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Pillsbury, John Sargent (1827–1901)

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Reference Department, Minnesota Historical Society
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Governor John S. Pillsbury

Governor John S. Pillsbury, c.1898

In forty-six years as a Minnesotan, John Sargent Pillsbury helped establish what eventually became one of the world's largest flour-milling businesses, served three terms as governor, and contributed—generously and often anonymously—to numerous causes he deemed worthy.

Pillsbury was born on July 29, 1827, in Sutton, New Hampshire. In 1855, he toured the western frontier and chose St. Anthony (now part of Minneapolis) as his home. In 1856, he married Mahala Fisk.

Primarily an entrepreneur, Pillsbury pursued commercial enterprises in hardware, real estate, and lumber before founding, with his family, C.A. Pillsbury and Company. Republican leaders, impressed by Pillsbury's industry and integrity, urged him to enter politics, first as a city council member in St. Anthony and later as a state senator. He was first elected state senator in 1862, then reelected in 1864 and 1866, and again in 1870, 1872, and 1874.

As a state senator, Pillsbury saved the University of Minnesota from bankruptcy by streamlining its administration and retiring its debts. Pillsbury had completed only a common-school education, but that did not stop him from becoming president of the University's Board of Regents in 1891. Now, he is called the "Father of the University."

Pillsbury, a Republican, served as Minnesota's eighth governor from January 7, 1876, to January 10, 1882. As governor, he was practical and compassionate, finally resolving a sensitive railroad bond issue in 1881 and increasing aid to those harmed by the grasshopper plagues, which lasted from 1873 to 1877. Pillsbury also encouraged legislators in 1878 to create the office of public examiner to detect and purge corruption in public office.

Pillsbury devoted the last twenty years of his life to commercial and civic projects. His fortune was immense, as were his gifts to various charities and institutions, especially the University. Pillsbury died on October 18, 1901, in Minneapolis.

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Governor John S. Pillsbury
Governor John S. Pillsbury
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Governor John Sargent Pillsbury
John S. Pillsbury sign
John S. Pillsbury sign
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John S. Pillsbury home
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John S. Pillsbury
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Governor John S. Pillsbury
Mahala Fisk Pillsbury with her mother, daughter, and grandson
Mahala Fisk Pillsbury with her mother, daughter, and grandson
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Governor John S. Pillsbury and friends at State Fair
Statue of John S. Pillsbury; students on attached bench
Statue of John S. Pillsbury; students on attached bench
Statue of John S. Pillsbury
Statue of John S. Pillsbury

Turning Point

In 1855, New Hampshire-native John Sargent Pillsbury chooses St. Anthony (now part of Minneapolis) as his home. The city and state of Minnesota benefit from his business and political savvy and his benevolent concern for others for years to come.

Chronology

1827

Pillsbury is born in Sutton, New Hampshire, on July 29.

1855

He tours the western frontier and settles in St. Anthony (now part of Minneapolis).

1856

He marries Mahala Fisk.

1891

Pillsbury becomes president of the University of Minnesota's Board of Regents.

1876

He begins the first of three terms as governor of Minnesota.

1901

Pillsbury dies in Minneapolis on October 18.