Everyone takes great pride in their home State, its history and its future, and Minnesotans are no exception. They have gone to great lengths to preserve their history and the impact Minnesota had on the whole world.
A piece of that history can be found at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
Minnesota was a state built on iron ore and sawdust. Minneapolis was a city built on flour. For 50 years Minneapolis produced more flour than anywhere else in the world and its nickname “Mill City” was well earned. The first commercial flour mills were built on the banks of the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls. In 1874 Cadwalleder C. Washburn built the Washburn A Mill, the largest flour mill in the world. By 1876 eighteen flour mills were operating on the west bank of the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls.
In the mid-1850s Washburn invested in the Minneapolis Mill Company which acquired the rights to water power on the west side of St. Anthony Falls. St. Anthony Falls was the only natural waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River. The company built a dam and a canal in addition to water transfer tunnels that were leased to the companies along with the land at the foot of the falls. The investors realized substantial profits from this endeavor and Cadwalleder and his brother William used this money to invest in the Washburn A Mill.
In 1874 Cadwalleder C. Washburn built the Washburn A Mill, the largest flour mill in the world. By 1876 eighteen flour mills were operating on the west bank of the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls.
In May of 1878 a spark met airborne flour dust and resulted in an explosion that leveled the Washburn A Mill, killed 22 workers and destroyed five other mills on the west bank. This explosion resulted in changes — reforms were made preventing the buildup of combustible dust and ventilation systems were installed in mills across the country.
Washburn teamed up with John Crosby to rebuild the mill and the new Washburn A Mill (even larger than the first) opened in 1880. The mill “could grind over 100 boxcars of wheat into almost 2 million pounds of flour per day.” The company name was now the Washburn-Crosby Company.
In 1881 Pillsbury A Mill was opened across the river and took over the title of largest flour mill in the world. There were now 25 mills along the Mississippi River being powered by St. Anthony Falls. The mills are credited with much of Minneapolis’ development.
1880 was also the year that C. C. Washburn attended the Millers International Exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio and was awarded a gold medal for his flour which was selected as the best in the world. Two months later “Gold Medal Flour” became their brand and it continues to be the number one flour brand sold in the United States today.
Cadwallader Colden Washburn died in May of 1882 at age 64. The years after his death passed, milling operations were moved to other cities, technology changed, and companies merged. After World War I flour production declined as milling technology was no longer dependent on water power and other cities became more active in the industry. General Mills reduced its milling operation and put more emphasis on food products such as cereals, cake mixes and of course Bisquick. In 1924 while still the Washburn-Crosby Company bought a failing radio station in an effort to market their food products. We know that station today as WCCO. So if you have ever wondered where that name came from now you know. Washburn-Crosby CO
After its doors closed in 1965 it was abandoned, but it did serve a purpose as it provided some shelter for vagrants. In 1991, a fire nearly destroyed it. If not for the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Historical Society it would certainly have been torn down and the rubble would have been hauled away along with the amazing history of the Washburn A Mill and Mill City. Fortunately it was cleaned up and the charred walls that remained were reinforced with steel beams. The historical society stepped in at that point and announced that they were going to build a museum within the ruins. Construction began in 2001 and the museum opened in 2003.
THE MUSEUM TODAY
Tom Meyer, of Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, designed and built the museum. He succeeded in retaining much of the historic fabric of the Washburn A Mill.
INSIDE THE MUSEUM
I have only included a little of the history and the pictures only reflect about 5 percent of what you will
One of the highlights of the museum is the POWER TOWER. You are settled on bleachers inside a freight elevator and the elevator moves from floor to floor. The doors to the various floors open and you are seeing and hearing what it was to work in the Mill. It is an awesome experience! (No pictures in the elevator)
I have only included a little of the history and the pictures only reflect about 5 percent of what you will see when you visit the Mill City Museum. It is amazing and kids were enjoying it as much as the adults, if not more. We were there about 5 hours, and felt we covered it pretty well.
THERE IS MORE… before you leave for home be sure to visit the Mill Ruins Park. Mill buildings along the river were left to crumble and some of it has been preserved. It is worth the walk over there from the museum to see the remains.