Washburn’s Legacy in Hennepin County

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Image from HHM Collections

This tin is filled with recipes that call for Gold Medal Flour. Today, Gold Medal is the most popular brand in the market and is produced by General Mills. That company traces its roots to the Washburn-Crosby Company which was formed in 1877 and whose logo can be seen on this tin. However, even before that company existed, Cadwallader C. Washburn built a flour mill on Mississippi River next to St. Anthony Falls which established his legacy in this county. 

Hennepin County residents are familiar with the name Washburn. It is the name of a high school, appears on street signs, and even accounts for the first call letter of the local WCCO radio and television stations (named after Washburn Crosby Co.’s initials). The story of the man behind the name, is less well known. For instance, most people may not realize that Washburn never even lived in the Twin Cities. Yet given the role he played in developing Minneapolis into the flour milling capital of the world, Washburn deserves to be recognized as one of the great innovators of Hennepin County.  

Arguably one of the most enterprising individuals in milling boom of the late nineteenth century, Washburn made many decisions that would lead to the lasting success of his company and ensured that his name would become a legacy. After serving as a U.S. Congressman and Governor in our neighboring state of Wisconsin, and even serving in the Civil War and rising the rank of major general, Washburn set his sights on milling in Minneapolis. One of the first to recognize the potential for the industry, Washburn built his first mill in 1866. This mill innovated the way flour was produced by utilizing a new middlings purifier. This allowed them to produce a flour made from a type of wheat that had better baking properties than the wheat used by competitors. In fact, Washburn’s flour was so superior, it even won awards, hence the name Gold Medal. 

In 1874, Washburn built his second mill, called the Washburn A Mill. At the time it was the largest flour mill in the world. Unfortunately, that mill was the sight of a devastating explosion in 1878 that killed eighteen employees. When he heard of it, Washburn immediately left his home in Wisconsin for Minneapolis. When he arrived, he established a fund for the families of the men that died. He also announced plans to rebuild the mill and gave construction jobs to the employees who lost their job due to the destruction of the mill. Washburn also wanted to make sure that nothing like that ever happened again at one of his mills. When constructing the new A Mill, he worked with engineers and installed a safety exhaust system. This system greatly reduced the possibility of explosion and was the first of its kind to be permanently installed in a mill.  

Washburn was permanently affected by the loss of lives at his mill, as well as the lives affected by those deaths. When he passed away in 1882, he bequeathed money to fund the construction of an orphanage in Minneapolis called the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum. The orphanage would close in 1924 and the institution evolved to serve the same mission. Today it is known as the Washburn Center for Children and it serves the community by providing mental health care for children, another part of the legacy left in Hennepin County by Washburn. 

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Huesing, Sarah. General Mills: 75 Years of Innovation, Invention, Food & Fun. Edited by Tom Forsythe and Anne Brownfield. Brown. Minneapolis: General Mills, 2003. 

Meier, Peg. “They Built This City,” Star Tribune, September 7, 2003. Star Tribune Archive. 

Nathanson, Iric. “Washburn A Mill Explosion, 1878.” MNopoedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/event/washburn-mill-explosion-1878 

Washburn Center. “A History of Strengthening Children.” Washburn.org. https://washburn.org/about-us/history/ 

 

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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No Place Like Old Home

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Image from HHM Collections

This small wood crate in the collection at Hennepin History Museum once held two pounds of American cheese made by Old Home Creameries Inc. of Minneapolis. This local company consistently made high quality cheese, even winning awards at the National Dairy Show. However, they were better known for a different dairy product: cottage cheese. Old Home Creameries was the first to sell commercially produced cottage cheese in Minnesota, and it quickly became their best-selling product. The dairy was founded by F.A. Davies in 1925 with a single truck based out of a building in Northeast Minneapolis. By 1934, due to the popularity of his cottage cheese, the company had grown to include fourteen trucks and over thirty employees. At that point, Old Home Creameries was producing 50,000 pounds of cottage cheese every day and distributing it all over Minnesota and to several surrounding states. The company had continuing success for decades. In 1960, another Minnesota dairy company purchased Old Home Creameries. The combined companies took on the name Old Home Food, Inc. That company is still in operation today producing a variety of food products, including cottage cheese.

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede

Sources

“Cottage Cheese Concern Makes Rapid Increase,” Minneapolis Star, August 25, 1934. Star Tribune Archive.

