In the first five years of the 1900s, Battle Creek was in the grip of a “cereal boom.” There were more than 40 companies manufacturing cereal products made from corn, wheat or oats. Kellogg became the most widely known and successful among these enterprises and still is headquartered in Battle Creek.
Kellogg offered public tours of its factory starting in 1912, and over 6 million visitors toured the facility in the 74 years the tours were offered.
Tour guides told the story of the Kellogg brothers. Dr. John Harvey Kellogg was the chief medical officer of the Battle Creek Sanitarium in the late 1880s. His brother, Will Keith Kellogg, worked alongside him. The brothers discovered, quite by accident, a process for making cereal flakes. In 1894, the brothers were unexpectantly called away while cooking wheat. When they returned, the wheat was overcooked. The brothers then forced the grains through rollers, flattening the wheat into thin flakes, and the first convenient breakfast cereal was born.
The cereal was touted as easily digestible for the patients at the sanitarium. But Dr. John Harvey Kellogg did not approve of his brother’s ideas of adding malt to the cereal and selling it to the general public. As such, the brothers had a falling out, and in 1906, W.K. Kellogg launched the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company with a sweetened version of the cereal, renaming it in 1909 as the Kellogg Toasted Corn Flake Company. By 1922, the name was shortened to the Kellogg Company.
W.K. Kellogg proved to be a marketing genius. He actively promoted the cereal himself and came up with the slogan, “Beware of imitators. None genuine without this signature — W.K. Kellogg.” He created appealing advertisements in 1907 with his “Sweetheart of the Corn,” a “winsome woman” holding a shock of corn. Other advertising, promotions and free samples won a strong following for the company. Premium offers of blotters, postcards, booklets, paper dolls and other lures attracted customer loyalty.
When W.K. died in 1951, Kellogg’s was presumably the country’s most recognized cereal brand. Clever marketing continued with cartoon characters that appealed to children. Snap! Crackle! and Pop! for Rice Krispies quickly became icons for Rice Krispies. Tony the Tiger appeared in 1952 with his statement that Kellogg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes were “Gr-r-r-eat!” Toucan Sam started touting the new Fruit Loops in 1963.
The tours were very popular with baby boomers in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, the tour ran about 60 minutes. Each visitor was given a “sanitary” paper hat to wear inside the factory. A Kellogg visitor’s brochure from the mid-1960s showed the story of, “This little kernel went to Kellogg’s … First, it was milled, – and then it was flavored, – and on to the cooker, – at the dryer, – next, to the flaker, – and finally, to the toaster.” At the end of the tour, visitors were given one or two postcards and several individual servings of a variety of Kellogg’s cereals. In the 1960s, the tour concluded with bowls of ice cream topped with Fruit Loops or Cocoa Crispies.
The last tours ended in 1986 with safety and espionage concerns. A substitute for the tours came later in 1998 when Cereal City, an exhibit/museum, opened. Cereal City had a simulated cereal production line, but it wasn’t the same as seeing the genuine thing. Cereal City closed in 2007. Although you can no longer see, smell and taste the cereal manufacturing process, Kellogg continues to bring “the best to you each morning.” ≈
BLUE Vintage Views columnists M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson reside in Grand Rapids. They are authors of the book “Historic Leelanau: Recognized Sites and Places of Historical Significance.”
By M. Christine Byron and Thomas R. Wilson