A History of the Falls

An Overview

The Retreat of the Falls

The Dakota, Ojibwe, and First European

The Founding of the Twin Cities


The Eastman Tunnel Collapse

Flour Milling


Other Industries and Workers

Rebirth, Renewal, and Return

The Falls and the University

Islands in the River



A History of Saint Anthony Falls

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The Falls and the University

The flour millers of St. Anthony Falls often gave money to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities and many of the buildings on campus bear the names of milling giants. Pillsbury Hall received its name from John Pillsbury, who also built the Pillsbury A Mill and the Bell Museum of Natural History received its name from General Mills president James Ford Bell.[1]

However, not all the donations were philanthropic. Often times millers benefited in terms of production and politics from this close alliance. For example, flour millers sponsored University experiments with bleaching to improve the appearance of flour. In return, when pure food and drug advocates claimed bleaching was dangerous in the early twentieth century, University scientists bolstered the millers with counterarguments, support, and data. Millers often consulted with the University’s agricultural scientists about soil fertility, wheat rust, and other supply problems.[2]

The University of Minnesota also runs the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory. Located on Hennepin Island, the lab conducts experiments using water from the Mississippi which flows through a canal underneath the building. Construction started in 1936 and ended in 1939 with the help of the Works Progress Administration, Northern States Electric, and the city of Minneapolis.[3] The building also uses the foundation of the paper mill built on Hennepin Island in 1857.[4]

With the development of the laboratory, engineers no longer had to rely upon testing laboratories out east to solve complex water related problems.[5] For instance, when planning construction of the lock at the Falls, the Army Corps of Engineers built a one to fifty scale model of the project at the laboratory.[6] Experiments still continue. 

St. Anthony Falls Laboratory today.


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1. Kate Roberts, “Introduction” in Shannon M. Pennefeather Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District  (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2003), p. xiii

2. David B. Danbom, “Flour Power: The Significance of Flour Milling at the Falls”, Minnesota History 58/5 & 6 (Spring/Summer 2003), p.283

3. Lucile M. Kane, The Falls of St. Anthony: The Waterfall that Built Minneapolis (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1987), p. 174

4. Scott F. Anfinson “Archaeology at the Riverfront: Unearthing the Invisible”, Minnesota History 58/5&6 (Spring/Summer 2003), p. 326

5. Kane, The Falls, p. 174

6. John O. Anfinson, River of History: A Historic Resources Study of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (St. Paul: Army Corps of Engineers, 2003), p. 111

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