“Cottage Cheese Exhibit Attracts,” Minneapolis Star, September, 1927. Star Tribune Archive.

http://www.oldhomefoods.com/about/

http://startribune.newspapers.com/image/178922489

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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Ninety-Four Years in Hennepin County: The Nash Finch Company

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Image from HHM Collections

The Nash Finch Company was once the second largest food distributor in the United States. The company’s headquarters was in Hennepin County for nearly a century. There are many Nash Finch products in HHM’s collection, including the spice tin seen above from around 1930, and the coffee tin seen below from around 1960. The company achieved great success due to innovative business strategies. Though the list of milestones is far too long to cover in its entirety, this is a brief account of the history of Nash Finch. 

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Image from HHM Collections

The company traces its roots to Devils Lake, North Dakota when Fred Nash opened a candy store. Soon after Fred opened a second store with his brothers Edgar and Willis. In the late 1880’s the three brothers started their own food distribution business, the first in the state. Harry Finch came into the picture in 1899 as a stock boy who would later rise through the ranks of the company. 

In 1919, the Nash brothers and Finch moved to Minneapolis. Three years later they incorporated the Nash Finch Company, combing the sixty companies they had already acquired by that time. At this point they started selling products under their own brand. The company grew rapidly because the founders utilized creative business strategies. For instance, stock was offered to all employees. This not only raised the money required to expand, but it also ensured that the employees who owned stock would be hard working and loyal. 

Nash Finch was headquartered in Hennepin County from 1919 to 2013. At that point they were acquired by the Michigan company Spartan Stores, which then became SpartanNash. While many products that Nash Finch manufactured and produced are too long to list, HHM preserves many of them in our collection, ensuring that their history will remain here. 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Gjovig, Bruce. Boxcar of Peaches: The Nash Bros. & Nash Finch Company. Grand Forks, N.D.: Center for Innovation and Business Development, 1990. 

Hughlett, Mike. “SpartanNash’s Edina Presence to be Robust,” Star Tribune, April 23, 2014. Star Tribune Archive. 

 

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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Older Than Minnesota: Gluek Brewing

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Image from HHM Collections

The collection at Hennepin History Museum has several bottles once used by the Gluek Brewing Company. Gluek Brewing was one of the first manufacturing companies in the region. In fact, it was established before the State of Minnesota even existed. In 1857, German immigrant Gottlieb Gluek founded his company utilizing brewing techniques from his native country. This was ten years before Minneapolis was incorporated as a city and one year before Minnesota became the thirty-second state.

Gottlieb immigrated to this area in 1855. Two years later he established his brewery in Northeast Minneapolis on the Mississippi River. Gottlieb brewed his beer using the highest quality barley, and he imported special hops from Czechoslovakia. He also passed on his skills a master brewer to his sons and grandsons. Among other accomplishments, the brewery was the first to patent their malt liquor in the United States. Additionally, during World War II Gluek Brewing was one of only three breweries to supply beer to the U.S. Army.

Gluek Brewing Company eventually closed its doors in 1964, with the rights to Gluek’s beer sold to a competitor. At the time it had been Minneapolis’ oldest continuous business operation. Although the brewery is long gone, the Gluek name is still associated with beer in Minneapolis. Gluek’s Restaurant and Bar can be still be found in downtown. It was originally founded in 1902 and then was forced to closed due to prohibition. After at the stroke of midnight on the day prohibition was repealed in 1933, Gluek’s opened their doors again to thirsty Minneapolitans. Today Gluek’s holds the honor of being the oldest restaurant in Minneapolis.

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede

Sources:

Hastings, Tom. “Gluek Brewing Company Celebrates 75th Anniversary,” The Minneapolis Star, November 15, 1932. Star Tribune Archive.

Rayno, Amelia. “A 160-year-old Minnesota Beer is Coming Back to Life on Friday,” Star Tribune, May 25, 2017. Star Tribune Archive.

“Three Generations of Brewers in Gluek Family,” The Minneapolis Tribune, July 20, 1936. Star Tribune Archive.

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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A Long Tradition of Medical Innovation: The Artificial Limb Industry in Hennepin County

 

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Image from HHM Collections

Minnesota’s booming medical device industry can trace its roots to artificial limbs. Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Twin Cities became a hub of prosthetics companies. The industry in Hennepin County initially sprang up to accommodate local patrons but eventually became the leading artificial limb manufacturer in the United States.  

