The Origin of Our Name
“Mill City” is the name once affixed to the budding metropolis of Minneapolis, Minnesota during its heyday as the flour milling capital of the world from roughly 1880 to 1930. Many of the consumer and industrial sectors targeted by Mill City Capital are either direct descendants of, or were heavily influenced by, the flour milling industry which first put Minneapolis on the map as a major population and business center. We chose Mill City Capital as the name of our firm in honor of the entrepreneurial spirit which took hold on the banks of the upper Mississippi River over 125 years ago, out of which emerged a great city we are proud to call home.
With excellent access to the nearby wheat growing region, abundant water power, and transportation links to the Eastern markets, Minneapolis was the logical place for a large-scale flour milling industry to emerge. The missing link was a mismatch between the type of wheat grown on the northern Great Plains and the ability of the industry to process the wheat into flour. Sensing the tremendous opportunity, beginning in the 1870’s. the leaders of the Minneapolis flour milling industry aggressively adopted a more technologically advanced milling process which was originally developed in Europe. With a growing agricultural hinterland, improved transportation links, and a willingness on the part of the Minneapolis milling industry to invest in more sophisticated production methods, by 1880 the stage was set for Minneapolis to emerge as the flour milling capital of the world.
The rest was history. Minneapolis passed St. Louis as the leading center for flour milling by 1890, and emerged as one of the great boomtowns of the Gilded Age: the population of Minneapolis more than quadrupled from under 50,000 in 1880 to over 200,000 by 1900, at which time it had emerged as one of the 20 largest cities in the U.S. By 1910, Minneapolis ranked 14th among U.S. cities in the value of industrial output, with flour mills accounting for well over half the total.
While flour milling has long since faded into the industrial history of the region, it left an indelible imprint on the subsequent economic development of the city of Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota, and the Upper Midwest region as a whole.
The milling industry supported and was supported by many related industries such as hydropower (St. Anthony Falls was the site of the world’s first hydroelectric dam, which opened in 1882) and industrial and process control equipment (the Minneapolis flour mills were marvels of technology and depended on whole host of advanced industrial equipment to ensure consistent output amid the ever-present danger of explosion). The growth of hydropower which supported the milling industry led to Minneapolis being one of the most electrified cities in the world by 1900, and the power infrastructure which was created to power the mills also enabled a wide array of industrial manufacturing activity. The transportation infrastructure created to move raw wheat into Minneapolis and processed flour to the population centers in the East further helped to support a light industrial base which evolved and grew even as the mills fell silent.
The milling industry was an important precursor to the packaged food industry, which emerged as one of the leading industries throughout the Upper Midwest. As the flour milling industry evolved, the leading players began to create brand identities for what had been considered a commodity product, leading to the birth of the packaged food industry and sophisticated consumer marketing strategies. Pillsbury and General Mills, the two leading flour milling companies, evolved into highly sophisticated and successful consumer products marketing companies. Supporting the food industry, the expansion of the milling industry brought millions of acres of northern Great Plains lands under cultivation, resulting in what became and what continues to be one of the most productive agricultural areas on earth.