The river and the Falls were an important part of Minneapolis life, especially for sawmill operators and other industrial businesses. There were the steamboats to think of as well. Unfortunately, industrial waste and other byproducts were reducing the flow of water, making business more difficult. Starting in the 1860s, the United States Corps of Engineering agreed that the Mississippi River needed to be made deeper and wider in order to alleviate the problem. It wasn’t until 1937, however, that the United States Congress approved money for the Upper Minneapolis Harbor Development Project which actually did something about it. A nine-foot channel was extended into the river by 4.6 miles. Locks and dams were added in order to control the flow of water traffic. Life was again good near the waters of Minneapolis.
Another growing industry was flour milling. The Washburn A Mill, part of the Minneapolis Mill company, was one of the most dominant mills of Minneapolis, even if it was owned by then-governor of Wisconsin, Cadwallader Washburn. Destroyed by fire in 1878, it was rebuilt bigger and better the following year. Of course, flour milling led to grain trading, and by 1885, Minneapolis was number one in wheat receiving in the United States. In one year, 1881 to 1882, the amount of grain shipped from Minneapolis to the east went from less than 200,000 bushels to 2 million bushels. That’s quite a jump. Even today, Minneapolis is still the largest cash exchange market in the world.
During the early 20th century, much of the lumbering resources were being depleted, including white pine, slowly killing off the industry. The last sawmill in Minneapolis, the Carpenter-Lamb Mill, closed in 1921. By 1931, Minneapolis was no longer the largest flour producer in America, a title it had held for fifty years. There were many reasons the flour industry faltered, including cheaper lower-quality products and cheaper sources of power.
This did not signal the end of industry in Minneapolis, however, not even in the flour/milling-related business. There were other industries which flourished. Will Cargill started his grain elevator company in Minneapolis in 1865, and it is the United States’ largest privately-owned corporation today. It has also broadened its horizons internationally as well as into agricultural and industrial domains. Two of the well-known giants in the food industry are the Pillsbury Company and General Mills, which are now one company. These are just a few examples of flourishing industries in Minneapolis, and not all of them are related to food.