A Portrait of Massage Pioneer John Kellogg

By Judi Calvert, LMP
June 10, 2011

A Portrait of Massage Pioneer John Kellogg

By Judi Calvert, LMP
June 10, 2011

People who have made a difference in our world are sometimes called heroes. I would like to introduce you to one of mine: John Harvey Kellogg.

John Harvey Kellogg's accomplishments are impressive by any measure: Superintendent and surgeon at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, inventor of myriad medical and surgical instruments; the man behind the discovery of the therapeutic value of electric light and the sinusoidal current, founder of the health food industry at Battle Creek and last, but certainly not least, author of the groundbreaking book, "The Art of Massage" written in 1885.

An American Pioneer

In his book, Kellogg described very clearly the various procedures of massage practiced at his Battle Creek Sanitarium. He believed there had been a larger and more continuous experience with his massage method than at any other health facility in the United States.

Kellogg was a fascinating man with a distinct personality and eccentric habits. He was short, about 5 feet 3 inches, and used showmanship to offset his small frame. He always dressed in white. He would ride his bicycle around the Battle Creek Sanitarium grounds with his favorite bird perched on his shoulder. His brother, Will, would run to keep up, taking notes as his older brother held forth on many ideas springing from his mind.

Like most visionaries, John Harvey was not always well thought of during his era. But through a lifetime of tireless research and advocacy he elevated himself and his field to the respect and credibility each holds today.

A Lifetime Of Accomplishment

One of Kellogg's most important achievements was the early standardization of his massage techniques. He set about writing "The Art of Massage" to "eliminate the unnecessary and inefficient, and to develop and perfect those methods capable of securing most definite and prompt results."

Kellogg was a firm believer in education. He believed a "practical study of anatomy was absolutely indispensable," to the proper understanding of massage and its skillful application, and "it was highly important that the masseur or student of massage should have a good knowledge of the physiology of the nervous system."

Kellogg spent many years researching his techniques, and was able to document the results of his hard work scientifically. He understood the value of massage and touch, defining it as "not simply an ordinary touch or contact of the hand with the body, but a skilled or professional touch. It is a touch applied with intelligence, with control, with a purpose, and simply as it is, capable of producing decided physiological effects." Because of his investigations into the study and application of massage, he established beyond all question that "massage affords one of the most effective means of influencing the functions of the human body."

Raised To Be A Healer

The son of John Preston Kellogg and Anne Jeanette Stanley, John Harvey Kellogg was born on February 26, 1852, in Tyrone, Michigan. He grew up in the days when Michigan was still a wilderness. The frontier life was harsh and dirty, and the settlers moving there suffered from malnutrition and many diseases.

When Kellogg was four years old, his family moved to the village of Battle Creek, Michigan, the headquarters for the Seventh Day Adventist movement. Raised in a devout Seventh Day Adventist family, his father was a man of conscience and fierce loyalty. After converting to the faith in 1852, John Preston Kellogg eventually became a leader within the church.

Kellogg was acquainted early with the "healthy living" tenants advocated by his church. Seventh Day Adventism was a Protestant denomination founded by Ellen Gould Harmon White. Adventists relied on preventative health practices, including hydrotherapy, also known as the water cure, as well as massage to ensure wellness. Adventists were also required to abstain from meat, tobacco and alcohol.

A Passion For Knowledge

In 1866, White and her husband James opened the Western Health Reform Institute. The institute needed a full-time medical director, and the Whites took an interest in a young man named James Harvey Kellogg. The White's helped finance his medical education. He devoted himself to his studies and began training for six months at Dr. Russell T. Trall's Hygieo-Therapeutic College.

Kellogg also began to organic chemistry on his own. A determined man in search of a more scientific medical education, he enrolled at the University of Michigan. Later he moved to New York and attended Bellevue Hospital Medical School. While he was in school, Kellogg kept himself on a strict diet of apples, graham crackers and grated coconut. Within a year he graduated to become a doctor. The year was 1875.

What I love about John Harvey Kellogg is that he did not blindly accept that what people were doing was all for the sake of health. He wanted to do his own research to find out for himself if health practices actually helped people become healthy. To satisfy his thirst for knowledge, Kellogg devoted his life to study diet, health and massage.

A Man Ahead Of His Time

In "The Art of Massage," Kellogg says, "When the writer began the therapeutic employment of massage, this method was generally looked upon with more or less suspicion as being closely allied to quackery if not absolutely irregular."

In his book "Plain Facts for Old and Young," published in 1882, Kellogg says this about quacks: "The victims of self-abuse fall an easy prey to the hordes of harpies, fiends in human shape, who are ready at every turn to make capital out of their misfortunes. The newspapers are full of advertisements of these heartless villains."

Kellogg understood very few skilled people were practicing massage. To gain his own understanding, the young doctor toured Stockholm, Sweden, Germany and France, learning everything he could about the massage methods employed by the "expert manipulators abroad." He also studied the treatises and papers written in twenty years preceding his efforts. Kellogg went the extra mile to learn everything he could on the subject of massage -- another reason he is my hero.

