Company Christmas parties of the past
Decorating the tree, making Chex Mix and cookies, and exchanging gifts are holiday traditions I look forward to year after year. If I worked for Washburn-Crosby Company, though, the annual work bash might have been my favorite Christmas custom.
Washburn-Crosby, which later became General Mills, threw some pretty epic Christmas parties in the early 20th century.
Joseph Scrimshaw, a Minneapolis comedian, writer and actor, even wrote a play about one of the extravagant events. Its title, An “Eventually” Christmas: Holidays at the Mill, stems from Washburn-Crosby Company’s long-time slogan, “You’re going to try Gold Medal Flour eventually … why not now?” It was recently performed at Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
We asked him a few questions about writing An “Eventually” Christmas.
What is the play about?
Scrimshaw: It tells the real life story of a few actual employees of the Washburn A Mill as they prepare for the annual Christmas party – a lavish affair planned by the workers but paid for by the company.
Tell us about the research involved in writing it.
Scrimshaw: When I was researching the play, I was an employee at Mill City Museum. I spent hours going through the museum’s photocopied collections of Washburn-Crosby’s company newsletter, The Eventually News, to find material for the play.
Were you surprised by anything you uncovered?
Scrimshaw: I think one of the fascinating things is the contrast between how different and familiar the past seems. The play takes place in 1920. Right around that time, there were a lot of articles in the newsletter from both the management and employees trying to get used to the idea of being paid with checks as opposed to cash. From our modern perspective, it’s very odd and almost funny. But at the same time, it reads exactly like any modern debate would if the entire way a company paid its employees suddenly changed.
What did you enjoy most about working on An “Eventually” Christmas?
Scrimshaw: I’m a comedy writer and performer. I believe that we can find truth in humor, so I really enjoyed finding respectful ways to have a sense of humor about the things that were different back then and the things about human nature that never changed. For example, one of the events at the party was a company sponsored pillow fight. The idea that a modern company would hold a pillow fight amuses me to no end, and yet there is something honest about the nature of competition inherent in people.
Even at Christmastime and with pillows.
Perhaps there will be a play someday, based on this blog.
Editor’s note: The 2012 run of An “Eventually” Christmas has ended, but the Mill City Museum has many other events scheduled. The museum, built in the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, chronicles the flour milling industry, its impact on Minneapolis, the nation and the world.
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