In the early 1900's, brothers Fred and George Shane were the owners of the Millbourne Mills in Philadelphia. Millbourne Mills at that time produced a flour branded, "King Midas Flour." In 1912 the Shane brothers teamed up with W.J. Wilson, a talented salesman, and together they purchased a flour mill in Hastings, Minnesota - a town on the west bank of the Mississippi. This mill was called at the time "Gardner Mills." Most likely, the Shane brothers and Wilson were out after a mill closer to the source of the expanding midwest grain production. Although Gardner Mills had fallen into economic difficulties, it was a flour mill with an illustrious history and a high quality product.
The flour mill purchased by Wilson and the Shane brothers in Hastings had been started in 1853 by Harrison H. Graham and it was at this mill that Graham flour, popular even today, was developed. In 1863 the mill came into the possession of Stephen Gardner who renamed the mill, "Gardner Mills." Gardner is credited with many innovations in flour milling. He developed a reel sifter connected to a fan. With this system, lighter bran was carried off with a blast of air, while smaller particles were sifted through silk cloth. These purified middlings are the basis of so-called "patent flour" which is the primary bakery flour of today. In 1878, Gardner's daughter married Charles Espenschied, who assumed management of the mill in 1885. Espenschied, too, brought many advances to the operation of Gardner Mills and to flour milling in general. Espenschied was the first to use magnets for taking wire and other metal out of wheat. He also developed a patented barrel, constructed with thin but hard staves alternating between thick soft ones. Because the soft staves were thicker, a shoulder was formed at the joints by the hard staves pressing into the soft ones when hoops were driven down around the barrel. Because of this tight seal, flour shipments in these barrels experienced little loss during transportation. In 1897, the Gardner Mills came under the ownership of Seymour Carter who greatly enlarged and expanded the mill's operations. Although initially successful, it may have been this rapid expansion that led to the mill's economic difficulties in 1912. After its purchase by Wilson and the Shane brothers, Gardner Mills was renamed the King Midas Mill - the name taken from the brand name of the product that had been produced at Shane and Wilson's Millbourne Mills in Philadelphia. King Midas Flour was also used as the name of the flour produced at their new mill.
Starting around 1914, the King Midas Mill began processing hard durum wheat flour for pasta. In the aftermath of World War I, when the government price supports of grain and flour were withdrawn, the Shane Brothers and Wilson were caught with a huge inventory. This may have been one of the factors leading to the mill being sold in 1924. The new owners, two men named Van Dusen and Harrington died within one month of each other in 1928 and the mill came under the ownership of the Peavey Company, a large and powerful Minneapolis-based flour company. The Peavey Company retained the King Midas name for the flour being produced in Hastings as King Midas had gained a reputation of being an excellent durum flour for pasta, spaghetti and noodles. The slogan used in King Midas advertising for many years was, "The highest priced flour in America and worth all it costs." In later years this slogan became a matter of concern to company executives more attuned to the fine points of advertising lore and they sometimes had it retouched out of pictures. In 1939 the Peavy Company moved the production of King Midas durum wheat flour to a mill in Superior, Wisconsin and the entire Hastings production was converted to bread wheat flour. Durum production returned again to Hastings in 1969-1970 after the construction of a durum semolina and pasta flour unit was built on site. The building housed not only the milling unit but also the flour storage, blending and loading systems. After the construction of these modern facilities, little use was made of the mill in Superior.
In 1982, the Peavey Company merged with ConAgra Inc. The Omaha-based ConAgra, Inc. is a diversified international food company. ConAgra's 70-plus brands include Healthy Choice, Banquet, Blue Bonnet, Butterball, Hunt's, Orville Redenbacher's, Peter Pan, Marie Callender's, Van Camp's, Hebrew National and Slim Jim.
The King Midas Mill in Hastings has been renamed the Hastings Flour Mill and has become a fully modern mill employing the latest computerized technology.
After it stood unused for a long period of time, the King Midas Mill in Superior, Minnesota was reopened by ConAgra in 1996 and modified for the test production of pelletized buffalo feed.
The exact nature of the King Midas brand has undergone change over the years. Beginning as the name of a single product, it later developed into a whole line of King Midas Products. In 2000, there are King Midas Durum Products and King Midas Wheat Flour Products. Both of these two product lines appear to be primarily directed towards commercial consumers.
For many, many years painting advertisements on barns was common in rural America. The 1965 Highway Beautification Act put an end to this long tradition but many such signs survived long afterwards. The picture below, taken by Larry Larson in 2001, shows a King Midas advertisement painted on the side of a shed or garage on Quincy Hill in the town of Hancock on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan. It seems likely that this sign dates from the late 1930's or 1940's.
This picture was provided through the courtesy of Pasty Central.