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W.K. Kellogg Manor House: not just a box of corn flakes

It’s hard to believe that a simple toasted flake created a multi-million dollar company in Battle Creek for a simple, hard-working man named Kellogg. In 1906, that’s exactly what happened. W.K. Kellogg from Battle Creek founded the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company and turned his idea into a brilliant success and staple for breakfast eaters around the world. W.K. Kellogg Manor HouseHow does a multi-millionaire in Battle Creek live? What does a multi-millionaire in Battle Creek do with his money? At least in the case of W.K. Kellogg, he gives back to the community.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit the W.K. Kellogg Manor House on Gull Lake in Hickory Corners. Now a part of the Michigan State University Biological Station, the Kellogg Manor was once an integral part of the Kellogg family and the home of the industrialist and cereal pioneer. When driving up through the gates to the Tudor style manor, I couldn’t help but think how remarkably simple the home looked. True the ironically green and white home is large, it is not large by mansion standards of it’s time. The home was built in 1925 and compared to other mansions built by millionaires in Detroit and other places; the house is a tiny mansion. Still with 32 acres, several bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and numerous other rooms, it is easy to get lost in what is by every standard, a mansion.

I soon discovered that even with the grandiose view of Gull Lake and the extensive home, it is a remarkably simple mansion for an incredibly wealthy and intelligent man. I also soon discovered that this was not an architectural flaw or misjudge of character, but in fact true to W.K. Kellogg’s form of being a simple family man. In actuality, besides the sheer size of the home and incredibly rare and ornate Rookwood tile, the home is quite normal as homes go. It was designed as a home to entertain guests and welcome his adult children back for quality gathering time with the family. Mr. Kellogg was indeed a generous family man and what I found most interesting on my trip to his home, was not the home itself, but the man who lived there.

Mr. Kellogg was not the only Kellogg who provided great services to Battle Creek. His brother, Dr. Kellogg was the primary physician who started the Battle Creek Sanatorium, world-famous for new holistic approaches to health that were proving to work for sick patients.  Dr. Kellogg found that healthy and positive attitudes, a strong workout regimen, and quality eating habits were all a great way to fight illnesses, and proved to be very effective. W.K. Kellogg worked for his brother at the Sanatorium doing a variety of activities to help the facility. It was here that the corn flake was born. Part of the quality eating habits included food that is reported to make any college cafeteria food look like a feast for kings. Apparently the food was so awful that there were numerous complaints and W.K. Kellogg took it upon himself to find a cheaper, more tasteful way to create healthy meals for sanatorium patients. He stumbled upon the corn flake and decided to serve it to the patients who overwhelmingly approved. The corn flakes soon became world famous and realizing the business potential, W.K. Kellogg asked his brother if he wanted to create a new business. His brother however refused, and instead offered that the recipe only be offered for sanatorium patients and employees so that no other manufacturers could began making the flakes. Unfortunately for the Kellogg brothers, one patient in the Sanatorium was none other than C.W. Post, the founder of Post Cereal. Before W.K. Kellogg ever started his cereal company, C.W. Post and Postum Cereal had grown to a multi-million dollar company. Finally, in 1906, Kellogg decided to break from his brother to create the Battle Creek Toasted Corn Flakes Company and be on his way toward cereal fame.

W.K. Kellogg’s immediate success gave him loads of wealth and created a business boom for Battle Creek. At one point, Battle Creek was known as the Health City because of the cereal options and holistic health approaches that were booming in the town. With his money, Mr. Kellogg turned to humanitarian efforts including the use of his beloved home. When World War II began, Mr. Kellogg gave his home to the U.S. military to be used in any way they deemed necessary. After being used for the Coast Guard and later the Army until 1949, Mr. Kellogg never returned, due mainly to old age and the home was then transferred to Michigan State College, now Michigan State University.

However, W.K. Kellogg’s humanitarian efforts did not end at simply giving his home. Mr. Kellogg gave continued support to his employees during his time as chairman. When families were in need, he often came to their aid anonymously by giving support in clothing donations to families who needed clothing, donating meals to families, and paying for medical procedures if families could not support them. He was a true company man who believed in his workers. He also founded the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 1930 which has grown to one of the largest supporters of students, organizations, and issues through grants and scholarships throughout the world.

Living in west Michigan, it often is a forgotten fact that Battle Creek was once home to gigantic companies and multi-million dollar men (and women too). However, even west Michigan has its share of mansions and outstanding individuals, such as W.K. Kellogg who have contributed more to the area than can be measured. The W.K. Kellogg Manor House is a bit off the beaten path, but it certainly sheds light on a forgotten era in west Michigan’s history and is worth the drive. For more information, directions, and event information please visit http://www/kbs.msu.edu or for history on the Kellogg Company visit http://investor.kelloggs.com/history.cfm.
 

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