Mills of Minneapolis

The mills of Minneapolis had a humble beginning, but they soon emerged as a world-renowned flour powerhouse. On their path to fame, the mills struggled to tame St. Anthony Falls and to mill and market the coarser varieties of spring wheat that grew in Minnesota. The mills and St. Anthony Falls formed a close-knit connection; the mills would not have without the falls, and the falls would not have been reinforced without the mills.

Because the state’s harsh winter climate eliminated soft winter wheat it as an option for Minnesota wheat farmers, they grew spring wheat which they could plant in the spring and harvest in the fall. Yet hard spring wheat created challenges for the mills. Because it had a brittle husk, the wheat produced a darker and coarser flour than the more popular winter wheat. It was also difficult to mix evenly, resulting in flour that soured more quickly than the flour produced from softer winter wheat varieties. To solve these problems Minneapolis millers applied and adapted two innovations. The first, called a “middlings purifier,” blasted air through the flour, removing the undesirable bran and husks from the valuable flour, making the final product less coarse and lighter-colored. The second, a process called “gradual-reduction,” replaced the traditional millstones made of stone with roller mills made of porcelain or iron. These new rollers successfully mixed the gluten and the starch, which gave the flour a longer shelf life. With the unique challenges of milling hard spring wheat solved, sales skyrocketed - along with the reputation of Minneapolis millers.

In 1870, there were thirteen flour mills by St. Anthony Falls, versus a total of five hundred other mills throughout the state. That year, the Minneapolis mills produced 200,000 barrels of flour. As wheat production shifted from southeastern Minnesota to the northwestern part of the state, the Minneapolis mills became more central to the wheat economy. With its direct connection to the Mississippi River and its proximity to the Great Lakes, Minneapolis became a hub for flour. By 1884, Minneapolis was the world’s leading flour miller. In 1890, the Minneapolis mills produced a record seven million barrels of wheat. Even though less than four percent of the country’s mills were in Minnesota, these mills produced nearly a fourth of the nation’s flour. It was the golden age of flour milling in Minneapolis, fueled by the falls and by innovations in the mills.

Images

Washburn Flour Mills Complex

Washburn Flour Mills Complex

The flour mills relied on the power provided by St. Anthony Falls to grind their wheat. This print from 1893 shows the Stone Arch Bridge and the Washburn Flour Mills Complex, built immediately adjacent to the river. | Source: Northwestern Miller, December 15, 1893, volume 36, page 879 View File Details Page

Gold Medal Flour samples

Gold Medal Flour samples

Different colored samples of “Gold Medal” flour in tubes, provided by the Washburn-Crosby Company. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society | Creator: Washburn-Crosby Company View File Details Page

Grinding Wheat

Grinding Wheat

The Minneapolis Flour mills adopted innovative milling technology and techniques such as the "middlings purifier" and a process called "gradual reduction". The middlings purifier used a blast of air to remove coarse bran and husks from the grain. Gradual reduction was a milling technique using iron or porcelain rollers, rather than millstones, mixing the gluten and starch better and resulting in a longer shelf life. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society | Creator: Keystone View Company B.L. Singley Publishers View File Details Page

Pillsbury Trade Card

Pillsbury Trade Card

With the new innovations to grind their hard spring wheat, particularly the "middlings purifier" and the "gradual reduction" process, companies such as Pillsbury focused on advertising their flour. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society | Creator: Pillsbury Flour Mills Company View File Details Page

Washburn-Crosby Company Trade Card

Washburn-Crosby Company Trade Card

The middlings purifier separated the flour from the bran, creating new options for marketing the bran by itself. This trade card shows the Washburn-Crosby Company advertising its bran feed. | Source: Minnesota Historical Society | Creator: Washburn-Crosby Company View File Details Page

Flour bags at Pillsbury's mill

Flour bags at Pillsbury's mill

In 1884, the Minneapolis flour mills were the leading producers of flour in the world. This photograph of flour bags at the Pillsbury Flour Mills Company was taken in 1919, despite the dwindling production of flour in Minneapolis in the early 1900s. | Source: Richard Ferrell Flour Milling Industry History Collection. | Creator: Hibbard Studio View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Takuya Amagai, Sahree Kasper, and the Minnesota Environments Team, “Mills of Minneapolis,” Minnesota Environments, accessed December 13, 2017, https://mnenvironments.carleton.edu/items/show/18.

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