A flakey accident?
Many forces influence the course of history, and serendipitous accidents are among the best of these. Numerous web sources inform us that is was on this day, in 1884, that John Harvey Kellogg applied for a patent for what he called a "flaked cereal". At the time Kellogg was a successful doctor and surgeon. He believed that a healthy diet was a central component of good health (once, apparently, a novel idea. Kellogg conducted numerous experiments in an effort to improve the vegetarian diet of his patients. Among these was an attempt to develop a digestible bread-substitute by the process of boiling wheat. It was a pot of boiled wheat accidentally left standing that brought about the breakthrough. When the wheat was pushed through a rollers, each grain of wheat emerged as a large, thin flake. When they were baked, they became crisp and light. Though leaving the boiled wheat standing for a couple of days was an accident, Kellogg knew what he was looking for, and was thus able to find it when he fell across it. But, as Louis Pasteur is reported to have said:
Chance favors the prepared mind
and what was apparently the first breakfast cereal was born. With milk it became a central component of a healthy diet. Further experiments with corn brought about the corn flakes became a great hit, not without the help of Kellogg's brother, Will who saw the marketing potential. It was Will who, in 1906, created the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Co. Will made a fortune, and John continued his very successful career as a doctor.
The toasted flakes became a staple, changing the way the world eats breakfast which until then had been both hot and heavy. Of course today it's hard to find the corn or the wheat among all the sugar, which perhaps brings us back full circle: corn flakes were once a healthy alternative. Today they're more like junk food. John Harvey is probably turning in his grave.
Interestingly, one online biography of Kellogg makes no mention of corn flakes at all, and only passingly mentions that John Harvey "held more than 30 patents for food products and processes as well as exercise, diagnostic and therapeutic machines".
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