Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On May 2, 1878, at 7:10 p.m., a spark ignited flour dust in the Washburn A Mill in Minneapolis, causing an explosion that blew the concrete roof hundreds of feet in the air and leveled the seven and a-half story limestone building. Fourteen workers died instantly. The nearby Humboldt and Diamond Mills were flattened. Four more people were killed by the fire that engulfed one third of the city’s business district. The explosion broke windows as far away as St. Paul. Limestone blocks landed in yard eight blocks from the milling district.  

People from both towns poured into the streets. Some thought the world had ended. Others thought the cities had been jolted by an earthquake.

Here’s how one reporter described the event:

Flame and smoke in dense volumes leaped hundreds of feet heavenward, and the word went from lip to lip, almost with the rapidity of lightning, that the Washburn mill, which has long and justly been the pride of Minneapolis, had exploded and was destroyed … It was a night of horror in Minneapolis. – St. Paul Globe – May 4, 1878.

When Cadwallader C. Washburn–founder of General Mills and Governor of Wisconsin--heard the news, he took a train from Wisconsin to view the wreckage. He Initiated a fund for the families of those killed and injured by the explosion. He was one of the fund's most generous contributor. He also made sure displaced workers continued to work at other mills.

He made plans for an even bigger mill to be built on the remains of the old one. To prevent a similar disaster, he asked for a demonstration of a device that would collect the dust. Washburn eventually installed the device in all his mills. He also shared the innovation with his competitors, making the milling industry much safer.


  1. Wow, I'd never heard of this! Very interesting, Candice. Thank you.

    And what an example was Mr. Washburn. I wish there were more businessmen like him out there.

  2. Very interesting. Kinda like that molasses explosion. It's neat hearing about big events like that from long ago.

  3. if you don not tell us this thing, i have no idea about it at all. gaining of the knowledge!


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