James Caleb Jackson, Inventor of Dry Breakfast Cereal
By Suzanne Raga
For everyone who loves cereal, meet the man you should thank.
James Caleb Jackson invented the first manufactured dry breakfast cereal, which he called Granula. Besides that, Jackson had a long and fascinating life, with stints as a farmer, abolitionist, doctor, and founder of a medical spa. He was also an early proponent of what we now might call "clean eating," won a lawsuit against Corn Flakes inventor John Harvey Kellogg, and treated famous patients including Clara Barton (the founder of the American Red Cross) and Ellen White (the founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church).
Born in 1811 in upstate New York, Jackson worked as a farmer and abolitionist in his 20s and 30s. He gave lectures about abolition, served as the secretary of a local anti-slavery society, and ran an abolitionist newspaper, The Albany Patriot. By 1847, though, Jackson was too sick to continue writing and running the newspaper. He explored hydropathy, an alternative medicine that used water to treat illness, and felt better after doing cold water wraps and douche treatments.
Inspired by this experience, Jackson decided to become a doctor to help other sick people. In 1850, at almost 40 years old, he earned his medical degree from Central Medical College in Syracuse, New York. After working at another hydropathic institute in New York, Jackson went to Dansville, New York to take over the management of a hydropathic spa there.
The Dansville Water Cure facility had been treating patients since 1854 but struggled to stay open until Jackson arrived. He changed the name of the facility to Our Home On The Hillside, but it had many nicknames, such as the Jackson Sanatorium and the Jackson Health Resort. It became one of the most popular spas in the country, with thousands of patients each year. During his years as the doctor there, Jackson wrote articles and manuals on health and wellness, such as “How To Treat The Sick Without Medicine,” which he published in 1870.
Our Home on the Hillside circa 1871. Google Books // Public Domain
The sanatorium marketed itself to patients seeking health, rest, recreation, quiet, clear air, and pure spring water. Besides hydropathy and clean eating, Jackson recommended fresh air and sun exposure. With as many as 12 cottages, plus a main building, patients had privacy to relax and recover from nervous breakdowns or stress. The sanatorium offered baths, massage, vacuum treatments, and lectures on health topics.
After years of caring for the sick during the Civil War, its aftermath, and other battles, nurse Clara Barton went to Our Home On The Hillside in the early 1870s to recover from exhaustion. She liked Jackson’s facility and teachings so much that she made Dansville her country home, frequently returning between 1876 and 1886. After getting better at his spa, she went on to found the American Red Cross in 1881. Barton loved Dansville so much that she chose it to be the location for the Red Cross’s first local chapter.
In addition to stressing the therapeutic properties of water, Jackson was an early proponent of eating unprocessed foods. He taught his patients at Our Home On The Hillside to eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, and he didn’t serve meat, processed white flour, alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. Fascinated by nutrition’s role in health, he created a dry, whole grain breakfast cereal in 1863 by baking graham flour and bran and crumbling it. Although granula required soaking in milk for at least 20 minutes—it was too hard to chew otherwise—it was more convenient to eat than cereals that required cooking, and it eventually caught on.
In 1878, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg visited Our Home On The Hillside to learn about Jackson’s prescription for health and wellness. Kellogg ran a sanatorium in Michigan, and had heard about Jackson through the leader of his church, Ellen White. Jackson treated White at the sanatorium, and she incorporated some of his teachings into the Seventh-Day Adventist Church’s tenets.
A few years after his visit, Kellogg created his own version of Jackson’s cereal, made with ground oats, wheat, and corn. Unoriginally, Kellogg called his creation granula, and Jackson sued Kellogg for ripping him off. Kellogg agreed to change the name of his cereal from granula to granola. Charles William Post, a patient of Kellogg’s, eventually made his own version of granula and called it Grape-Nuts.
Jackson died in 1895 in Dansville, New York. Our Home On The Hillside declared bankruptcy in 1914, and after various incarnations, the facility closed its doors for good in 1971. You can see a photo montage of its now-abandoned state below: