From the 1880s to the 1930s, Minneapolis was the nation's leader in flour production. Below St. Anthony Falls there were more than 20 mills. Turbulent river water was detoured through a canal to provide power to turn the heavy millstones. After being crushed between the ridges of two large, flat stones, the material was cleaned, sifted and separated. To achieve pure white flour, the bran and germ had to be separated from the main part of the wheat berry called the endosperm.
Removing bran from the flour was a difficult task. With the Minnesota invention of the middlings purifier in the 1870s, bran easily separated from the flour, and the Midwest's hard spring wheat produced award-winning flour. Steel roller mills soon replaced millstones.
Charles A. Pillsbury was determined to have an architectural and industrial milling masterpiece. He was the first miller to hire an architect, and chose LeRoy Buffington for the monumental task. The foundation was laid in June 1880, and in five short months the building was ready for its roof. The exterior load-bearing walls are 8-1/2 feet thick at the base and taper to 2 feet at the building's top. The flaky, gray stone is locally quarried Platteville limestone seen on many Twin Cities buildings and mansions. A large, white stone "A" proudly announces itself to the river. The six-story structure -- the largest and most advanced mill in the world -- cost $500,000 to build. Flour production began in 1882 with 800,000 pounds a day -- more than the next three largest mills combined. In the early 1900s, it produced a quarter of all flour exported from the U.S.
In the 1920s, the milling industry began to decline and by 1930, Buffalo, New York became the nation's flour-milling center. The "A" Mill was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a lasting symbol of Minneapolis' role as the country's leading flour milling center.
The Pillsbury "A" Mill is located on the corner of Main Street SE and 3rd Avenue SE.
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LUNCH TIP: Relax with a fresh lemonade on the deck overlooking the mill and the river at Tuggs River Saloon on Main Street.