Key Concepts

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Written by Mary G. Butler   

BRINGING IN THE FRESH AIR

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the medical director of the world-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium, was fanatical about the health benefits of fresh air and sunshine.

He believed that "of all the forces of Nature, Sunlight is the most potent, the most beneficent.  The more sunlight the body is able to store up, the greater the vital energy and resistance to disease." 

Dr. Kellogg incorporated his ideas into the Sanitarium treatments.  He also recommended that individuals find ways to bring fresh air into their homes for greater health.  

From the 1870s, sun baths and exercise in the open air were important parts of the San's treatment regime.  Male patients often exercised out-of-doors in loin cloths, or "diapers," to expose as much of their bodies as possible to the beneficial rays of the sun. 

When natural sunlight was not available, especially in the cold, dark Michigan winters, "artificial sunlight" was prescribed.  Dr. Kellogg invented several forms of light and radiant heat baths to provide guests with the benefits of this "best of all rejuvenators."

The Battle Creek Sanitarium Equipment Company, founded in 1890, manufactured many of the therapeutic machines invented by Dr. Kellogg.  The radiant light bath was not only popular with former patients, but also with the rich and famous around the world.  The King of England even had one installed in Buckingham Palace in 1902.

Fresh air, especially the clean, cold invigorating winter air, was a vital force in maintaining health, according to Dr. Kellogg. 

Sleeping in the fresh air was of particular importance.  He developed several ingenious devices to bring the fresh air into the bedroom.  Some of the bedrooms in the San were equipped with sleeping hoods.  The patient placed his head inside the spacious hood, which was connected to the open window by a flexible duct.  Thus, the fresh healthy air was conveyed directly to the sleeper, without cooling the rest of the room.

The general public may not have been ready to adopt sleeping hoods.  But people did recognize the value of fresh air, especially when sleeping.  The answer was the sleeping porch, which became a practical and attractive way to bring fresh air into the home.  This "architectural innovation" became increasingly popular in the first decades of the twentieth century.

Usually built on the side or rear of the second floor, the sleeping porch had windows on three sides.  During the summer, awnings, heavy curtains or adjustable wooden shutters screened the room from direct sunlight.  Wide eaves built over the porch also provided protection against inclement weather. 

Writing in the local newspaper in 1914, an architect remarked that "the majority of people who sleep on porches in the summer are so delighted that they continue sleeping outdoors during the winter. ... Mothers begin now by keeping infants on sleeping porches most of the time."

Dr. Kellogg must have been delighted to find that his theories about the importance of fresh air were now adopted by the public at large.  By 1920 it became conventional wisdom that "the sleeping porch should be used for working, playing and eating during half the year and for sleeping through the entire year."