The need for prosthesis manufacturing companies in Minneapolis arose as it grew into the flour milling capital of the world. Injuries caused by machinery, falling debris, and even the occasional fire, often resulted in limb amputation of flour mill employees. The rising number of amputations necessitated an industry where prostheses could be designed, manufactured, and improved. Northwestern Artificial Limb Company was founded in 1860, making it one of the first prosthetics firms in Minneapolis. Northwestern manufactured the limb seen above, which is held in the collection at Hennepin History Museum. 

It was not long before several other companies sprang up and created an entire industry. With the field of prosthetics wellestablished in Minneapolis, it is not surprising that when the nation began to see an increase in traumatic injuries, it turned to the Twin Cities. The years after the Civil War saw a large demand for artificial limbs from veterans. Then the expansion of the rail system and railroad workers’ injuries created the next major demand for prostheses. This was followed by World War I, which yet again sent soldiers home missing limbs. When automobiles and the inevitable rise in automobile accidents created another increase in severe injuries, Minneapolis was already a leader in the field and was producing artificial limbs for the whole country.  

Hennepin County remains one of the largest producers of artificial limbs in the United States. Some of the original companies still exist today. The Winkley Artificial Limb Company (pictured below) was incorporated in 1889, and five generations later the company is still family owned and operated as Winkley Orthotics and Prosthetics. Boasting a long history that spans nearly 160 years, the local prosthetics industry continues to innovate the field to this day.  

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Image from HHM Archives

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Sources: 

“Around the City,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 15, 1889. Star Tribune Archive.  

“Minneapolis Supplies World with Artificial Limbs,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 29, 1902. Star Tribune Archive. 

Fuller, Jim. “Replacing the Irreplaceable: Twin Cities is a Center for Artificial Arms and Legs,” Star Tribune, April 4, 1991. Star Tribune Archive. 

 

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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Jerry Sears: A Story of Slavery in Minnesota

Usually the first location that comes to mind when thinking about topic of slavery is the southern United States. However, Minnesota, “the Star of the North,” has a long and dark history as part of the nation’s greatest shame. The most infamous case of slavery in the Minnesota Territory came with the landmark Supreme Court case Dred Scott vs. Sandford, in 1857. Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom as they had been brought as slaves to the Minnesota Territory which had been designated as “free” under the Missouri Compromise in 1820. The Scotts’ lost their case on the basis that the Court claimed that Scott was not a “citizen,” as African Americans could not be “citizens” as defined by the Constitution, thus ruling the case itself was invalid. Despite the loss, Dred Scott’s case acted as a catalyst for the recognition of the presence of enslaved people in Minnesota. 

Fort Snelling, where the Scott’s lived for several years, was built and operated by the hands of over a hundred enslaved people between the late 1820s and the early 1850s. Black history at Fort Snelling did not end with the Civil War, rather it continued with the 25th Infantry, which was one of the first segregated military regiments in the country. Despite these landmarks in African-American history in Minnesota some stories remain lesser known. 

In 1858, Richard Junius Mendenhall, a member of a North Carolina planter elite family, relocated his new wife, Abby and himself to Hennepin County on April 25, 1858, just two weeks before Minnesota achieved statehood and entered the Union as a free state. Mendenhall. Mendenhall and his wife Abby were prominent members of the Quaker, Society of Friends, in Minneapolis. Abby pursued her own endeavors helping unmarried women through the Bethany HomeMeanwhile, Mr. Mendenhall began a land agency with associate Cyrus Beede. Just weeks after the Dred Scott decision, Mendenhall began promoting his business to his Southern friends. In these advertisements he listed some of the most prominent North Carolinian slave holders who had purchased land in Minnesota. He used their ownership of human capital, as well as his own family history, as a selling point for his business enterprise.  

As it turns out, Richard and Abby Mendenhall had not arrived in Minnesota alone. With them, Richard had brought a young African American boy, about seven years old, named Jeremiah “Jerry” Sears. Jerry was reportedly the son of Patsey Sears, a freedwoman who had once been enslaved by Mendenhall’s uncleIn Mendenhall’s own journal he refers briefly to Jerry and his arrival in Minnesota, describing Jerry as “a child or boy, Jerry Mendenhall, who formerly belonged to Elisha Mendenhall.” As Jerry had been born before his mother’s emancipation he remained enslaved and acted as a de facto slave once in the “free” state of Minnesota. 