Making History In Battle Creek

When Kellogg returned from Europe to Battle Creek in 1876, he took a position as the Western Health Reform Institute's medical doctor and superintendent. He was just 24 years old. For the next sixty-seven years he was the medical director of the historic facility.

Kellogg had taken on a major challenge. He coined the term "sanitarium" and changed the focus of the institute from hydrotherapy to medical and surgical treatment. "A sanitarium," he said, "is a place where people learn to stay well." He renamed it the Battle Creek Sanitarium.

At the Battle Creek Sanitarium, Kellogg, hired and trained masseurs and masseuses to treat patients that were suffering. A training school for nurses was established in 1883. Kellogg advertised jobs for men and women the major magazines of the era. Women and men trained at his school to become nurses studied massage as part of the program.

Kellogg went the extra mile with constant research and study on testing the various methods and systems of massage. He wanted to "eliminate the unnecessary and inefficient, and to develop and perfect those methods capable of securing most definite and prompt re-sults." He penned "The Art of Massage" to present the indications and contraindications of the techniques he used and taught. He sought to classify the different procedures of massage and categorized them in seven different general classes with subdivisions. In his book, he commended Peter Ling of Sweden for devoting his life to helping patients with research efforts into Swedish massage and gymnastics. He also gave credit to treaties created by Graham, Reibmayr, Murrell, Dowse, Schreiber and Tibbitts on their research on massage.

Kellogg was a generous man. He accepted no fees for his work with the Sanitarium or for any of his surgeries and accepted charitable cases. He took it upon himself to create a nutritional program for undernourished children and their mothers in the community.

A little-known fact about Kellogg is that he challenged what women felt they had to do to achieve a good figure and stay in fashion. He contended that "Tight lacing, or compressing the waist with a corset, is a barbarous practice, which produces problems with the organs." Many women with diaphragm, lung and stomach problems from wearing tight corsets were treated in his sanitarium. Perhaps that's why they had those fainting couches for women to lie on when they attending those high fashion parties.

Kellogg also went after tobacco manufacturers, wrote anti-tobacco industry articles and published the book "Tobaccoism," about the morals of smoking, one more reason Kellogg is one of my heroes.

At his sanitarium in 1888, he offered 200 kinds of "baths, douches and fomentations," for his patients. He invented several massage machines used in his sanitarium. The sanitarium's client list grew to 5,000 and the center had annual revenues of $4 million.

A Man Of Contradictions

Kellogg's "Battle Creek Idea" was that good health and fitness were the result of good diet, exercise, correct posture, fresh air, massage and proper rest. But he didn't practice what he preached. The man suffered from anxiety attacks. He overworked himself and was chronically fatigued. He needed help but his temperament kept away the skilled people who could have helped him.

One of the people he did not treat well was closest to him: his brother Will Keith. Will devoted himself to his brother and the sanitarium, but it was very hard on him. Will was very successful and tried to manage his Kellogg's finances but his older brother would not listen and lost money on many businesses, including the Battle Creek Health Food Company and Sanitas Company.

Kellogg forged his modern legacy with the development of wheat and corn flake breakfast cereals. However, his position regarding medical ethics made him reluctant to attach his name to commercial products. That didn't stop Will from enthusiastic marketing that eventually turned Kellogg's Toasted Corn Flakes into a household brand.

Disagreements over the use of the Kellogg name led to legal battles and the brothers parted ways. Meanwhile, the sanitarium was doing well and added a fifteen-story addition in 1928. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed the next year. Rich clients who were the bread and butter of the facility could no longer afford to come. Despite increasing financial difficulties, Kellogg continued to operate, but by 1930, the institution could no longer survive at its current size. In 1942 the main building was sold to the federal government. Dr. Kellogg moved his treatment center to the Fieldstone Annex building up the street.

Kellogg died on December 14, 1943, at the age of 91. He was still active as a physician and administrator to the end. At the time of his death, he held more than 30 patents for food products and processes, as well as exercise, diagnostic and therapeutic machines.

Kellogg tirelessly promoted massage. As a licensed physician, he granted legitimacy to the art and science of massage practice. He was a visionary who trained many women to become nurses with the skills to practice massage. Kellogg is one of my heroes, but everyone in our profession can benefit from learning about the life, times and many accomplishments of John Harvey Kellogg.


  1. Portrait of a Desperate Reformer: John Harvey Kellogg, M.D. by Marion Garbo Todd.
  2. "The Art of Massage," by John Harvey Kellogg 1885.
  3. "Plain Facts for Old and Young," by John Harvey Kellogg 1882. Battle Creek Historical
  4. "The History of Massage—An Illustrated Survey from Around the World," by Robert Calvert, 2002
  5. "Great American Quacks from the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices"