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Northwestern Consolidated Milling Company facts for kids

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Flour mills-railroad cars-Minneapolis-1939
Railways at Northwestern, left, and General Mills, center right
Loading in a boxcar, 1939

Northwestern Consolidated Milling Company was an American flour milling company that operated about one quarter of the mills in Minneapolis when the city was the flour milling capital of the world. Formed as a business entity, Northwestern produced flour for the half century between 1891 and 1953, when its A Mill was converted to storage and light manufacturing. At its founding, Northwestern was the city's and the world's second largest flour milling company after Pillsbury, with what is today General Mills a close third. The company was touched by an attempt at U.S. monopoly and became part of a Minneapolis oligopoly that valued in 1905 owned almost 9% of the country's flour and grist products.


Consolidation of Minneapolis Flour Mills
Year Companies Market Share
1882 2 51%
16 about 49%
1890 4 87%
1900 3 97%
1891 Capacity in Barrels
Company Mills Daily
Pillsbury-Washburn 5 14,500
Northwestern Consol. 6 10,500
Washburn-Crosby 3 9,500
Minneapolis Flour Mfg. Co. 4 3,500
Northwestern Consolidated Elevator A
"The Million Bushel Elevator," Elevator A built in 1908

Technological advances in flour milling were already in place by the 1880s, when 18 different millers operated in Minneapolis. From that point on and for the next 50 years, mergers and changes in business administration were the primary developments in the industry.

Northwestern and their new Ceresota flour brand name were established in July 1891 by a group of businessmen led by former lumberman John Martin at six independent existing mills—the Crown Roller (2,500 barrels/day), Columbia (2,000), Northwestern (1,600), Pettit (1,600, to be an elevator), Galaxy (1,500) and Zenith (1,100). Martin became president, Joel B. Bassett was vice president, C. T. Fox was secretary and treasurer, and Fred C. Pillsbury, E. Zeidler and Albert C. Loring were the managers. The company grew to nine mills and several elevator and storage facilities. Loring's father Charles M. Loring was one of the directors.

Northwestern's first decade was marked by financial instability because its founders paid too much for its properties and suffered from lack of capital. A reorganization followed in 1895 that somewhat alleviated the company's problems. In 1889-1990 the United States Milling Company formed at the Hecker-Jones-Jewell mills in New York City with the goal of becoming a flour monopoly by owning nearly all of the country's spring wheat mills. Northwestern, though, was the only company they acquired. Financially troubled, U.S. Milling in 1900 reorganized and became the Standard Milling Company with Northwestern as a subsidiary.

By combining six mills, Northwestern's capacity was the second largest in the world at the time of its founding, after the giant Pillsbury-Washburn, and slightly more than Washburn, Crosby. By 1900, these three companies were an oligopoly holding 97% of the Minneapolis market. In 1928 Washburn, Crosby became General Mills in a merger of U.S. millers and surpassed Pillsbury to become the world's largest flour milling company. In recent years General Mills acquired Pillsbury.

In January 1909, Northwestern opened its state of the art Elevator A, possibly the largest grain elevator ever built of brick. The elevator could hold 1,000,000 bushels of grain and its conveyors could each move 10,000 bushels per hour to the Crown Roller and Standard mills. Along with Elevator B known as the Pettit Mill of which only the foundation remains, Elevator A is a contributing property of the Saint Anthony Falls History District listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.


Ceresota-Northwestern-Elevator A-crop
Sign for Ceresota brand flour

After the center of U.S. flour milling moved to the east coast, the company's A and F Mills closed during the 1940s and 1950s. Of the 34 Minneapolis flour mills, only four are still standing on the Mississippi's west bank. Of the four, the Crown Roller Mill and the Standard Mill were Northwestern mills (the A and F mills). Of concern to preservationists, Omni Investment had plans to build a condominium development on top of the remains of the Northwestern B mill and adjacent archaeological sites but the plan is stopped and is now in the court system. Elevator A, now known as the Ceresota Building, and the Crown Roller Mill are in use today as office buildings. The Standard Mill became the Whitney Hotel but is closed. Ceresota is now a brand name of The Uhlmann Company and American Home Foods.

Ceresota brand

Northwestern Consolidated Milling Co. (Manufacturers) (3092784621)
Advertising image of Ceres Ota

The company named Ceresota Flour for an invented son of the Greek goddess Ceres, Ceres Ota. The advertising story described a young boy exploring earth in a costume of gifts from different countries. An Egyptian king provided his trousers; from Italy, he got his blue blanket; the Amazon contributed his bench, boots, suspenders, and shirt; Japan gave him a gold shield; and a miller gifted him with the brown sombrero. Each Ceresota Flour sack displayed a picture of Ceres Ota slicing a giant loaf of bread.


Northwestern Consol. Mills
Mill Owners Architect/Construction Extant Northwestern Remains Image
Crown Roller Mill Charles Morgan Hardenbergh, John A. Christian, Llewellyn Christian, Charles Everett French William F. Gunn 1879- A Mill office building Crown Roller Mill today in winter
Columbia Mill Columbia Mill Company 1882-1941 B Mill aka Ceresota Mill under Fuji-Ya, visible from Mississippi
Galaxy Mill W.P. Ankeny, W. F. Cahill, Loren Fletcher, Charles M. Loring, Albert C. Loring 1874-1931 C Mill foundation visible, Mill Ruins Park artist's rendition of the explosion on top of an old photo with the location of the Galaxy Mill marked
Northwestern Mill Siddle, Loren Fletcher and Holmes, John Martin 1879-1931 D Mill foundation visible, Mill Ruins Park image
Zenith Mill Leonard Day and M.B. Rollins 1871-1931 E Mill foundation visible, Mill Ruins Park image
Standard Mill Ebenezer White and Dorilus Morrison, Whitney Hotel Otis Arkwright Pray and William Dixon Gray 1879- F Mill standing old photo before mill became a hotel
Arctic/St. Anthony Mill Perkins, Crocker, and Co., Hineline, Plenk and Wheeler 1866-1919 H Mill foundation visible city block of old mills (Cataract, Holly, Union and Arctic)
Elevator A Northwestern George T. Honstain, Fred W. Cooley 1908- Elevator A office building old photo of the whole elevator
Pettit Mill Pettit, Robinson, and Company 1875-1931 Elevator B visible, Mill Ruins Park image
New City Waterworks City of Minneapolis 1883-ca.1931 storage foundation remains
Union Mill Henry Gibson 1863-ca. 1919/29 storage foundation visible city block of old mills (Cataract, Holly, Union and Arctic)
Minneapolis Boiler Works M.W. Glenn, unknown ca. 1878 - 1985 storage foundation probably destroyed old photo from 1985, Ceresota building visible at right
Phoenix Iron Works D. Douglas and J.M. Schultz, Wilford and Northway ca.1881-1985 storage foundation probably destroyed
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