Set in Battle Creek, Michigan, in the winter of 1907, The Road to Wellville explores the phenomenon of the rise of breakfast cereals and how the national rage for them made and lost fortunes.
John Harvey Kellogg, a scientist and showman who is both an early diet devotee and the inventor of cornflakes, runs a spa where the cream of American society and business comes to regain their health and lose weight. In the winter of 1907, his clients include Will Lightbody, an alcoholic who has been prescribed alcoholic tonics, and his wife, a firm adherent of the spa’s philosophy, who surreptitiously regularly slips an opium-based cure into his evening coffee. Over the course of the book, Will must save his marriage and fight his addiction, despite the hindrance of well-wishers.
At the same time, wealth seekers—including Charlie Ossining and his partner Goodloe H. Bender, who plan to sell the same product as Kellogg, but with a different name, “Per-Fo” (perfect food)—make their way to Battle Creek to attempt to con their way into the boom of the breakfast business. Despite the fact that Charlie is more victim than con artist, he is arrested, escapes, and eventually becomes the president of the “Per-To” (perfect tonic) Company four years later.
Kellogg (the child of a broom maker who accordingly believes that roughage “sweeps out” the system) does not just touch on diet but preaches on child rearing as well, using...
(The entire section is 458 words.)