for promotion when the AMA report added that, while the user could lose weight using thyroid extract, the doses recommended by Professor Kellogg (namely, "take it like you would fruit or candy") could also cause hypertension, cardiac arrest, and stroke.  The AMA also reminded people that poke weed, acacia, and especially cascara made for an excellent laxative combination that could cause complications of their own.  The news didn't seem to concern Frank Kellogg.  Possibly anything would pale in comparison to his recent divorce cases.  He didn't remove his product.  He simply removed the thyroid extract and started marketing the combination as a laxative.  After all, even the AMA said it was effective for that.

The Final Days 

     Death claimed the exhausted body of Frank Jonas Kellogg on January 17, 1916.  He was 70.  His interment was at Oak Hill cemetery in Battle Creek, and his resting spot sported the tallest monument there, just feet away from the Post mausoleum.  As they shared advertising space in life, so they shared space in death.   A year later, his estate was settled.  Violetta Kellogg received the equivalent of $40,000 once the dust cleared.  Apparently there was some money salted away, after all.  The remainder was split among five other beneficiaries.  He had no children.

Post Mortem

     The Frank J. Kellogg Company of Battle Creek continued to do a gradually diminishing mail order business for the next two decades.  Mrs. Mary Boyd and Mr. Floyd Perkins handled the distribution of Kellogg's Brown Tablets and Casca Bean, both laxatives containing cascara, until the enterprise faded around 1940.
     There was some understandable, if not outright intentional, confusion about the Kellogg name and just who to contact for treatment of obesity.  Certainly moving the company to a half dozen addresses between Battle Creek and Detroit did little to help matters.  As a result, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of the Battle Creek Sanitarium got more than his share of misdirected communications, even years after "Professor" Kellogg had died.  Some of these letters survive, with directives to subordinates of "will you answer this man?" tightly scrawled  in the corner.  One can just imagine how the leading exponent of healthy living through a rational diet and exercise took to requests for "anti-fat pills."


     Chances are that the observer of today would not recognize the phonograph demonstrated by Professor Kellogg to the enthralled audience of Hamblin's Opera House in October of 1878.  If anything, it would resemble something more befitting a carpenter's bench than a concert stage.  Thomas Edison's original design etched sound vibrations onto a cylinder wrapped in tin foil.  This cylinder was revolved by hand and moved beneath a fixed recording stylus.  Results were variable at best, and even then, only temporary:  the recording could be replayed only about ten times before becoming completely worn out, and removal of the tin foil usually meant complete destruction of the record.  It took another ten years for Edison to develop a suitable wax substitute that would make the recordings somewhat permanent, and yet another decade before reliable mass production could make the recording industry a possibility.
     Edison never expected his phonograph to have much  entertainment value at first.  He thought it would be most useful in business dictation or in recording historic voices for future generations.  The Battle Creek roadshow demonstration of the tin foil device, however, already concentrated on the machine's ability to sing the toe-tapper, "Whoa, Emma," and replay a quickstep by the Battle Creek German Band.  In 1888, it took wax to save the prophetic comments of Sir Arthur Sullivan: "I am horrified to think that so much bad and hideous music may be put on record forever."

Jim Middleton, The Animating Apothecary
PO Box 765 Edmore, MI 48829

--Oak Hill Volunteer History Book Committee, Beyond These Gates, Battle Creek, 1989
--Gillett, W., The Phonograph and How to Construct It, Spon and Chamberlain, London, 1892.
--Nostrums and Quackery, AMA press, second edition, 1912
--City Directory, Battle Creek, 1895, 1897, 1901-11, 1916, 1921, 1933, 1940 editions.
--Bentley Historical Library, J.H.Kellogg collection, "Correspondence July 1920-May 1921"
--Middleton, Jim, "The One Dollar Miracles of Battle Creek," Heritage Magazine, 1994

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