We’re all familiar with cornflakes, and whether you prefer Tesco own-brand over the original, there’s no doubting that Kelloggs is where the minimalist breakfast cereal began. But the circumstances surrounding why cornflakes were invented, are, well, a little peculiar! So once and for all, we’re here to answer the question of why were cornflakes invented, and do they stop masturbation?

John Harvey Kellogg

John Harvey Kellogg
Source: History.com

John Harvey Kellogg was born in Michigan in 1852. His father was an important member and donator to the Seventh-day Adventist church, and the Kelloggs were all believers in the church’s faith. They believed that the Second Coming of Christ would be soon, and so they didn’t need to send their children to school – so John Harvey Kellog was only in school for 3 years. He worked from 12, eventually ending up as a proofreader for a leader of the church, who wrote predominantly about her theories on health, such as the importance of a vegetarian diet!

Kellogg became a teacher at age 16, and then at 20 he studied a teaching course. He then followed his siblings and studied a 6 month medical course, in order to form a group of trained doctors for the church. Kellogg then went on to study at an actual medical school, graduating in 1875 with a medical degree.

A year later, he became director of the Western Health Reform Institute, which he renamed Battle Creek Medical Surgical Sanitarium. The sanitarium was run based on the Seventh Day-Adventists health views, such as a plant-based diet, abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, and a regimen of exercise.

Battle Creek Sanitorium
Source: History.com

In 1879, he married Ella Ervilla Eaton. The couple slept in separate bedrooms and did not have any biological children, but they adopted 7 and fostered 42 children!

During his career, Kellogg defended the amalgamation of science and the Bible, but this was at a time when the two were drifting further and further apart.

So why were cornflakes invented?

It was this amalgamation which Kellogg promoted that is partially behind the creation of the famous breakfast cereal. But there are various stories explaining why cornflakes were invented.

why were cornflakes invented
Source: Verywelll FIt

The myth

The stories all go that Kellogg invented the bland cereal (without the sugar that has since been added to the recipe) as an ‘anti-masturbatory’ breakfast option. This came about as Kellogg did avidly believe that eating interesting food led to desire, passion, and subsequently… that. He also believed that because of this, if people stuck to simple, plain diets, we would not only be healthier, but less sinful, as it were.

Essentially, because of these two beliefs, and his invention of possibly the blandest (sorry to any cornflake fanatics) cereal, people put two and two together. And whilst it may have been an inspiration, it is more likely that there was more science than faith behind cornflakes’ emergence.

Although, the notion that favouring a fry up over cereal makes you a sinner would make dieting a lot easier…

So where did the myth come from? Well, nobody’s quite sure. Website Mental Floss published the ‘anti-masturbatory’ claim in 2012, according to Snopes. Wherever it came from, it isn’t far removed from the plausible, considering the good doctor’s beliefs and his passion for the science of the gut, alongside his other methods of preventing masturbation, which are a little too gruesome to detail anywhere.

The truth

Kellogg did practise abstinence and was avidly against masturbation too. In fact, in his book Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History and Hygiene of Organic Life, he wrote that ‘if illicit commerce of the sexes is a heinous sin, self-pollution is a crime doubly abominable’. What a joyous man! He believed that this ‘self-pollution’ caused mood swings, bad posture, acne, epilepsy, palpitations and a fondness for spicy food.

However, there is little to no actual evidence that cornflakes were created to prevent this. Even though Kellogg believed that rich and ‘irritating’ foods were one of the causes of desire and passion, he seemingly never stated that cornflakes were intended to curb that.

It seems instead, that he made them as a healthy breakfast for those in the Sanitarium, one that fit his faiths and was beneficial for everyone’s fibre count!

Not quite as fun a story, but there you have it.

The feud

why were cornflakes invented
Source: The New York Times

So John Harvey Kellogg created cornflakes. And the company was named after him, right?


John Harvey had a younger brother, Will. As children the two brothers had fought over everything. As they got older, Will worked in the Sanitarium with his older brother. John Harvey reportedly paid Will very little, gave him no title, and regularly taunted him! In fact, there are stories of John Harvey cycling across the campus and making Will run next to him to take notes on John’s ideas!

However, Will was useful when it came to creating the recipe for cornflakes, as it took thousands of tries to get the recipe perfect. And as soon as it was, Will stole it. He marketed it, and saw success beyond his wildest dreams.

The stealing didn’t stop there, quite a few of Will’s original recipes were not his own. However, he had a mind for business, being the first to put a toy in the cereal box (which was done to take up room in the box, therefore needing less cereal to fill it).

But do they stop ‘self-pollution’?

Well, that’s the question. And scientists have actually come forward to give us the answer, which is, unsurprisingly – no.

There are foods – aphrodisiacs – which increase libido and desire, but none (that we know of) which have the opposite effect.

The more you know…

If that isn’t enough for you cereal fanatics, here’s some more info about the beloved brand.

  1. The Kelloggs logo is Will Kellogg’s signature!
  2. The first box was made entirely of recycled material, and the company’s boxes are almost all made from recycled materials.
  3. Kellogs has been to the moon. Yes, the actual moon. It was the astronauts’ breakfast on the Apollo 11 mission!
  4. Kellogs was the first brand to advertise at Times Square in New York.
  5. There’s actually a film about John Harvey Kellogg: The Road to Wellville (1994).

If you’re interested, you can watch the film by buying it on Amazon Prime, or finding the DVD (or VHS!) in a random charity shop if you’re lucky.