For 50 years beginning in the late 1880s, Minneapolis was known as the Flour Milling Capital of the World. It’s an intriguing fact about the city that’s explored in-depth at Mill City Museum, located on the Mississippi Riverfront and at the site of what was previously the world’s largest flour mill.
When I planned my visit to Minnesota, part of me initially did wonder what there was to do in the city. But I was determined to find unique and exciting things about Minneapolis, as I am about any place I visit. This museum ended up being one of those things because it provides an interactive way to learn about Minneapolis, which was informally known before as “Mill City.”
I was able to obtain a complimentary ticket to the museum in exchange for writing about it. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors (65+) and college students with ID, $6 for children ages 5-17, and free for children ages 4 and under and for members of the Minnesota Historical Society.
The museum website recommends allotting two hours for a visit, but I spent about three hours there perusing all the exhibits. These included displays, videos, and hands-on activities.
Hands-on exhibit that allows visitors to feel water power
Hands-on exhibit that allows visitors to figure out how to redirect water to turn wheels
Display of different types of wheat and flour
Free bread samples at the bakery in the museum!
However, the highlight of the museum is definitely the flour tower, a multimedia show that tells you the story of the mill and what it was like while sitting on a freight elevator that goes through eight floors. It’s an engaging and captivating part of the museum that everyone who visits should go on – it’s included with admission.
Photography and recording are unfortunately not allowed on this award-winning tour, but visitors are allowed to snap pics on the eighth floor where you can see dust collectors that survived a fire that destroyed the mill in 1991. Photography is also allowed on the ninth floor, which is an observation deck that offers breathtaking views of landmarks like the Stone Arch Bridge, as well as St. Anthony Falls.
These machines were dust collectors that gathered dust from inside the mill and “exhaled” them through vents. These were among the few pieces of machinery that survived the 1991 mill fire.
Another nice feature of the museum is the ruins courtyard. The first Washburn A. Mill, which was built in 1874, exploded in 1878 due to a fire that was started for unknown reasons. A new mill was built by the mid-1880s and continued to operate until it was closed in 1965. Then, in 1991, a fire destroyed that mill, leaving ruins that are now seen at the Mill City Museum. You can read more about the history of the explosion here and on the General Mills blog.
The courtyard was the ground floor of the Washburn A. Mill. It housed the equipment that connected St. Anthony Falls to machines that milled the flour.
Among fascinating facts that visitors will learn at the museum include:
- Flour dust can be up to 60 times more explosive than gun powder in certain conditions
- There was a high retention rate in the mill industry. As a result, flour dust could clog long-time workers’ lungs, leading to certain respiratory problems
- Minnesota’s primary “highway system” until the 1860s was its rivers
- By 1880, 70 percent of Minnesota’s cultivated land was planted in wheat
- Water from St. Anthony Falls powered all the equipment of the mill when it was built in
There is a ton to see, do and learn at Mill City Museum, and it’s a great activity for adults, adolescents and kids alike, and for those visiting the Twin Cities.