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The Gold Medal Flour sign is a prominent city landmark whose mill had withstood the trials of fire and destruction over the past 100 years. The sign stands on one of the restored mills along the Mississippi River who kept the old signs of the former tenants. That tenant was C.C Washburn whose six-story Washburn “A” flour Mill rivaled every competitor during the industry boom in the 1800s. It was the largest flourmill in the world until the “Pillsbury A” Mill (the city’s other Historical Landmark) was constructed across the Mississippi River in 1881. From 1880-1930, Minneapolis was known as the “Flour Mill Capital of the World.”
The Flour Power story began after the flour won gold, silver and bronze medals at the first International Millers’ Exhibition in 1880. The flour was then packaged and shipped under the name “Gold Medal” for the first time. Gold Medal Flour quickly made a name for itself as the country’s premium product. At peak production, the mill could grind almost 2,000,000 pounds of flour and make 12 million loaves of bread per day. The Washburn “A” Mill was powered by Saint Anthony Falls and contributed hugely to the early development of Minneapolis. Gold Medal Flour is only one of a few U.S. grocery products to retain status as the top-selling flour in the country after more than a century.
On May 2, 1878, a spark ignited airborne dust within the mill, creating a massive explosion that demolished Washburn A and surrounding businesses, resulting in 18 deaths. The infamous day was nationally recognized and remembered as “The Great Mill City Disaster” and led to major reforms in the industry. By 1880, the mill was rebuilt again in astonishingly rapid speed and took the #1 spot as the largest flour mill in the world. Washburn later teamed up with John Crosby to create the nationally recognized General Mills Company, the most technologically sophisticated mill in the world for almost 50 more years.
Flour production in Minneapolis began to decline after World War I as milling technology no longer depended on waterpower. The mill was shut down in 1965 and left vacant until a fire again ravaged most of the building in 1991. Rather than demolish the entire structure, the glass-walled Mill City Museum was built on the flourmill site. A part of the dilapidated building was left with nearly the entire side exposed, giving visitors a unique urban view into the hollowed-out building