The Guy Who Invented Corn Flakes Was A Strange, Strange Man

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Did you know that Facebook is going to start using your posts as advertisements, to show up on your friends' sidebars? I know this seems off-topic given this article's title, but a friend of mine pointed this out on Facebook the other day, then wrote, "so take a moment to really give a positive opinion about a product you endorse, so that your message appears under the product. I'll start: I LIKE KELLOGG'S CORN FLAKES, because they were developed by a eugenicist who mutilated children's genitals." And I recoiled in my chair a little, then laughed, then thought, "Wait -- really?!"

Then I did some research, and yeah, really! Fun fact of the day: John Harvey Kellogg was a doctor who ran a famous turn-of-the-century sanitarium (not the crazy kind, the health kind) where he advocated to his patients, among other things, yogurt enemas, strict vegetarianism and a bland diet, because he believed that spicy, protein-rich foods increased the sex drive and bland foods reduced it. (This is, in fact, where flaked cereals came from; he and his brother developed a number of super-bland foods for consumption at the sanitarium, including, by accident in 1896, Corn Flakes. That's right -- Corn Flakes were originally designed to be an an anaphrodisiac. A patient of Kellogg's, C.W. Post, developed his own rival line of flaked cereals -- and there you have the unsexy origins of most American cereals.)

In fact, Kellogg devoted much of his energy to discouraging sexual activity of any kind, and was an especially ardent critic of masturbation, which he believed could cause "cancer of the womb, urinary diseases, nocturnal emissions, impotence, epilepsy, insanity, and mental and physical debility" and, yes, even that old canard "dimness of vision," not to mention moral corruption. While this was not such a strange viewpoint in the Victorian era, his method of discouraging it certainly was -- especially with regard to children. Kellogg, an accomplished (if somewhat unconventional-in-his-methods) surgeon, would perform circumciscions without anesthetic, because, in his words, "the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed."

His methods with young women were even more severe. He reported that "the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement." And when he wasn't burning children's genitals with acid, he was "bandaging or tying their hands, covering their genitals with patented cages, sewing the foreskin shut and [applying] electrical shock." Yeesh.

As for the bit about eugenics that my friend mentioned, I found a little evidence of that, too -- he founded something called the "Race Betterment Foundation" and was an outspoken advocate of racial segregation -- though he himself adopted a number of African-American children -- and believed that immigrants and non-whites would damage the nation's gene pool. And for those of you who are already dismissing Mr. Kellogg as a fringe wacko, consider this: over the years, his patients included president Taft, Amelia Earhart, George Bernard Shaw, Henry Ford (who may have, ahem, shared some of Kellogg's views on race), and Thomas Edison.

So there you have it. For more breaking news on sex weirdos of the nineteenth century, be sure and follow me on Twitter.

February 1, 2011 - 6:22am
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