The food industry is connected directly and indirectly to other industries across the state and country.
These industries help process the raw materials harvested on farms into marketable food, bring the food to consumers, and transform it into new products.
Other industries, like marketing and advertising, grew out of manufacturers' needs to sell their products. General stores and grocery stores depended on food grown at Minnesota farms to run their businesses. And the food service industry became a way to serve food to consumers outside of their home kitchens.
Any way you look at it, the food industry depends on other industries to succeed, and vice versa. It is impossible to separate the impact these related industries have on each other, or on the growth of Minnesota itself.
Flour milling began in Minnesota in the 1850s, when millers built water-powered mills close to wheat farmers. These small local mills eventually yielded to flour mills in Minnesota's larger towns and cities in the 1860s.
In the 1880s, Minneapolis became a national leader in flour milling. Milling helped the city become a commercial center, with mills, grain elevators, banks, railroads, and related industries headquartered there.
- Garden City Roller Mill, Garden City, Minnesota
- Mountain Lake Roller Mill in Mountain Lake, Minnesota
- Trade Card for Pillsbury Flour Mills Company Depicting the Stone Arch Bridge, Minneapolis, M...
- Washburn A Mill, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Milling flour by the most modern machinery, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- The great elevators that store the western wheat crop, St. Anthony Park; St. Paul, Minnesota
Railroads were key to selling farm products and bringing income to farmers. But as farmers grew to depend on railways, they were often victim to high transportation fees set by the railroads.
The expanding railroad networks also made it possible to market Minnesota's wheat across the state and beyond. The rapidly growing wheat market cities, like Minneapolis and Red Wing, also became railroad hubs in the young state.
Dairy Creameries and Milk Products
Dairy farmers had to figure out what to do with the excess milk their cows produced. They could make butter and milk products on the farm, but it was not as profitable that way.
Some Minnesota dairymen decided to form cooperative creamery associations that allowed small-scale dairy farmers to combine their resources and make butter in large batches. Similar cooperative organizations, or co-ops, spread throughout the state when other dairy farmers saw their benefits.
Sugar Beet Industry
In the late 1800s, farmers began growing sugar beets in northern Minnesota along the Red River Valley. Several sugar beet companies formed to process the beets into refined sugar. They employed migrant workers, mainly from Mexico, to harvest the beets and work in the factories.
Beet work is very hard, especially for the children. The whole family works at the same thing. The children are not given different jobs from the others… In between the beets we would go and pick radishes, green beans, potatoes and onions. We went from farm to farm.
Interview with Carlos and Marcelina R. Urvina, 1975
Some entrepreneurs, often German immigrants, started creating brewing companies in the late 1800s. These Minnesota brewers and distillers used grains like corn, barley, and wheat to create beer and spirits rather than flour.
Food products needed to be transported locally, as well as across the country. Some farmers, creameries, food producers, and others delivered their products directly to consumers and grocery stores.
Other entrepreneurs created their own delivery companies that food producers hired to deliver their goods. Food delivery started using horses and wagons, and evolved along with transportation methods to include bicycles, cars, trains, and trucks.
- Bridgman and Russell Company delivery wagon, Duluth, Minnesota
- Erastus Church with his mule and wagon, Worthington, Minnesota
- Workers going out on delivery at the Goldish Fish Company in Two Harbors, Minnesota
- Fitzsimmons Palmer Company, Duluth, Minnesota
- Gamble Robinson Delivery truck and driver, Mankato, Minnesota
- Truckload of Harvested Potatoes, St. Benedict's Monastery Farm, St. Joseph, Minnesota
- Distribution of the Chun King brand, Duluth, Minnesota
For generations, Minnesota has been home to farms that grow raw food materials. But it has also been home to food processing factories that turn these raw materials into marketable food goods.
Some of these factories canned vegetables, dairy, and processed meat. Other factories manufactured packaged food products out of milled flour and other grains, such as cake mixes, breakfast cereal, and pancake flour. These manufacturers provided industry and income to local communities, employing both men and women.
- Swift & Company, South St. Paul, Minnesota
- Swift & Company Meat Trimming Department, South St. Paul, Minnesota
- Can of Northfield Evaporated Milk, Northfield, Minnesota
- Lanesboro Pride Corn Canning Factory, Lanesboro, Minnesota
- Corn line at the local corn factory, Ortonville, Minnesota
- Manufacture of Chun King brand, Duluth, Minnesota
- Elliott Meat Packing Plant, Duluth, Minnesota
This fascinating map of Minneapolis in 1920 shows the location of a variety of related food industries across the city, including manufacturers of prepared foods, confections, creameries, beverages, bread and baking, coffee, stock food, meat, ice, and milling and grain storage. Click on the image to zoom in on MDL to see all the details:
Marketing food is a major industry. Food producers have advertised their products in everything from newspaper columns to trade cards to billboards and radio and television ads. Their goal was simply to sell more food to more people.
Advertising as an industry really took off in the early 20th century when companies began paying attention to what consumers wanted. This led to the creation of marketing campaigns, tag lines, and media personalities that helped make consumers more aware of food products and more willing to buy them.
- Pillsbury's Best, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- "Sun Flower" Corn Meal is the Best, City Mills, Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Emma Mueller at the Merchants Carnival, Rochester, Minnesota
- Wingold Flour Bay State Milling and Watkins product Advertisement, Winona, minnesota
- Close-up of truck advertising "Hubbard's Thrifty Fives" Mankato, Minnesota
- Grain Belt Beer car card, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota
Food producers need a place to sell their products, and grocery stores fit the bill. Grocery stores themselves have evolved over the years from small, local, family-run general stores to country-wide supermarket chains.
Whatever their type, grocery stores are a mainstay in every community. They provide a connection between the food producers and the people who need to eat, while also creating jobs and income for the community itself.
- Albin Malmo's Meat Market, St. Peter, Minnesota
- William Kerr Produce Store, Lakefield, Minnesota
- Allan MacDonald and Russ Grocery interior, Robbinsdale, Minnesota
- Abe Orbuch at Abe's Produce warehouse, Foley, Minnesota
- Sylvia Borken at the family store in North Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Swanson's Food Store open house celebration, Windom, Minnesota
People have always enjoyed eating food other people have cooked. Food service industries like restaurants and cafes have sprung up alongside other businesses on every main street in Minnesota.
Although menus, décor, service, and amenities have changed, restaurants have always provided a place for people to try new or familiar foods and spend time together with friends and family.
Explore more of the exhibit using the page links below.