In his book Light Therapeutics (1910), Dr. John Harvey Kellogg stated “no non-medicinal remedy has ever found its way so rapidly into general favor as have devices for utilizing the physical properties of light in combating the inroads of disease” (3). Indeed, Kellogg’s work in using light to stimulate healing in the human body found a warm reception with not only his medical colleagues in America, but across the globe as well.

This small article is not so much meant to give an in-depth account of Kellogg’s light therapy practices and their origins (for that I am writing an entire chapter of my dissertation to describe), but rather to make readers of my work aware of some of the connections between past and present health technologies and possible future research interests of mine. While many in the United States might see saunas or spas as “unprofessional” medicine and a cultural phenomenon, there are plenty of marked health benefits to sauna usage such as stress relief and, predominantly, circulatory and heart health (see articles on saunas on Harvard Health Publishing’s website

But I am not interested in the practical health debates and theories of saunas as much as their origin and development. Traditional saunas and Turkish baths have been around for centuries, as have their various cultural counterparts. However, it was my recent encounter with infrared saunas that caught my interest as I am working on Kellogg’s light therapy techniques and their transatlantic and global connections. Specifically, I noticed a striking similarity between Kellogg’s light baths and the latest infrared saunas, which have found their way into popular American markets. For the purposes of brevity, I will only skim the development of Kellogg’s light baths and modern infrared saunas, and follow with some of my ideas.

light bath

Kellogg’s Light Bath Cabinet

Kellogg built his first electric light bath in 1891 and later displayed it at the Chicago Worlds Fair in 1893. It was, as far as he claimed, the first invention of its kind. Unlike the well known Turkish baths (which used steam to heat the air of an enclosed room) and a traditional Scandinavian sauna (a wood room or enclosure that was dry-heated via a stove often with stones around and on top of it), Kellogg’s light bath used incandescent light bulbs in an enclosed “cabinet” to heat the body and expose it to light rays. The light bath differed to the traditional sauna in that Kellogg was not as concerned in making people sweat as he was in the effects of “penetrating” light on the body. To utilize these effects Kellogg had to understand a good deal of the physics and properties of light, and beyond that, how the different waves of light affected the human body. A quick perusal of Light Therapeutics demonstrates Kellogg’s remarkable knowledge in the area of light therapy and his ability to utilize new and cutting-edge technology in his quest for health reform.

Essentially, Kellogg understood light as divided into three categories:

  1. Ultra-violet Light—Also called Chemical Ray or Actinic Rays. Was useful for rashes and other skin conditions, but was to be used sparingly as prolonged exposure could cause damage to the body.
  2. Infrared Light—Also called Ultra-red, Dark, Thermic, and Heat-Rays. This light spectrum was the focal point of Kellogg’s light therapy. The body could withstand protracted exposure to infrared light and its therapeutic properties fell right in line with Kellogg’s movement for lifestyle reform.
  3. Visible Light—Consists of the visible spectrum of light detectable by the human eye as white or colored light. This light was not considered as useful for therapeutic purposes as ultra-violet or infrared light.EMspectrum

While Kellogg employed chemical rays in his practice, his focus on changing personal health habits as a preventive measure led him to embrace thermic rays in therapeutic treatment. Thermic rays could “pass through the skin and penetrate to a considerable depth, being converted into heat as they meet with resistance,” and Kellogg was adamant to “call attention to a therapeutic principle which so far as known has not been definitely recognized in phototherapy, namely: the therapeutic value of the effect produced upon the skin by the thermic rays”(Light Therapeutics, 41). The exposure of the skin to thermic rays predominantly caused dilation of the blood capillaries and veins and arteries, which assisted in better blood flow and body functions. Kellogg was quick to remind readers that the skin is seldom remembered as an organ in of itself, and that “the blood vessels of every important internal organ are very directly connected with the vessels of the skin, through arteries or veins, or both; so that it is possible to produce effects by means of local as well as general hyperemias of the skin, thus inducing collateral anemia of vascularly related parts” (Light Therapeutics, 44). In other words, treatment via thermic ray exposure to a patient’s skin could positively impact their interior organs and promote an overall improvement in health.

