Forests, Fields, and the Falls: Flour Milling

Lumbering Sawmilling Farming Current page Flourmilling Map of Minnesota with the flourmilling area indicated by a star on the Minneapolis St Paul area. Glossary About this project Primary Sources Activity Ideas Tips
Minneapolis, 1886
E.V. writes in his notebook while looking out his hotel window at the milling district of Minneapolis.
In this age of shams, adulterations, and frauds, it is a pleasure to become acquainted with a city that owes its growth and prosperity to the manufacture of a good, honest article.
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During a recent visit there, I learned that such a city is Minneapolis, in the state of Minnesota.
The view shifts to the Mississippi River and Saint Anthony Falls, looking out at the westside mills that line the banks.
Its remarkable development in recent years is due partly to its saw-mills but chiefly to its flour-mills.

shams (noun): Something fake, not real.

adulterations (noun): Something fake that is being presented as pure, but has actually had something else added to it.

frauds (noun): Someone using a false identity.

article (noun): An object.

chiefly (adverb): Mainly, or almost entirely.

The view has jumped back in time to a past image of a rickety mill on the falls.
When the first mill was built at the Falls of St. Anthony, Minnesota flour was ranked as the poorest of any made in the West.
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Farmers in Minnesota were at a serious disadvantage in comparison with those of the winter wheat belt to the south. Settlers poured into Kansas but could not be coaxed into the rich lands of Minnesota and Dakota.
Now E.V. is drawing diagrams in his notebook. We see a map of the midwest indicating the winter wheat zone to the south of Minnesota.
Another diagram shows a machine being sketched.
All this was changed by the middlings purifier and the new process of gradual reduction milling.
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coaxed (verb): Persuaded.

E.V. imagines the giant explosion of the mill.
The purifier separates out the husk from the small, dark, hard berry of the region's spring wheat and leaves the highest quality flour.
But it creates a large amount of dust, a nuisance that in 1878 produced a terrible calamity. The flour-dust that filled the air of the big Washburn mill exploded with a destructive force as tremendous as that of dynamite.
In an instant the towering structure of solid stone was changed to a heap of ruin. Eighteen men were killed, half of the milling industry of Minneapolis was obliterated.
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nuisance (noun): A minor annoyance or bother.

calamity (noun): An event resulting in great loss.

heap (noun): A pile.

obliterated (verb): Wiped out, or destroyed completely.

Mr. Washburn stands at a conference table explaining his plan to rebuild. Behind him: a drawing of a dust collector.
C. C. Washburn and others applied science and invention to cure the process and rebuilt the mills bigger, safer, and better. There have been no more mill explosions at Minneapolis and the region's spring wheat has become the most valuable of any for the making of flour.
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A bird's eye view of Minneapolis from the waterfront, through downtown, and into the neighborhoods.
The new process—combining dust collectors, middlings-purifiers, and gradual reduction by iron rollers—has built up the beautiful city of Minneapolis.
And changed the conditions of farming in the North-west as the great natural product of the region came into brisk demand.
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brisk (adjective): Lively, full of activity.

Population poured into Minnesota and Dakota, railroads were built, towns sprang up as if by magic, and the bare plains were turned into wheat fields.
In his notebook, E.V. has sketched a map showing the expansion of railroads and the growth of towns.
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Some one has estimated that the wheat demanded for the daily consumption of the mills requires for its transportation 266 cars, or a solid train of a mile and three-quarters in length.
Train hauling flour from Minneapolis to the world. From outside his hotel, we see E.V. through the window. He stands up, puts on his hat, and then appears at the exit, leaving the building
E.V. walks among massive flour mills, towards the door of one in particular.
Twenty-six great flouring-mills stand in single and double rows on both sides of the river below the falls.
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At the door he meets a man and they shake hands.
Let us follow the wheat on its journeys through the mill.
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A great flour-mill is a wonderful aggregation of delicate and ingenious mechanical processes, from the water power at the turbines to the purifiers and the grinders.
Three small panels show a turbine spinning with the force of the water, a long row of middlings purifiers, and a pair of steel rollers.

delicate (adjective): Easily damaged or requiring careful handling.

The manner in which the wheat middlings, and flour circulate through the eight or nine stories, from side to side, from floor to floor, from machine to machine, nowhere needing the help of human hands, makes it seem like one vast living organism.
A cutaway section of a mill showing how the wheat goes up and down through the building as it is sorted, cleaned, and ground into flour.
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The whole great building hums and pulsates with a dull, buzzing noise of machinery, but no workman touches the product save in the way of supervision.
We see one view showing long rows of machines, with pipes carrying the flour and belts running the machines. In the midst, a single person can be seen.

pulsates (verb): Vibrates or beats rhythmically.

save (conjunction): Except for.

The wide apartments of the mill, crowded with machines arranged in regular lines, seem deserted as the visitor roams through them. Perhaps in a distant corner a man may be perceived with a hundred roller mills in his charge, all briskly grinding away from morning to night.
Another view showing long rows of machines. More info
Minneapolis ground twenty-four millions of bushels of wheat last year and expects to grind thirty million this year.
We move into the packing room. Now there are many people loading finished flour into barrels. More info
This grain came by rail from all over Minnesota as well as from Dakota, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. Indeed, there seems to be nothing to prevent the further growth of the industry.
The barrels are loaded onto train cars to be shipped out.
For favorable conditions for grinding wheat no place in the world can compare with Minneapolis. It is on the highways of rail transportation which lead from the grain fields of the North-west to the great cities and sea-ports of the East.
E.V. has left the building and walks along the train tracks.
He passes a poster for the Washburn Mill Company and looks at it. It says "from the fields of Dakota to the markets of the world" and shows fields, factories, railroads, and ships at port being loaded with barrels.
Nature turns its hundreds of wheels with an unfailing water-power.
The climate is healthful and invigorating, and it possesses an enterprising, intelligent, inventive population.
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enterprising (adjective): Being smart about business deals.

E.V. looks through a shop window at a hard-working baker and the many loaves of bread lined on shelves.
As a result, the word Minneapolis on the head of a flour-barrel has become a guaranty of the excellence of its contents.

contents (noun): The flour which is contained within it.

The end.