Will Keith Kellogg

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
West Michigan
After inventing wheat flakes, W.K. Kellogg spent his last forty-five years as the captain of a global cereal industry and one of the world's largest philanthropists. His work is continued today under the auspices of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.


Will Keith ("W.K.") Kellogg (1860-1951) was a poorly paid, hardworking employee of the world-renowned Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan for twenty-six years of his working life. After inventing wheat flakes, Kellogg spent his last forty-five years as the captain of a global cereal industry and as one of the world's largest philanthropists. Kellogg established the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, dedicated to helping people solve the problems of society.

Historic Roots

Will Keith Kellogg, known as "W.K.", was born April 7, 1860. His parents were Seventh Day Adventists who pioneered the wilderness to establish a homestead and broom factory in Battle Creek, Michigan. With no formal education beyond the sixth grade, fourteen-year-old Will was proud to have his own territory as a traveling broom salesman.

In 1880, Kellogg married Ella "Puss" Osborn Davis. As a responsible husband, he went to work as the bookkeeper, cashier, and general utility man of the Battle Creek Sanitarium (known as the "San"). His older brother, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, was physician-in-chief of this world famous health clinic. Dr. Kellogg, never interested in handling the San's business affairs, constantly pushed Will who worked from 80 to 120 hours per week. As a father of three children and fearful of forever remaining a poor man, Kellogg felt responsible to stay in his position at the San.

In 1894, while experimenting to find a digestible bread substitute for the San patients who ate vegetarian diets, Will stumbled onto the creation of wheat flakes. On that day, the Kellogg brothers accidentally allowed a batch of boiled wheat to stand. Unknowingly, they had "tempered" the wheat. The wheat was compressed and flaked off the rollers with blades designed by Will. Will convinced his brother not to grind the flakes up further, but to serve them whole and the large, thin flakes became a favorite food of the San's patients. Soon the "Granose" was packaged by Will who added the mail distribution of the cereal to his many other duties. Dr. Kellogg prohibited Will from marketing the ready-to-eat cereal beyond San patients even after 1897, when a recent San patient, C.W. Post, made millions by pedaling his version of the cereal. Between 1900 and 1905, the secret for making flaked wheat cereal leaked out and over forty-two cereal food companies sprang up in Battle Creek alone.

Finally, after twenty-six years at the San, Will cut all ties with his brother and the San to begin searching for a manufacturing process for corn flakes. In 1906, at the age of forty-six, he launched Kellogg's Toasted Corn Flakes and survived his competitors. Each package of Kellogg's Corn Flakes was inked in red with the words, "Beware of imitations. None genuine without this signature. W.K. Kellogg." Soon, W.K. Kellogg joined C.W. Post as a self-made millionaire.

This financial success was only the beginning of the Kellogg breakfast cereal and food empire. As one of the first American entrepreneurs to recognize the potential of international markets, Kellogg expanded his company internationally. In 1914, the company began selling cereal in Canada and opened manufacturing facilities in Sydney, Australia in 1924. Surviving the depression, the popularity of Kellogg products grew at home and abroad, and the Company opened a manufacturing plant in Manchester, England in 1938.

During these years of business growth, W.K. Kellogg's visionary philanthropic commitment became apparent. In 1925, he established the Fellowship Corporation to help young people, a personal commitment that arose from his grandson's tragic paralyzing fall from a second-story window. Kellogg, despite his millions, could not find adequate care for the child, which led him to wonder how needy families coped with their medical problems. Mr. Kellogg donated nearly $3 million to hometown causes, such as a civic auditorium, a junior high school, a youth recreation center, and the Ann J. Kellogg School for handicapped children. The Fellowship Corporation also helped to establish an agricultural school, a bird sanctuary, an experimental farm and a reforestation project.

In 1930, President Herbert Hoover invited Mr. Kellogg to be a delegate at the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection. As a result, the W.K. Kellogg Child Welfare Foundation was formed. Within four years, he donated over $66 million in Kellogg Company stock to the renamed W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Mr. Kellogg believed that the most good came from helping people to help themselves—giving them the opportunity to do what is important to them. With regard to instituting a foundation mission, Kellogg said, "Use the money as you please, so long as it promotes the health, happiness, and well-being of children."

An example of Mr. Kellogg's vision for business and self-help philanthropy came as he seized an opportunity to provide hope during one of the country's darkest times, the Great Depression. When other companies were cutting pay and workforces, Kellogg began a million dollar expansion of the company's Battle Creek plant; he doubled the advertising budget and switched to a six-hour workday, allowing the company to hire an additional shift of workers from the city's unemployed. The Kellogg Company paid seventy-five cents an hour for a thirty-six-hour workweek, one of the best pay rates in the state of Michigan.