To harness the benefits of thermic rays for his patients Kellogg invented his “light cabinet,” which exposed the entire body to infrared light through incandescent bulbs. Since the technology to produce only infrared light did not yet exist—indeed the ability to create artificial light had only just been appreciated—Kellogg realized that low-powered incandescent bulbs would have to suffice to expose patients to the healing thermic light spectrum. His invention, which many considered a novelty at the time, gained considerable legitimacy when a contingent of Germans observed his exhibit at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. One unnamed German visited the Battle Creek Sanitarium to observe its implementation and returned to Germany intent on bringing this new medical technology to the populace. Soon after, Kellogg Lichtbaden where being built with remarkable speed throughout Germany, with the phenomenon spreading well beyond German borders. However, the Lichtbad was not seriously implemented as a medical tool until the eminent Dr. Wilhelm Winternitz of the Imperial University at Vienna, Austria provided his endorsement. Kellogg studied hydrotherapeutic technique under Winternitz early in his medical career, and the two doctors shared a warm rapport across the Atlantic.

The Lichtbad soon became a recognized therapeutic device in the general population via established “Light Institutes” (although many decried it as a fad, this was due to certain Lichtbad models being quickly produced as profit schemes by non-medical individuals). However debated the Lichtbad was, it reached its full influence when it became a fixture in the homes and palaces of nobility and royalty. Kellogg recounted that “King Edward [VII] of England was cured of a distressing gout at Hamburg by means of a series of light baths,” and that he soon after “had the bath installed at Windsor and Buckingham palaces” (Light Therapeutics, 4). From there the King’s nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, followed suit, installing a Lichtbad in several of his palaces.

England and Germany, the world’s two competing superpowers at the time, served as a springboard for the Lichtbad’s transfusion into various other European countries not only via royal familial relations, but through intercultural transfer among the general population who continually sought out new and superior medical technology and techniques. By the turn of the century, Kellogg’s Lichtbad would find its way into such countries as Denmark, Norway, and Sweden—countries that already had various sauna traditions, but it must be remembered that Kellogg differentiated his light bath from the cultural tradition of saunas. However, it is unclear if this differentiation was recognized uniformly, and there is no doubt that, through the process of intercultural transfer, the light bath took on various forms as both serious health treatment and novelty.

Coming forward to modern day, Kellogg’s light bath is largely forgotten, and has become a fixture in medical museums and history books as a novelty of a bygone age. Unfortunately, the very object that brought Kellogg fame and recognition throughout America, Europe, and beyond, is now used as an item of ridicule and evidence of an eccentric health reformer—adding to a popular image of Kellogg as a buffoon and anomaly within the medical profession. An image that was tactlessly cultivated in the early 1990s through T. Coraghessan Boyle’s 1993 novel The Road to Wellville and subsequent movie of the same name, which starred actor Anthony Hopkins as Kellogg. However, Kellogg’s light bath enjoys popular use today among thousands of patrons who have no idea that they are using the Lichtbad’s modern equivalent—the infrared sauna.

I first learned of the infrared sauna this year at the State Fair of Texas (the irony of these inventions appearing at fairs does not escape me), where I read about its benefits as compared to more traditional saunas. While reading the literature, I found it remarkably similar in construction and purpose to Kellogg’s light baths. In fact, infrared saunas serve the exact same purpose. I have had further time to inspect the sauna’s capabilities and use it myself since my mother purchased one and installed it in her home.

