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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 106

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This is the grave of Charles Pillsbury.

Born in New Hampshire in 1842, Pillsbury graduated from Dartmouth in 1863. Rather than fight in the Civil War, Pillsbury moved to Quebec, where he worked for the next 6 years as a clerk and then as a partner in a mercantile firm. A lot of Midwestern grain was processed in Quebec so he figured he would have some opportunities there and moved to Minneapolis in 1869. He worked for his uncle in flour milling for awhile and was thinking about how he could improve upon it. He did so by transforming the technology to become more efficient and producing a high quality flour. He started the Pillsbury Corporation in 1872 and soon became the nation’s largest flour producer. It also significantly changed the agricultural economy of the northern states by creating a strong market for its spring wheat, which was before this a secondary production to southern winter wheat. He traveled to Europe to see the largest flour mills there and reproduced them in Minneapolis. He produced ever larger and more efficient mills and began selling his wheat around the world. Now wealthy, he ran for the Minnesota state senator in 1878 and won, serving until 1897. It helped that his uncle was governor as he rose. He became chair of the Finance Committee and was a typical Gilded Age capitalist who used politics to promote his own business interests. He sold the controlling interest in his mills to a large British company in 1889 but remained in control of them.

Pillsbury died of a bad heart in 1899.

Pillsbury did produce specific Pillsbury products, but the modern ubiquity of Pillsbury as a brand of baked cake mixes and the like originated mostly in the 1950s. The Pillsbury Doughboy originated in 1965. The name is probably far more famous today than it was during Pillsbury’s life, although he certainly became wealthy enough at the time.

Charles Pillsbury is buried in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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