Star Tribune editorial writer Lori Sturdevant has written a comprehensive, insightful account of the family that made Minnesota the milling capital of the world. The Pillsburys were more than just pioneers who boosted Minnesota's agriculture and industry, writes Sturdevant; they also embodied a style of progressive capitalism that seems remote today. The Pillsburys "marr[ied] their own enrichment to the community's," practicing a civic-minded capitalism that gave back to the community by supporting education, the arts and public institutions.
Sturdevant tells how John S. Pillsbury arrived from New Hampshire and set up business at the Falls of St. Anthony before the Civil War. John's booming flour mill would help build Minneapolis and would make him governor of the fledgling state. Indeed, Gov. Pillsbury would also become a higher education pioneer: "John had literally willed the University of Minnesota to life," writes Sturdevant. From John Pillsbury on down, the family believed in broad-based prosperity, whether through its pioneering employee profit-sharing scheme or its long-standing policy of high wages.
Public-spiritedness fills Sturdevant's account, as generations of Pillsburys served as governors, senators, mayors, congressmen and leading philanthropists in addition to their business roles. In the 1920s, for example, Yale-educated Phil Pillsbury "took a turn at nearly every job" in the mill, working long hours beside other machine operators and even losing the tips of three fingers. What Sturdevant concludes about Charles A. Pillsbury can be said about the entire family: Their "blend[ing] of business ambition with public service and private benevolence set the example future Minnesota business leaders would strive to emulate."