The Surprising History of Corn Flakes

Lust, betrayal, and sugar.... There's a lot you may not know about your breakfast cereal.

Corn Flakes remain an American breakfast staple

In the 1890s, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother, W.K. Kellogg, invented their signature Corn Flakes cereal in Battle Creek, Michigan. Dr. Kellogg was a devout Seventh-day Adventist who advocated against any form of sexual activity, while also promoting a vegetarian diet, leading to experimentation with grains. Dr. Kellogg also ran the Battle Creek Sanitarium — a world-famous medical wellness spa where his patients stuck to diets of all bland foods.

In 1906, W.K. Kellogg opened the “Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flake Company” and added sugar to the flakes. The new Corn Flakes were a major hit. But this caused a rift between the brothers that lasted the rest of their lives. They ended up suing each other. Others jumped into the growing cereal market. Battle Creek, Michigan soon became known as “Cereal City.” W.K. Kellogg was a marketing mastermind and spent millions on ads that created a wholesome image for his Corn Flakes. In 1909, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes were the first cereal to come with a prize inside the box. Starting in the 1920s, W.K. Kellogg started using cartoon characters to advertise Corn Flakes. In October 1951, he died at 91. 6 years later, Cornelius Rooster became the iconic mascot for the cereal.

Thanks to this masterful advertising, Corn Flakes become synonymous with the American breakfast. Since the 2000s, sales of Corn Flakes — and cereals in general — have declined as Americans chose breakfast foods with more protein and less sugar. Still, Corn Flakes remain an American breakfast staple.