More than writing on this wall
We tried. But when history is written as deeply as ours you can’t fit it all on a wall.
Take the terrific tale about flour orders that floated into our offices by carrier pigeon.
That story didn’t make the cut for a recently completed 80-foot long wall display at our headquarters in Minnesota.
Neither was there room to mention that the man with the wonderful Welsh first name – Cadwallader Washburn – survived a struggling childhood to become an anti-slavery U.S. Civil War general who palled around with Abe Lincoln.
Washburn founded what became General Mills and financed an orphanage. That information is on the wall, along with plenty of stories and artifacts that colorfully represent a record of our more than 150 years as a company.
Still, it’s a scant portion of what’s housed in our extensive collection in the General Mills Archives. You could call this new display “the tip of the iceberg.”
In a way, that cliché has a connection to our history.
That’s because when scientist Robert Ballard plunged into the frigid North Atlantic to examine the remains of the iceberg-torn luxury liner Titanic, Ballard did it in ALVIN. The submersible was built by General Mills and commissioned in 1964.
A sliver of Betty Crocker’s rich history – which began just a few years after the Titanic’s voyage – is on display, too. Visitors and employees at our headquarters will see eight portraits of one of the most famous women to never live.
Betty Crocker began in 1921 as a team of about two dozen experts who responded to questions from homemakers, by post or “over the air.”
Even though she’s fictional, tales of Betty Crocker could be poured into every niche of our wall.
Much as we’d love to tell each one, we needed space to show board games and toys, such as the Nerf ball and Star Wars figurines.
And you thought we had been only a food company.
We produced living room floors full of toys during the 1960s and ‘70s, a period when General Mills acquired 37 mostly non-food companies worldwide.
Included in that buying spree were the makers of Play-Doh modeling compound; Kenner products, which put Star Wars figures in every kid’s galaxy; and Parker Brothers – known for board games such as Monopoly.
We divested these businesses – along with others such as Eddie Bauer apparel and Olive Garden restaurant – some time ago to focus on food. But they’re all part of our ivory-plated history.
The new wall naturally includes a stream of recent food acquisitions, such as Annie’s and LÄRABAR, which began as Lara’s Bars. She created the first ones in her kitchen, and the Cuisinart she used is on display.
“I am so excited that some of the really cool images, artifacts and stories can be seen by so many people,” says Jessica Faucher, our archivist who led the team that artfully placed every Pillsbury Doughboy statue and Lou Gehrig Wheaties box into the display.
Cadwallader Washburn was not just our founder, he was a philanthropist. He’d smile at the section highlighting our care for the world, which includes a nod to Partners in Food Solutions, the independent nonprofit that we helped launch in Africa.
We’re a little less certain how he’d react to Kernza. But if he raised a bushy eyebrow to that part of the wall, we’d understand. We’ve been researching this sustainable, sweet, nutty-tasting grain. It might not be as fun as a Nerf ball, but we think it lends itself well as a cereal and snack ingredient, which might help us keep feeding the world into the future.
As with the rest of the history on our new wall, we’re happy to tell you about it.
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