Otis A. Pray learned the milling trade in the 1830s as an apprentice to Daniel Beedy of Levlston, Maine. Pray settled in Minnesota in 1857 and eventually undertook the construction of several important mills, including the Cataract, which was the first constructed in the West Side Milling District, and the Washburn B Mill. In the mid-1860s. Pray and a partner opened a machine shop in Minneapolis to supply and manufacture milling equipment. In the 1870s. Pray produced many of the early middlings purifiers being developed for Cadwallader C. Washburn's B Mill.
Pray's head draftsman and chief milling engineer during the 1870s was William Dixon Gray. Gray entered the milling industry in his late-teens while living in Canada. After a brief stint as a railway engineer, he moved to Minneapolis in 1866 and entered the employ of Pray. In 1876, he relocated to Milwaukee to take charge of the flour mill construction division of the Edward P. Allis Company.
At that time, the Edward P. Allis Company was marketing a European roller mill which, unfortunately, was plagued by technical problems. Gray redesigned the mill and also conceived of a totally new system for producing flour. Termed the "gradual reduction process," Gray's new system differed from the New Process in that it relied solely on roller mills and subjected the middlings to a much more elaborate and automatic series of grindings and purifications. The net result was faster production of a much larger quantity of high-quality flour.
Gray first successfully applied his ideas in 1879. when he designed the Washburn "Experimental C Mill," located in the West Side Milling District. The C Mill thus became the world's first modern, automatic, all-roller, gradual reduction flouring plant. Although the importance of his achievement was not immediately recognized by Minneapolis millers, Gray was eventually hailed as a genius. In 1891, the Northwestern Miller declared: "In milling circles, the name of Win. D. Gray occupies the highest pinnacle of fame as a milling engineer in the true sense of the expression, and as one who is largely responsible for the present high status of the milling art."
Pray began to lay the foundation of White and Morrison's mill in April, 1879. On May 28, the Northwestem Miller reported that "0. A. Pray and Co., the contractors . . ., have completed the foundation . . . and will have the brick walls nearly completed to the second floor by Saturday night." By November, the mill was fully constructed and partially furnished.
Fronting on Portland Avenue and measuring 55 x 155 feet, the mill was four-stories high with a full-length monitor and stone basement. Constructed of cream-colored brick, the mill's detailing was typical of other West Side brick mills. The principal (east) and rear (west) facades were divided vertically into three bays by brick pilaster strips. Each bay was capped by a decorative, corbelled, brick and iron cornice. A corbelled brick cornice also extended along the south and north sides. Segmental-arched, double-hung windows were regularly spaced throughout the mill. On the primary facade, these windows were centered in the hays, with a pair of windows located in the central bay on each floor.
The rear forty feet of the mill were partitioned by a brick firewall and used as a four-story grain elevator with a total capacity of 35.000 bushels. Nine square grain bins were grouped in a 3 x 3 configuration in the southwest corner of the elevator. The bins were constructed of wood cribbing and tied by eyerods. Rising from the second to the fourth floor, the bins were supported by heavy posts in the basement and wood framing on the first floor.
A conveyor carried grain from the elevator to the monitor, where grading reels separated the grain into coarse and fine grades. The two grades then descended through the mill, passing through cleaning equipment on each floor, until reaching the basement. There, chilled iron rollers flattened the wheat, preparing it for grinding and purification.
The mill was equipped with 20 runs of mill stones and 12 "Gray's patent noiseless belt roller mills." Although mill stones were placed in the basement, the main grinding operation was located on the first floor. Middlings purification and bolting operations were performed on the third and fourth floors. The mill was equipped with "Standard" purifiers, manufactured by the Minneapolis firm of Fenderson and Cuthberson. "Eureka" flour packers and a bran packer were located on the second floor to prepare the product for shipment. An elevated railroad siding along the north facade carried freight cars directly to the second floor for loading.
teaming from the 1878 explosion of the Washburn A Mill, White and Morrison installed fire and dust control equipment in the Standard. Each floor was equipped with fire hoses and extinguishers, and all mill stones were fitted with "Berhn's patent exhaust" to capture flour dust generated by grinding. "Dust houses," located on the third and fourth floors, filtered dust from the exhaust of the middlings purifiers.
