Minneapolis’ Mill City Museum is like few other museums as it was built within the ruins of the Washburn A Mill, the flagship flour mill of the Washburn-Crosby Co.  which later evolved into the household name we know today as General Mills and when completed in 1880 became the largest and most technologically advanced flour mill in the world powered by the swift current of  St. Anthony Falls on the mighty Mississippi.

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The millers at the Washburn mills perfected a new process for milling in the 1870s, a revolution that made fine wheat flour available to the general public for the first time and along with other mills including the Pillsbury A Mill helped Minneapolis became the flour milling capital of the world from 1880 until 1930. That preeminence ebbed post World War I as flour production in Minneapolis declined as flour milling technology no longer depended on water power.

An 1879 boxcar shows how railroads transported wheat to the mills, and flour to market.

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There’s a interactive display of the many commercial products including Biquick and Betty Crocker, a fictional character created in 1921 that became so popular that in 1945 Fortune magazine magazine named her the second most popular woman in America after First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

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The Flour Tower is an industrial size elevator converted to seat museum guests who to travel back through time with stops at eight levels with each displaying the mill machines and narrated stories of the workers who manned them. Visitors remain on the elevator the whole time so aren’t able to get off and explore each level however are given a very realistic look at the noisy and often dangerous process workers experienced while working in the mill through the use of historic film and photos and the dramatic use of lighting, sound, and special effects. The interactive ride is included in the museum entry fee however visitors need to ask for a time-specific reservation at the ticket or information desk.

All the displays of food aren’t edible however visitors can cook something up in  the Baking Lab which includes cooking demonstrations by history players, museum guides dressed in period costumes who portray real people to pass along insights of the mill in their time.

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Kids will likely enjoy the Water Lab, an interactive display showing how the power of the falling water of St. Anthony Falls powered the city’s logging and lumber industry and later, the flour milling industry.

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Any visit to the Mill City Museum would be incomplete without soaking in the panoramic views of the Mississippi River, St. Anthony Falls, the historic Stone Arch Bridge, Mill Ruins Park, and the Ruin Courtyard head to the museum’s Koch Rooftop Observation Deck which is open during museum hours weather permitting. The enormity of the  mill and its industrial impact on the city landscape can be felt along with a stiff breeze from this sky high vantage point.

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The Washburn A Mill Complex kept working around the clock from it’s 1880 opening until 1965 when Generals Mills shuttered it and eight other of its oldest mills. All the machinery was left in place as the mill sat empty for a quarter century until squatters started a fire on a cold winter night in 1991 sparking a devastating blaze that almost destroyed the whole complex which was designated as a National Historic Landmark. After putting out the blaze and stabilizing the ruins, the museum opened in its current form by the Minnesota Historical Society in 2003.

The Ruin Courtyard was left as it emerged from the 1991 fire offering visitors a look at the mill foundations and machinery attached to the thick stone walls.

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Visitors exiting through the Ruin Courtyard can enjoy a view of the mill from the Stone Arch Bridge, an 1883 former railway bridge that’s been converted to a pedestrian and bike trail but remains as the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River.

Visitors should budget about two hours to tour Mill City Museum but that’s a minimum as the wealth of displays and interactive features plus gift shop and Bushel & Peck Café are worth investing a little more time if it can be afforded.  The riverfront walking & biking trails that run below the mill are also well worth including before or after a museum visit, weather permitting.

Adult museum admission is USD$12 however there’s a $2 off coupon here valid through 31st December, 2019.

I would highly recommend Minneapolis visitors include the Mill City Museum on their sightseeing itinerary as it’s a highly interactive and informative look at how the mill powered the growth of the city to the Midwestern metropolis it is today.