An immediate overview of the infrared sauna’s function reveals that it uses infrared light to penetrate the body and raise its core temperature from the inside (as opposed to heating the air with steam or fire), resulting in better blood circulation, sweating of toxins, and dilation of the blood vessels, veins, and arteries. Both the modern infrared sauna and Kellogg’s light bath utilize the infrared spectrum of light for these health benefits. Had the technology existed to isolate infrared light in the early nineteenth century Kellogg’s light cabinet might look remarkably similar to modern infrared saunas. His reliance on incandescent light bulbs to provide the desired exposure was due to the limits of technology rather than a misunderstanding of the healing properties of light. Kellogg knew that while the body was exposed to the whole light spectrum (minus ultraviolet rays) with low-powered incandescent bulbs, the healing infrared rays would be included in the light spectrum of the bulbs. This was the most efficient way in 1891 to expose the human body to infrared rays, and Kellogg—who always sought to be on the cutting edge of technology in health reform—utilized an invention that was still new to the American public (as the incandescent bulb had only been marketed for the last ten years or so).

While there are obvious similarities between Kellogg’s light bath and modern infrared saunas, what is less clear is how connected they really are. It is certainly possible for infrared saunas to have their technological roots in the light bath, but whether there is a direct link to Kellogg is yet to be realized. Most infrared saunas marketed in the United States are manufactured in Canada, but the concept of using the infrared heating panels for a sauna actually originated in Japan. It would be remarkable if Kellogg’s light bath influenced the creation of these modern saunas, but for now, I can only speculate. Perhaps once there is time—meaning after my dissertation is finished—I will be able to delve into this phenomenon and further move Kellogg out of his prison of American context to one of Trans-Pacific. It is certainly reasonable to assume that such a connection exists. Since Kellogg displayed his invention at the World’s Fair in 1893, it is possible that the Japanese saw it along with the Germans.

Perhaps it is because I am intensely immersed in the study of Kellogg and his health reforms, but it seems that every time I turn around I see a connection to Kellogg and his methods. The infrared sauna is one on a list of many. But I hope that this particular phenomenon will be the subject of another study. But for now, this blog post will have to satisfy my curiosity and need to share my findings. At the very least, perhaps it will encourage the reader to try an infrared sauna, or at least remember Kellogg if they do.

Searching for The Living Temple 

When I began my research into Dr. John Harvey Kellogg my major professor joked (or so I thought at the time) that by the end of my dissertation I would have my very own archive of documents and primary sources. So far I have approximately twenty-eight of Kellogg’s original works, and some primary documents from a family archive. What I thought was a joke has indeed become a reality. Many people have wondered how I have come by so many original books and the answer is simple…eBay. It is amazing to me how many primary sources are for sale on eBay. All of the books I have procured for my research came from there. Primary sources are not always available via this market however, and I still think it highly unusual that I was able to find what I have. The large amount of Kellogg books available is no doubt due to the wide circulation his work enjoyed and his proliferated authorship. There is one book however, that did not enjoy such popularity.


Cover of The Living Temple (author’s collection).

In 1903 the Battle Creek Sanitarium burned to the ground and funds were needed to rebuild the mammoth institution. To raise the necessary money Kellogg put together a book based on many of his previous texts with some new material included. The Living Temple, as it was titled, never saw publication. Wishing to have his work reviewed Kellogg pre-ordered about 300 copies to send to friends and peers. After this initial printing disaster struck again when the publishing house Kellogg used also burned to the ground, along with the plates for The Living Temple. At this point many leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who had looked at the book began to accuse Kellogg of propagating pantheistic ideas in its pages. The multitude of issues surrounding Kellogg and church leaders, a subject too convoluted to go into here, came to a head in 1907 when Kellogg was “disfellowshipped” from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The conflict between Kellogg and church leaders had little to due with pantheism and more with power and control, but that will be the subject of another post.

In the years leading up to the break with Adventism and beyond, The Living Temple became a “banned” book (for lack of a better word) in the Adventist denomination. Many people went so far as to suggest the book’s destruction via burning or simply to throw it in the trash. This, along with time, resulted in very few copies left in existence. Some have found their way into archives and museums, and a few still remain in private hands.