Water initially powered the entire mill. The Standard was equipped with a 44-inch "Victor" turbine, manufactured by the Stillwell and Bierce Manufacturing Company of Dayton, Ohio. Located beneath the northwest corner of the basement and operating under an approximate head of 35 feet, the turbine drove two shafts located in the basement. The main shaft tapered from 7" to 5" in diameter, and powered all runs of stones. A 24-inch wide, 180-foot-long belt carried power from the main shaft to a line shaft located on the fourth floor. This was bevel-geared to an upright shaft which transmitted power to the monitor, "where is situated the necessary gearing for driving the elevators, bolting chests, etc." The second basement shaft tapered from 4 3/4" to 3 1/4" in diameter, and powered the roller mills, an exhaust" fan, and the packing machinery.
The Northwestern Miller roundly applauded the new mill's efficient and rational design. In regard to the milling floor, the Journal reported that "it is without doubt, one of the cleanest, lightest and best arranged in the country." This, of course, had been White and Morrison's intention from the outset, and they proudly named the mill the "Standard" to call attention to its exemplary design.
The name proved apt, for although the owners had vowed to utilize "all the very latest improvements," the Standard was notable more for the typicality of its design than its innovations. Despite the fact that Gray had developed the first all-roller, gradual reduction mill early in 1879, he did not employ the method In the Standard Mill. White and Morrison apparently believed that the technology was too new, and chose to rely on the New Process and traditional mill stones. However, they were well aware of the increasing use of roller mills, the heart of the gradual reduction system. Consequently, White and Morrison employed rollers on a limited basis and planned for the mill's eventual technological conversion. As the Northwestern Miller explained: "While it [the Standard] cannot be termed a roller mill exclusively, rollers enter very largely into the programme .... There is plenty of room and power to add more rolls, and as fast as their superiority is fully established they will, without doubt, be added." Roller mills and the gradual reduction process did, in fact, prove their worth almost immediately after the Standard Mill's completion. The mill actually marked an important dividing point in Gray's career, for, as he later recalled, it was "the last mill of any size that I planned and built on what is known now as the old system [New Process] . . . ."
The Standard began operation in November, 1879 with a daily production of approximately 500 barrels of flour. The mill probably did not reach its full rated capacity of 1,200 barrels until 1880. That year was also significant for another reason. In 1880, due to mills like the Standard, Minneapolis became the largest flour producer in the country-a status it maintained for the next fifty years. Concurrently, the West Side also entered "an era of consolidation." From 1880 to 1930, West Side mill owners made every effort to centralize operations and increase efficiency.
The trend toward consolidation was most obvious in terms of mill ownership. In 1882, two firms controlled approximately 51 percent of the daily production capacity of Minneapolis mills, while the remaining production was divided more or less evenly between sixteen different firms. By 189O, four large corporations controlled 87 percent of the city's milling capacity; and by 1900, three corporations managed 97 percent of the total flour production.
Consolidation also had a technological and architectural component. The years from 1880 to 1930 were essentially a period of intensive technological refinement. New production methods and equipment, such as the gradual reduction process and the roller mill, were perfected and gained general acceptance. Mill interiors became dense jungles of machinery, while exteriors were slowly surrounded by auxiliary structures, such as engine rooms, boiler houses, and grain elevators.
The history of the Standard Mill reflects the trend toward consolidation, particularly in terms of mill ownership. The dramatic increase in West Side flour milling during the 1870s had created serious over-competition by the mid-1880s, frequently forcing Dorilus Morrison to suspended operations at the Standard Mill. In 1886, the Northwestern Miller observed that "the Standard mill was shut down Saturday for an indefinite period, probably several weeks[, and] ... as a matter of fact, . . . has not run very steadily for a long time .... It is well known that Mr. Morrison does not believe in running except when he can see a profit in doing so, and he is not among those who would keep their mills in operation for the sake of giving their men employment. In an attempt to gain economies of scale in an increasingly competitive market, Morrison and another Minneapolis milling company agreed in 1889 to form the Minneapolis Flour Manufacturing Company. The new company operated three mills, including the Standard, with an aggregate daily capacity of 3,400 barrels.
In 1899, Minneapolis Flour became the object of further consolidation when it was acquired by the United States Flour Milling Company. James R. Mclntyre, a New York capitalist, had formed the company in 1898 with the intention of acquiring all of the principal flour mills supplying the Eastern United States. In addition to Minneapolis Flour, United States Flour eventually controlled the Northwestern Consolidated Milling Company, which was the third largest flour producer in Minneapolis, as well as major mills in Buffalo, Syracuse, Milwaukee and Duluth. In 1902, the firm was reorganized as the Standard Milling Company. Standard Milling placed all of its West Side properties under the command of Northwestern Consolidated, which it operated as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Following conventional practice. Northwestern Consolidated assigned letters to its mills rather than names, the Standard being labeled the "F Mill."
