When Were Cereal Flakes Really First Made?
This week, I saw a Battle Creek history note plastered all over the internet, that didn’t seem quite right. It said, “August 8, 1898: Will Kellogg invents Corn Flakes.” Newspapers and radio stations across America relayed that bit of info, but it’s not accurate.
First of all, it wasn’t Corn Flakes. That came later. The legendary “accident” that produced flaked cereal involved wheat, not corn.
The book, “The Original Has This Signature: W.K. Kellogg”, by Horace B. Powell, describes the founding of the first flakes. The book relates how Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, head of the famous Battle Creek Sanitarium, was looking for simple and wholesome foods that were nutritious, but easier to digest than bread. A patient showed the doctor a new health food, a shredded wheat. Kellogg was said to be intrigued, but patients didn't really like shredded wheat. He said "We'll invent a better food." Dr. Kellogg said later that he had a dream of compressing cooked wheat to get it to flake. But his experiments failed.
The doctor then turned to his brother W.K. Kellogg, who continued the experiments. Kellogg would boil the wheat, and then run it through a couple of eight inch rollers, and scrape the dough off the rollers with a chisel. That wasn’t working either. Mr. Kellogg, who basically ran the Sanitarium, was called away from the kitchen and didn’t get back for a couple of days, on Saturday night. The mush was a bit moldy, but the brothers decided to run it through the rollers again, and, to their surprise, it came out in the form of large, thin flakes. Each individual wheat berry formed one flake. They baked the flakes, and they came out crisp and tasty, albeit a bit moldy.
Many accounts say that day was August 8th, 1894. But even the Kellogg Company website seems to have the date wrong, claiming the year was 1898. A check of the US Patent Office shows that the patent application for flaked cereal was filed on May 31, 1895, which would be a few months after the discovery.
August 8th, 1894 wasn’t a Saturday. It was Wednesday, so we still don’t know exactly when the first cereal flake was born.
As for Corn Flakes, it appears they were first sold in 1898. According to former Kellogg president W.H. VanderPloeg, in a 1949 recollection, "Mr. Kellogg conceived the idea that if these flaked cereals were good for sick people they would be good as general purpose foods, and Mr. Kellogg and Dr. John Harvey Kellogg engaged in the manufacture and sale of flake cereals, beginning about 1895, individually and later through the Battle Creek Sanitarium Company, which was organized in 1897, and the Sanitas Nut Food Company, which was organized as a partnership in 1899, and incorporated in 1903. Wheat flakes were made first and corn flakes were made about three or four years later, in 1898. As stated above, ready-to-eat cereals were first sold as "health foods," but their nutritional qualities, ready digestibility, and appetizing taste soon caused a widespread general consumer demand for them as general purpose food.”
So we're still trying to pin down the exact date, but it was just about 125 years ago (in 2019) that the cereal flake was born.