Aug 28, 2012 • By

General Mills and the Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair has been around since 1859 and because General Mills calls Minnesota home, we have played a part in the fair for nearly that long. This week, we’re showcasing come of our past and current connections, on A Taste of General Mills.

We begin by taking a trip back in time at our participation in the “Great Minnesota Get Together.”

1880 – A Washburn Crosby & Co. exhibit at the fair featured the main shaft of the Washburn “A” Mill water wheel, salvaged from the ruins of the deadly flour dust explosion and fire in 1878. Just a few years later, the company changed the name of its finest flour to Gold Medal flour which is still the No. 1 flour brand in America today.

1887 – A medal was awarded for artful displays featuring Pillsbury & Co. flour. According to a story we read about the displays, not all the medals were awarded because some people neglected to put effort into their displays!

1920 – The Pillsbury Company band, uniforms and all, played at the Minnesota State Fair then posed on a miniature replica of the Stone Arch Bridge – a Minneapolis landmark over the Mississippi River. No official word on what the band played, but who knows, they may have covered hits of the day such as “Swanee” by Al Jolson and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” by Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong.

1921 – As reported in the Washburn Crosby Company’s “The Eventually News,” our company Health Department was well represented at the exhibition of the State Industrial Nurses Association at the State Fair. The nurses demonstrated their “health work, first aid and accident prevention activities” in the Public Health building. Photos of the Health Department hard at work were displayed and fairgoers were treated to images of Nurse Margaret Passe giving first aid to a mill employee and Dr. W.L. Smith doing dental work on a patient. Nurse Passe had the distinction of being the oldest industrial nurse (in years of service) in Minneapolis when she went to work for Washburn Crosby. A nurse was on duty at the exhibit throughout the entire fair. Safety first!

1926 – A letter signed by “Betty Crocker” was on display, it was an invitation to attend the Betty Crocker Cooking School at the Minnesota State Fair. The Betty Crocker Cooking School opened in 1925 at the Women’s Building annex and for many years events were attended by capacity crowds. It was a very popular attraction!

1971 – In the 1970s, General Mills offered a personalized weight control program called Counterweight. In 1971, thousands of fair visitors learned about the program in an exhibition called “General Mills takes the Crash out of Dieting.” Staff members offered weigh-ins and calculated visitor’s ideal weights based on a computerized formula. The average male visitor to the booth weighed 178 lbs. and the average female visitor weighed 139 lbs.

2012 – And, Pillsbury has certainly had a significant presence at the fair over the years. Here’s a photo of the winner of this year’s Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust Championship at the Minnesota State Fair – Peaches & Cream Party Pies, from Kathryn Irvin of Maplewood, Minn.

Here’s a photo I took of the party pies, in the refrigerated display at the fair.

So there you are, that’s just a small sample of some of our history at the Minnesota State Fair.

If you get a chance to attend it, don’t forget to eat something on a stick!

We’ll be sharing several stories from the 2012 Minnesota State Fair on the blog, in the next few days.

Editor’s note: The historical photo used above is from the Minnesota State Fair.