From 1880 to 1930, the Standard's various owners made numerous technological and structural changes. In June 188I, the Northwestern Miller reported that two floors were being added: "Work will be commenced next week to add two stories to the Standard mill. This is to be done to give the mill greater capacity, which will be increased to twelve or fifteen hundred barrels. Apparently, however, Morrison and White only expanded the monitor to create a fifth story. Additional changes over the next several years included the installation of more roller mills, improvements to the dust control system, and installation of an automatic sprinkler system. 1890, the Standard's daily capacity had increased to 2,000 barrels.
Despite these improvements, when the Northwestern Consolidated Milling Company took control in 1902, it apparently considered the Standard Mill to be technologically antiquated. In 1903, therefore. Northwestern Consolidated completely refurnished the mill, increasing its daily capacity to approximately 3,500 barrels. In March, the Northwestern Miller wrote: "The work of tearing out the Standard mill, . . . preparatory to rebuilding and placing it upon a thoroughly modern basis, is about completed. This mill . . . was about the last . . . left on the falls of the old type." Northwestern Consolidated also added a wooden monitor, running from the front to the rear fire wall.
As capacities increased in the 1880s, so did the demand for waterpower. Unfortunately, West Side millers found that the falls could not meet the growing need. In an effort to "stretch the power," mill operators undertook extensive improvements throughout the 1880s and 1890s. At the Standard, the owners rebuilt the mill's head- and tailraces, and installed new turbines in 1887, 1896 and 1910.
Despite these efforts, power shortages continued to plague the West Side. By the late 1880s, therefore, most millers turned to steam as an auxiliary power source. In 1888, the owners of the Standard Mill followed suit, constructing a boiler house at the rear of the mill and installing a steam engine.
Northwestern Consolidated installed a larger steam engine as part of its 1903 remodelling, "providing the mill with one of the best steam plants" in the West Side. However, sometime around 1908, the owners demolished half of the boiler house to make way for a railroad car shed. In 1910, Northwestern Consolidated installed a central electric generating station in the boiler house of the nearby Crown Mill, replacing auxiliary steam operations in all of its mills with electricity.
After being remodelled in 1903, the Standard was one Northwestern Consolidated's largest mills. Unfortunately, the 1930s witnessed a serious decline in the fortunes of the company and the West Side Milling District. Although Minneapolis reigned as the nation's leading flouring center from 1880 to 1930, significant changes in wheat quality, freight rate structure, and tariff policy slowly undermined its supremacy. These changes forced Northwestern Consolidated to reduce production and close many of its West Side mills in the late 1920s and 1930s. By 1933, Northwestern Consolidated's only active plants were the Crown, or "A Mill," and the Standard. Other Minneapolis flouring companies, such as Pillsbury and General Mills, also closed many of their Minneapolis mills, shifting operations to Chicago, Kansas City, and Buffalo. Due to these mill closures, Minneapolis finally ceded first place in flour production to Buffalo in 1930.
In an effort to halt its downward spiral, the Standard Milling Company reorganized its corporate structure in 1932, Northwestern Consolidated becoming a division of the company. The next year. Standard Milling decided to sell its waterpower leases and electrify its remaining Minneapolis mills. Until that time, the company owned waterpower rights for six mills, although only the Crown and Standard were in operation. Standard decided it was more economical to sell the water rights and buy electricity from the local utility.
Standard Milling operated the Standard Mill until 1948, when it sold the building. The mill was then used primarily as a warehouse. In 1971, the Minnesota Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) of the Minnesota Historical Society recognized the mill's historical significance by naming it a contributing property in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District. By that time, due to the widespread abandonment of the West Side Milling District during the 1930s, the Standard was one of only four flour mills still standing which dated to the district's heyday as the flouring capital of the United States.
In 1984, the Hayber Development Group of Minneapolis proposed to redevelop the Standard Mill as part of the so-called "Block 10 Project."
The Hayber Development Group renovated the Standard Mill into a 97-room, "European-style" luxury hotel. Major exterior alterations included the construction of a new two-story hotel entrance and tower on the southwest side of the mill; removal of the wooden monitor and construction of a full-length, brick monitor; creation of new window openings; and replacement of original 2/2, wooden sashes with metal ones of like construction. At the time of renovation, the mill no longer contained any milling equipment.