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Feb 03, 2016 • By

Sharing our origin story through art

In 2016, General Mills is celebrating its 150th anniversary. This story is part of a year-long series on “A Taste of General Mills” to highlight the people, products and projects that have contributed to the company’s legacy.

At our headquarters in Minnesota, a walk down our main hallway right now is like stepping back in time. An exhibition of historic photographs, advertisements and artwork fills our gallery space as we celebrate our 150th anniversary.

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Called “Our Origins,” the exhibit focuses on our flour milling roots on the banks of the Mississippi River, where both Washburn Crosby and Pillsbury got their start.

“150 years is a lot to put in one exhibition, and quite frankly, we didn’t have that much space. The brands that have been produced by General Mills, Pillsbury and all of their subsidies are hard to fit in a book let alone the exhibit space,” says Jessica Faucher, corporate archivist in the General Mills Archives.

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Jessica, along with Lisa Melander, curator of the General Mills Art Collection, created an exhibition that spans from the late 1800s to the 1920s. During that time period, Cadwallader C. Washburn and Charles A. Pillsbury built flour empires that put Minneapolis on the map as the “Mill City.”

Pulling from our extensive collection of historical assets in the General Mills Archives, the story begins in 1866 when the first mill of our predecessor (Washburn Mill Company, later Washburn Crosby Company) was built.

Washburn-B-Mill

The Washburn B Mill, Cadwallader Washburn’s first mill in Minneapolis, opened in 1866.

“We wanted it to play out on the walls in a logical order,” Lisa explains, “and we wanted a visually appealing exhibit that would include black and white photos as well as paintings.”

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Lisa’s favorite piece (“World Markets”) encapsulates flour milling in Minneapolis in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s a large painting that includes portraits of the industry’s leading figures, illustrates the flour-making process and even depicts the Washburn A Mill explosion in 1878.

“The curator prior to me got a phone call from a dealer saying, ‘I think General Mills would be interested in this.’ It’s sort of this mystery painting that features the Washburns and Pillsbury prior to the companies joining. Who knew some day they’d come together?”

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One of Jessica’s favorite selections in the exhibit is a Gold Medal Flour advertisement with the slogan ‘The World is Ours.” It originally appeared on the back of a bread recipe card.

“Many people don’t realize that Washburn Crosby Company was international well before 1900, when Gold Medal Flour was being exported all over the world,” she says.

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The exhibition also features several reproduced photographs that show how people lived back then. For example, one picture shows a man delivering barrels of flour by horse.

Each piece in the exhibit has a description card next to it, as well. Much of that information was pulled from early newsletters stored in our archives.

“I’m happy that people are seeing that we have these historical assets, and I just really wanted to put them out there for the employees to see,” says Jessica.

Employees and their visitors at our headquarters can see Our Origins through April 4.

Editor’s note: Discover more about our past on GeneralMills.com and GeneralMillsHistory.com. If you have a question about our send our Archives team an email at ask.thearchivist@genmills.com.  

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