The Minnesota

​Territorial Pioneers

Established May 11, 1897 - Incorporated 1924

2013 Scholarship Award Recipient

Previous Recipients

Devyn Lemke

Question: "How did an early Minnesota territorial or statehood pioneer entrepreneur or business person influence your community or county, successfully or unsuccessfully, prior to 1875?"

The Origins of Minnesota’s Pride: Cadwallader C. Washburn

and the Minneapolis Milling Company

Minnesota, the 32nd state of the United States, is a region of distinguished history and formation. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, Minnesota was shaped and sculpted by many factors, including rising entrepreneurs and businessmen in the area. The state has been recognized for its participation in the fur trades with the French, the lumber industry of the north, the construction of railroads, but most of all, for its success in the milling industry. The creation of mills and milling companies during Minnesota’s early history, specifically in the Minneapolis area, provided the state with economic success and distinction. The businessman and politician Cadwallader C. Washburn founded one of these mills, known as the Minneapolis Mill Company, later to become the well-known and highly successful company General Mills. Washburn’s influence in and vision for the flour mill industry lead to great success for not only the company, but the territory in which it was created as well.

Cadwallader Colden Washburn was born in Livermore, Maine in 1818, with ancestry in Mayflower pilgrims and Revolutionary soldiers. He was one of eleven children, and like him, his seven brothers “gained high positions in public life” and were considered to be a “very remarkable family.”[1] In 1842 Cadwallader moved to the Midwest, being employed as a surveyor in Iowa then Illinois. He also studied law, which would later influence his interest in politics. It was during this time that he began to express interest in the lands of Minnesota, specifically the unharnessed water power of the Mississippi’s Saint Anthony Falls. In 1856 Cadwallader Washburn formed the Minneapolis Mill Company, and began revolutionizing the flour mill industry.

Although he had acquired the Minneapolis Mill Company in 1856, Washburn’s attention was directed other ways, such as towards more than three years of service in the Civil War and his position as a Congressman in Wisconsin, for ten years. It was not until 1866 that activity with the mill began to stir. Washburn had been envisioning his plan for the mill for many years, and “in the interim between his retirement from military service and his reelection to Congress, he had an opportunity to begin on the practical realization of his long cherished plans.”[2] With his attention returned to the Minneapolis Mill Company, in 1866 Washburn built what was known as the Washburn B Mill. This new mill was six stories high, and “was not only the largest in Minneapolis but, west of Buffalo, New York, there was nothing to equal it in size or producing capacity.”[3] Onlookers of its construction nicknamed the building “Washburn’s Folly”, and despite his success in all of his previous endeavors, the success of this mill was highly doubted. Washburn was believed to be too far ahead of himself, creating a mill that was too advanced for its times and was doomed to experience failure. However, Washburn only proved to be correct in his vision and expectations, and through the construction of such a large mill was only foreshadowing the eventual success of his company.

Cadwallader Washburn was conscious of that the fact that though he was a great businessman, the subject of his business was quite foreign to him. Washburn did not know much about flour or the milling of it, and needed an ally in this field. After several failed attempts to find a suitable business partner, having ruled out his brothers and children, Cadwallader joined together with George H. Christian, who was an experienced flour operator in Minnesota. Christian possessed qualities of “insight, industry, and imagination” that enabled him to “serve not merely himself but the wheat and flour workers of the entire country.”[4] George Christian proved to be a crucial component in the revolutionizing of the flour mills. His theoretical experimentation and cooperation with engineers lead to new equipment, namely a purifier that prevented bran contamination of flour and made the milling process more efficient. Before the innovations introduced by Christian, the process by which wheat was pulverized and refined led to large amounts of endosperm and bran left in the wheat as a by-product. The ground wheat containing these by-products was often discolored because of the bran, and was of a poorer quality. Working with other engineers, such as Edmond La Croix of France, Christian created a purifier for the wheat grinding process. This purifier was a “small, crudely built arrangement of moving sieves”[5] that held the bran particles in suspension during the process, allowing the uncontaminated refined wheat to pass through without collecting the bran or endosperm. This new machinery used rolls instead of millstones when sifting the grains, and this “substitution of rolls for millstones was the most radical advance ever made in flour milling.”[6] Washburn’s C Mill became the first to use this new technique, making it the leader in the milling revolution. This new machinery, despite Christian’ attempts to hide it, became very popular within the milling world, and Washburn was recognized for it. Because of his support for Christian’s innovations, Washburn saw great returns in his business, not only economically but socially. The Minneapolis Mill Company had become a “kind of laboratory for the entire industry” and “further experiments served to complete the ‘milling revolution’.”[7]

Cadwallader Washburn’s lasting effects on not only the milling industry, but also the state of Minnesota, have not gone unnoticed. Due to his support for Christian’s innovations in making the milling process more efficient, Washburn sparked a revolution in milling techniques. This revolution “wrote finis to the primitive practices that had endured for centuries and opened the modern chapter.”[8] These new milling techniques allowed the milling industry to greatly expand in Minneapolis, eventually making it the milling capitol of the world. Cadwallader Washburn undoubtedly played a large role in providing Minneapolis with this title. The expansion of flour mills in Minnesota led to the creation of railroads, with the growing demand for means of transport for the grains. Over the next few decades, railroad tracks were laid across the state, allowing for the easier transport and trade of flour out of Minneapolis. Even more significant, the company started by Cadwallader Washburn, known as the Minneapolis Mill Company, became General Mills in 1928 when it was merged with twenty-six other mills. General Mills today is an international company, creating thousands of products and even thousands more jobs. Without Washburn’s initial creation of the Minneapolis Mill Company and his contributions towards its growth and the revolution of milling techniques, General Mills would not exist today. Minneapolis remains proud of its history with milling and the many advances that have come from the pioneering of the milling industry, and much of this pride can be credited to Cadwallader C. Washburn.


"Company." General Mills: Beginnings. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.

Edgar, William. The Medal of Gold: A Story of Industrial Achievement. Cambridge: The University Press. 1925. Print.

Gray, James. Business Without Boundary: The Story of General Mills. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota. 1954. Print

"Hennepin County Library - A History of Minneapolis." Hennepin County Library - A History of Minneapolis. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2013.


[1] William Edgar, The Medal of Gold: A Story of Industrial Achievement. (Cambridge: The University Press). 3

[2] William Edgar, The Medal of Gold: A Story of Industrial Achievement. (Cambridge: The University Press). 11

[3] William Edgar, The Medal of Gold: A Story of Industrial Achievement. (Cambridge: The University Press). 11

[4] James Gray, Business Without Boundary: The Story of General Mills. (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis). 16.

[5] James Gray, Business Without Boundary: The Story of General Mills. (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis). 19.

[6] William Edgar, The Medal of Gold: A Story of Industrial Achievement. (Cambridge: The University Press). 101.

[7] James Gray, Business Without Boundary: The Story of General Mills. (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis). 20.

[8] James Gray, Business Without Boundary: The Story of General Mills. (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis. 17.