Jul 19, 2011 • By

Founder of General Mills

Back in the 1850s, when Cadwallader C. Washburn first gazed upon the rushing waters of the St. Anthony Falls along the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, he gasped, envisioning the 16-foot waterfall as a great source of power that, if harnessed, could drive the wheels of industry in what would become the state of Minnesota.

But it turned out that Washburn, the founder of what would become General Mills, had plenty of other things to do while he got his milling operation up and running.

Washburn had already been a lawyer and a banker. His reputation for hard work and honesty led to his being elected to Congress, where he served three terms. He would also be a Civil War general and the governor of Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin, his giant La Crosse Lumber Company produced more lathes and shingles than anyone else in the Upper Mississippi Valley, while in Minnesota, he undertook building the dam and canal which resulted in the city of Minneapolis.

Washburn had the vision and the energy to survive every crisis in his life – and there were many. He also had the courage and wherewithal to build a network of mills and railroads that would last far beyond his lifetime. The biggest mill was the origin from which General Mills evolved.

Cadwallader Washburn and his brother William D. Washburn were joined by William H. Dunwoody and John Crosby (both from the east coast of the U.S.) in 1877. Dunwoody was a key salesman and would become a full company partner soon after. Crosby might have been drawn to Minneapolis because of its growing reputation and rapidly developing opportunities.

Interestingly, none of the three initial partners were millers. Cadwallader Washburn was a dignified public man, William D. Washburn a lawyer, and Crosby had managed a paper mill and an iron foundry. But together, they launched a milling company that today mills grain into flour, but also sells 100 food brands in 100 markets worldwide.

One final note… I’m sure Cadwallader was a fine name in its day, and it does have legitimate origins in England — the motherland of the Washburn family. However, for our Archives team, it’s a bit of a mouthful. It’s taken me awhile to be able to get it right without sounding like my cheeks are stuffed with marshmallows.

Apparently, it was a bit cumbersome for others as well. Looking at a materials invoice dated Dec. 20, 1880, from an ironworks company named Stout, Mills & Temple, the bill was addressed simply to “C.C. Washburn.”

C.C. was no doubt much easier to wrangle – and to write. It makes me wonder how his friends addressed him.

By clicking "post" below, I affirm that I have read and agree to General Mills' Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and Community Rules. I specifically agree that all information, suggestions, ideas, or other materials I provide are freely usable and transferable, including with attribution, by General Mills and all of its affiliates without compensation upon submission.

  • Robert Patterson

    Dear Suzy,

    I found your story to be very interesting and informative. I never knew the history behind the name until now.

  • Ken Ring, archivist/historian, (612) 729-4596

    Dear Suzy,

    Just a little tidbit for General Mills.
    C.C. Washburn’s son John’s home was sold to the Alano Society of Minneapolis, Inc. in 1942, and continues to be the oldest operating meeting place at the same location for members of Alcoholics Anonymous in the world. It is owned and operated by members of the Alano and hosts thirty-plus meetings a week and holds workshops for people struggling with alcoholism, along with social activities to fill the void of relying on drinking. The original purchase was made with little down and less than the market value of the mansion at 2218 First Avenue South in Minneapolis. For which tens of thousands of recovered alcoholics are and will be eternally grateful.

  • Fuzykidns

    dear suzy
    I am the great great great grandson of john crosby III and i am writing a story about him for school and your facts are correct about him
    this article is very helpful

  • Kevin

    my Great-Great-Great Grandfather’s name was John Crosby. he was born around the same time and died about the same time, however he lived in Nova Scotia. There is no record of him coming to America, so I doubt he is the same person.