The History of Minneapolis

April 3, 2023

When you think of Minneapolis, what is the first thought that comes to mind? For me, it would be that it is, well, very large. A place full of giant buildings, densely populated by all kinds of people. But back in its early founding, Minneapolis was known for much besides its immense stature. Mainly various kinds of commerce, reputable education, and even a shocking industrial tragedy. 

Founded in 1867, Minneapolis soon became a center of commerce for the United States. Minneapolis quickly became a key player in the Midwestern lumber industry and was incredibly proficient in its grain production. Which led to the creation of many mills for the two. But did you know that flour is flammable? In fact, it is completely combustible– even more than gunpowder! Because of this, one of the flour mills ended up exploding entirely! Can you imagine that? These mills produced over 1.2 million barrels of flour a year and in 1878 one large batch went kablooey! It all happened back in the late 1870s, when a great flour rivalry between the Washburn Crosby Company (the one that exploded) and the Pillsbury company was public and ambitious. Though it is unclear how the fire started, I like to think that a devout follower and lover of the Pillsbury flour snuck in and lit a match. Of course this is highly unlikely, but I find it fun to think about; especially considering this was one of the best known rivalries in Minneapolis! Who would have thought this incredible city once defined itself by a fight between flour companies and the debate over  who can produce more flour product?

However, the Washburn Crosby mill –not only exploded once, either. It blew up again over one hundred years later, in 1990. In fact, Minneapolis residents and visitors can visit it now in the exact state it was in after the 1990 explosion. After the explosion, the mill was repurposed into a museum so that the average citizen could enjoy the aftermath of such a disaster. 

But fast forward to the modern day, what is Minneapolis known for now? Of course, one could not deny the stark presence of the University of Minnesota. This college campus has a total of 50,000 students, and that doesn’t even consider the 20,000+ members of staff and faculty working on-site. Perhaps that adds to the idea of Minneapolis being a gargantuan fiend of a city (which would not be entirely inaccurate). But did you know that The University of Minnesota was formed and opened officially before the city had even been officially named “Minneapolis”? I have a feeling that that did not cross your mind. The doors opened in 1851, a full seven years before the city gained its name. The University of Minnesota is the closest that many of us, as inhabitants of the United States, will get to call a building “ancient” due to our nation’s youth. 

Modern Minneapolis is quite diverse in its commercial nature now, being more than just a place where grain and logs appear from. We are known for our transportation, commerce, health care, distribution, and industrial work, and we have rapidly progressed past a simple war of mills; there is so much more to come.

Grain production, lumber, and a flour mill explosion!