February 7, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
John Pillsbury

Listen to the Podcast http://oscarmeyerpodcast.podbus.com/Pillsbury.mp3

John Sargent Pillsbury was the first of the New England Pillsburys to leave the East. He settled in St. Anthony Falls, Minnesota in 1853 and became a hardware merchant. Shortly after he arrived fire destroyed his entire inventory - $40,000 worth.

Slowly John Pillsbury paid off his creditors. He and his wife had no new clothes for six years. When he finished settling his debts Pillsbury was so well-respected that the new Farmers & Mechanics Bank loaned him $1000 when they had only $8000 in deposits.

Within a few years Pillsbury became prosperous and was offered the presidency of the bank. He diversified his business interests to include land, railroads and timber. Sawmilling was the number one industry in Minnesota in 1865 but Pillsbury believed the new reaper invented by Cyrus McCormick would make flour milling the new big business.

Pillsbury persuaded his nephew Charles Alfred Pillsbury to bring his new bride to join him in milling flour. Their first venture was a broken-down 250-barrel Minneapolis flour mill. The Minneapolis business community regarded it as a very foolish investment. In the heart of "America's Bread Basket", Minnesota was actually importing flour. Minnesota wheat was hard, brittle and produced inferior flour. It cost more to make and sold for less than other flours from the region.

The Dartmouth-educated Charles Pillsbury, however, saw potential in the unpopular grain. He believed he could make superior flour from the gluten-rich kernels. He installed a new purifier that blew the bran out of the wheat kernel and made a $6000 profit in his first year.

Charles took the profits and started a new firm, C.A. Pillsbury & Co., in 1872. By now John Pillsbury had become more involved in community affairs. He pioneered the University of Minnesota, establishing the faculty and even recruiting the first student, an unwilling Easterner. John Pillsbury became a popular governor of Minnesota.

Charles Pillsbury was always quick to adopt new milling technologies that were bursting on the scene and the fine, strong flour he produced, which made more and better bread per barrel than soft winter wheat, soon commanded a premium as the best flour on the world market. He now set out to build the world's largest flour mill in 1880.

Minnesota was in the throes of four years of crop failures, including the Grasshopper Plague of 1877. Grasshoppers flew so thick that Governor Pillsbury called for a day of prayer to end it. A sudden temperature drop the next night froze every grasshopper in the state stiff. Despite the grain shortages Pillsbury began turning out 10,000 barrels of flour a day.

In 1889 Pillsbury's vast milling interests were sold to an English syndicate which also operated The Washburn Mills, England's leading flour producer. Despite the considerable clout of the Pillsbury-Washburn Flour Mills Pillsbury, who headed the organization, opposed the establishment of a monopolistic trust and the attempt ended.

Through the last decade of the 19th century Charles Pillsbury's influence over the company waned. He was still spending two hours a day in the office, however, when he died suddenly of heart disease in 1899.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very useful. I would have never guessed that had happened!