Given its importance as a work published at a pivotal moment in Kellogg’s career, and the controversy surrounding it, The Living Temple came to symbolize the Holy Grail of original sources for me. A copy once showed up on eBay at the beginning of my research, but I had not yet decided to fully base a dissertation around Kellogg nor did I have $1,500 to spend on such a source. I somewhat lamented that decision for the next three years as I searched for another copy. It seemed unlikely that I would ever see another private copy for sale, and that I would have to resign myself to a digital copy or one from the archives. However, as I now tell people, you can find anything on eBay. About a month ago I was doing another search for Kellogg works and found a copy of  The Living Temple for $700. At this point I had no problem spending the money on it, but I did not have the funds. History is never a solitary endeavor and my work is no exception. I was surprised and humbled by the amount of people willing to contribute to my research so that I could obtain this important book. It is a rare thing to go on a quest for the Holy Grail and to actually return with it, and it has already yielded names and places of individuals and institutions in Europe Kellogg had connections with. I am pleased to report that every now and then a search for treasure produces results.


Title Page of The Living Temple (author’s collection).


Kellogg and the Saints?

Pure Food, Pure Body Presentation 2

I just finished presenting at the 9th Annual AVISTA Medieval Graduate Student Symposium at the University of North Texas, Denton. My presentation, “Pure Food, Pure Body: Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, Food, Sex, and the Saints,” was well received. But in the course of questions that followed my presentation, the keynote speaker, Dr. Nicola Coldstream, asked me something I did not quite know how to answer. She asked if Kellogg had direct contact with the saints (i.e. reading their hagiography, or exposure to Catholic doctrine), or was it merely a coincidence that his writings mirrored those of medieval saints.


While it may be uncomfortable for some to admit that they do not know the answer to a question on their own research, I found this very intriguing. While this topic may not form a part of my overall dissertation, I intend to see if I can answer Dr. Coldstream’s question fully by the end of my studies. As I said in my last post From Cornflakes to Obscurity , Kellogg spent quite a good deal of time in Austria and other European countries. The question is, what if any religious practices was he exposed to, and if so what were there effect on his personal beliefs and teachings?

Pure Food, Pure Body Presentation 1

In my presentation I demonstrated how remarkably similar Kellogg’s writings and sentiments are to the medieval saints such as St. Augustine and St. Benedict. Their thoughts on food, sex, and controlling the body and spirit follow the same lines of continuity. Indeed, it is difficult for one not to postulate that Kellogg had an intimate knowledge of the writings of the saints. However, that is all I have for now: theory and conjecture. This is not to say that it is not a possibility. Kellogg spent a great deal of time in Austria where, in the nineteenth-century, there was not a Seventh-day Adventist church for him to attend. Nor were protestants in the majority. It stands to reason that he at one point attended, or at least was invited to attend, a Catholic service. Barring this, it is also possible he was exposed to Catholic literature or even hagiographical texts. Either way I will not know until I search for the sources that will tell me the root of Kellogg’s sentiments and theories. Until then…the work continues.

From Cornflakes to Obscurity

Most Americans, at one point or another in their lives, have partaken in a peculiar tradition. This tradition has no cultural heritage, but rather came about through a mixture of trial, accident, marketing, and popularity. Most Americans share the common experience of waking up in the morning, going into the kitchen, and pouring out a bowl of breakfast cereal. But many at the time do not ask the question: Where did this come from? And most cannot imagine a world without cold cereal.


But the truth is a little more than a hundred years ago cereals like Cornflakes and Rice Krispies did not exist. The American breakfast, for the most part, consisted of cold and hot meats and hot porridge, and did not meet the dietary or nutritional standards of the creator of Cornflakes—Dr. John Harvey Kellogg. A health reformer and renowned surgeon, Kellogg accidentally invented the cornflake in his food labs. Originally designed as “roughage” to aid in digestion and alleviate constipation, Kellogg prescribed cornflakes much as any doctor would medicine. For him the goal was to get people healthy rather than to capitalize on his invention.