Known as a pragmatist, W.K. Kellogg was uncomfortable with the word philanthropy and shuddered when anyone called him a philanthropist. He said, "A philanthropist is one who would do good for the love of his fellowmen. I love to do things for children because I get a kick out of it. Therefore, I am a selfish person and no philanthropist."

Though completely blind due to glaucoma during the last 14 years of his life, Will Kellogg remained independent, clear minded, and involved in business affairs. On October 6, 1951, Mr. Kellogg, the cereal and business pioneer and philanthropist, died at the age of ninety-one.


Kellogg Company
The size and scope of Mr. Kellogg's company continues to be important to the world and to his ongoing philanthropic legacy fifty years after his death. The Kellogg Company is the world's leading producer of cereal and one of the largest producers of convenience foods. Its products are manufactured in nineteen countries and marketed in more than 160 countries across the world. Tony the Tiger™, Snap! Crackle! Pop!™, and Ernie Keebler™, all Kellogg icons, are among the most recognized characters in advertising. Naturally, as a leading food product producer, the company is a very large employer in countries where manufacturing plants exist.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation
The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (originally known as the W.K. Kellogg Child Welfare Foundation) is one of the largest grantmaking foundations in the world by measure of its assets, annual grants awarded, and total giving over the years. By 2000, its worth was valued in excess of one billion dollars. Since the foundation was established in 1930, its United States programming has centered on health, education, and agriculture. Rather than focusing its grants on research, the foundation focuses on applying knowledge to the problems of people—a preference of Mr. Kellogg himself. He preferred solutions for the long-term rather than giving short-term handouts. "Education," he said, "offers the greatest opportunity for really improving one generation over another."

The Kellogg Company and W.K. Kellogg Foundation , though completely independent of each other, share links throughout a common history—both were founded by Mr. Kellogg, have always been headquartered in Battle Creek, and the foundation's original assets consisted of Kellogg Company stock. Additionally, the financial success of the company and the value of its stock affect the ability of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a major stockholder, to award philanthropic grants for programs across the world.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

W.K. Kellogg and other Michigan businessmen, Henry Ford, Sebastian S. Kresge, and Charles Stewart Mott, were forerunners of a new charity movement that created large, private foundations in the early 1900s. Their foundations smoothed tensions with people who were troubled by the idea of enormous, closed corporations. These foundations allowed Kellogg and other industry captains to explore and influence new areas of charity (like research and education), to tackle increasingly complex issues, and to make larger grants in support of important social causes. These institutions paved the way for a nationwide emergence of private foundations to come with the economic boom following World War II.

In 1934, Kellogg donated more than $66 million in company stock and other investments to endow the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded in 1930. Governed by an independent board of trustees, the foundation receives income primarily from the investment of the trust set up by Mr. Kellogg. In addition to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, he also supported the establishment of the Kellogg Biological Station and provided a campus for California Polytechnic University. In part, Mr. Kellogg made these gifts because of a strong belief that fortunes should not be left to one's children who should attain success and retain integrity through hard work.

Key Related Ideas

  • Corn flakes
  • Grantmaking
  • Independent foundation
  • Self-help
  • Temper (wheat)

Important People Related to the Topic

  • Henry Ford: Founder of Ford Foundation and Ford Motor Company; automobile pioneer.
  • President Herbert Hoover: The thirty-first president of the United States, Hoover served during the Great Depression.
  • Charles Stewart Mott: Founder of Charles Stewart Mott Foundation whose father began the Mott Beverage Company (which later became Mott's Applesauce).
  • C.W. Post: Early cereal pioneer who introduced Postum, a cereal beverage, Grape Nuts® and Post Toasties® by 1908.

Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Council of Michigan Foundations: a membership association of grantmaking foundations and corporations in Michigan.
  • Fellowship Corporation: established by Kellogg to help young people; responsible for beginning an agricultural school, a bird sanctuary, an experimental farm and a reforestation project in Battle Creek, Michigan.
  • W.K. Kellogg Foundation (previously W.K. Kellogg Child Welfare Foundation): One of the world's largest grantmaking foundation began by W.K. Kellogg with a large gift of Kellogg Company stock.

Bibliography and Internet Resources

Fugate, Sandy. For the Benefit of All: A History of Philanthropy in Michigan. Battle Creek, Michigan: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 1997. ISBN: 1-891445-00-6

Powell, Horace B. The Original Has This Signature. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1956.

Kellogg Company [online]. 

W.K. Kellogg Foundation. I'll Invest My Money in People: A Biographical Sketch of the Founder of the Kellogg Company and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Battle Creek, Michigan: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, 1979.

W.K. Kellogg Foundation [online].


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.