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Jeremiah Sears. Image from HHM Archives

 Jerry was documented as living in with the Mendenhall family in the 1860 United States Census. He is listed simply as “Jerry” and is given no surname. This innately dehumanizes him and restricts his identity. One must also take into account that he had been forcibly removed from his mother and taken half-way across the country against his will. Also, at the age of ten, he was not enrolled in school further highlighting his continued treatment as a slave under Mendenhall’s authority. Upon his arrival, Jerry was photographed, and an article was run in the local newspaper calling him the “first negro in Minnesota.” This claim is clearly undermined by the multiple well-documented cases of people of African descent in the area, including a landmark Supreme Court case which had occurred only a year earlier. Regardless, Mendenhall utilized his connections to wealthy southern slaveholders and his own position as a de facto slaveholder to promote his business and personal reputation. Following the conclusion of the Civil War, Mendenhall continued to profit from his business endeavors and was rewarded for his position as an esteemed member of the community by being appointed president of the first state bank.  

Jerry Sears, on the other hand, disappears from the records after the Civil War. We may never know his fate. It is possible that he took advantage of growing opportunities in the post-war era and set off to start his own life changed his name. Alternatively, he may have succumbed to illness at a young age, as mortality rates for children at the time were exceptionally high compared to today. Despite the uncertainty about Jerry’s life, his story stands as a testament to Minnesota’s long and complicated relationship with slavery. A history which we continue to reckon with today. 

 

Author: Ashley Fischer is the Undertold Stories Intern at Hennepin History Museum. She recently earned a bachelor’s degree in English and History from the University of Minnesota, with a focus on literary criticism and 19th century American history. 

Sources: 

Lehman, Christopher P. “Slaveholder Investment in Territorial Minnesota.” Minnesota History, 2017, 264-74. Accessed May 9, 2019. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/65/v65i07p264-274.pdf. 

Prather, Shannon. “Fort Snelling Story Widens with Stories of Slavery.” Star Tribune. August 1, 2018. Accessed May 9, 2019. http://www.startribune.com/fort-snelling-story-widens-with-slave-dwelling-project-african-american-cooking-events/489791301/. 

Midwest Business Turned Global Conglomerate: The Local Roots of Cargill

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Image from HHM Collections

This simple Cargill feed sack in the collection at Hennepin History Museum represents the success story of a local business. Today, Cargill is the largest privately held corporation in the United States, but the conglomerate traces its roots to the Midwest. The Minnetonka-based corporation still buys, sells, and distributes grain just as they did in the beginning. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, Cargill became heavily diversified and expanded into the global market. Given Cargill’s long history, which now spans over 150 years, it is important to remember the company’s origins. 

In 1865, William W. Cargill founded his company when he purchased a grain warehouse in Iowa. In 1870, after Cargill’s brothers had joined the business, he moved his headquarters to Albert Lea, Minnesota. Just five years later, Cargill moved again to La Crosse, Wisconsin. By 1885, Cargill operated over 100 grain elevators around the Midwest. In 1890, Cargill Elevator Company was incorporated in Minneapolis, and by 1912 all of Cargill’s enterprises would be consolidated under that name. 

The Cargill family was one of the earliest to recognize the potential for a wheat economy in the region. They also saw the importance of international export very early on. In 1878, they exported 80,000 bushels of wheat to England. This transaction was considered the first significant export of grain from Minnesota. 

Today, Cargill operates in over seventy countries worldwide. Their portfolio has expanded to include a wide array of products and services, although their focus remains in agricultural commodities. Despite continuous growth and transformation, Cargill it is still a family business. For 115 of their 150-year history, a Cargill descendant has been in charge, and today the family owns 90% of the business. The company remains proud of its modest beginnings in the Midwest which created the foundation for immense success.  

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Sources: 

Brown, Curt. “Digging Up Food Giant’s Humble Roots,” Star Tribune, February 22, 2015. Star Tribune Archive. 

Larson, Don. Land of the Giants: A History of Minnesota Business. Minneapolis: Dorn Books, 1979. 

Work, John L. Cargill Beginnings…an Account of Early Years. Minneapolis: Cargill, Inc., 1965. 

 

This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.

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