John Harvey’s brother, William K. Kellogg, worked as an assistant to his older brother and chafed at sometimes less than beneficent treatment. He also wished to expand on the money-making possibilities of cornflakes. While John Harvey was traveling in Europe William K. started his own cornflake factory in Battle Creek (now the Kellogg brand food company) and furthered the enmity with his brother by coating the cornflakes with sugar to make them taste better (the predecessor of Kellogg’s Frosted Cornflakes).

From this point the story of breakfast cereal success diverged from John Harvey’s narrative into its own history. But what about Dr. J. H. Kellogg?

26 Feb 1938 --- John Harvey Kellogg Age 86 --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

26 Feb 1938 — John Harvey Kellogg Age 86

By the 1930s John Harvey had fallen into obscurity. His massive sanitarium at Battle Creek did not survive the rigors of the Great Depression and entered receivership, and Kellogg himself began to feel the limits of his age. He continued, until his death in 1943, to spread his “Gospel of Health” to anyone who would listen.

Since that time only two scholarly works have been produced on Kellogg’s contribution to health reform. Richard W. Schwarz’s biography John Harvey Kellogg, M.D. (Southern Publishing Association, 1970), and Brian C. Wilson’s more recent work in the context of comparative religion Dr. John Harvey Kellogg: and the Religion of Biologic Living (Indiana University Press, 2014). Historically speaking, while there may be two books dedicated to his life and work, this leaves Kellogg in relative obscurity. The Kellogg name is recognized by almost all in America, but not John Harvey or the Battle Creek Sanitarium; and while many of his inventions and techniques are still used in modern medicine, most do not remember the origins of their practices.

So John Harvey Kellogg is not well known outside of those who study him and history in general. This raises some questions: Why study him at all? Why is he important? And why on earth would you choose him as a major focus in a dissertation topic? (Something I am asked a lot). Within the context of transnational and transatlantic history I study the subfield of intercultural transfer. This method examines cultural exchanges in a variety of examples–i.e. holidays, food, music just to name a few–that are taken back and forth across both political and ethnic barriers, and of course the Atlantic itself. These exchanges are created through the movement of individuals with cultural beliefs and practices, or those who are exposed to them–referred to as “agents of transfer.” I believe Kellogg is one of these agents.

Many people I speak to might know about Kellogg, but very few of them realize that he continually traveled and studied medicine in Europe.


Pathologisch-Anatomisches Institut in Vienna, Austria-1898

Kellogg spent a great deal of time in Vienna, Austria the “chief city of health” in Europe, where he studied medicine and techniques. Along with the Imperial City he also visited Berlin, and the Pavlov Institute in Russia. With his many travels, his experiences, and his tendency for learning and sharing, it is reasonable to believe Kellogg to be an agent of transfer between America and Europe in the context of health reform.

The nineteenth-century health reform movements in America and Europe are believed by some to have occurred separate from each other. But in reality while these movements where physically separated by the Atlantic they were connected through the travels and studies of Kellogg and others. Kellogg, however, has the best chance of being an agent of transfer due to his immense amount of correspondence, publishing, lectures, and the fact that he ran the mammoth Sanitarium at Battle Creek; where he could implement the techniques learned in Europe. My hope is that through my research I can not only demonstrate a shared history between America and Europe within the context of health reform, but also raise John Harvey Kellogg out of the obscurity of a breakfast cereal name.


The Beginning

Countless times I have thought about creating my own blog, and each time I stopped myself for a plethora of reasons. I don’t know if I was apprehensive or if I just did not know what to write, but here it is. Here is the blog chronicling my research and experiences. Here you will find commentaries on John Harvey Kellogg, The Battle Creek Sanitarium, Intercultural Transfer, and anything else to do with my PhD work. Hopefully, more will come soon.