Grain Elevators of
The Mill City
Minneapolis, MN

Standing Elevators

THE LIVING (Standing Elevators)

Archer-Daniels Midland

The letters “ADM” are the first thing you see when you walk into Mill Hell—fitting, since it was (and, arguably, still is) the king of this grainy inferno. Linseed oil was Minneapolis’ second largest industry (after flour, of course), and Archer-Daniels Midland was its chief producer.

ADM-Delmar #4 Elevator

The double-header. It stands at 122 feet and dates to 1931, but it has had more than its share of retrofits. Most of the machinery nowadays seems to date to the 1970s.

Parts of this elevator have been scrapped over the past five years—an adjoining warehouse to the east, its truck shed on its north side. It also has the largest capacity of all the standing elevators: 7,000,000 bushels. That’s more than twice the capacity of the Electric Steel, the former record-breaker.

The most interesting features are a two-level skyway that connects its cupola buildings and the operator rooms packed with old photos of the plant staff. One picture shows some curious elevator-men with a derailment—nearby is a press clipping from the Minneapolis Star Tribune reporting Elvis’ death.

Meal Storage Elevator

ADM overshadows the Meal Elevator. The cleared area behind is now home to Surley Brewery.
ADM overshadows the Meal Elevator. The cleared area behind is now home to Surley Brewery.

A late arrival and uncanny survivor. This 1948 elevator, at the time of writing, now overlooks the demolished ruins of what used to be ADM’s ‘Oil Bodying Plant’ and ‘Earth Extraction Plant’. I personally find it strangely beautiful in its starkness.

Quality Assurance Laboratory

Gloves hang in the basement of the former quality assurance labs.
Gloves hang in the basement of the former quality assurance labs.

This lab was built in 1934 and often goes by the name “Oliver Labs” online. Like every other plant like ADM, there had to be regular tests of the product to ensure it met standards of the company. Now, though, this is the most likely building in the area to find squatters in—and they do not like company. On my first visit, the laboratory rooms were mostly intact, but now almost every space is thoroughly destroyed. At the time of writing, the city even demolished the rear staircases to prevent access to the rear doors!

Maintenance Department (1930s-1940s)

ADM-Delmar #1- Maintainance Department. The stainless steel bits are part of the grain dryer added in the 1940s. The workhouse itself (the larger tower) was a dedicated Cleaning House, meaning that grain passed through both these buildings to be rid of dust, dirt and extra moisture before storage. In the foreground is the old ADM locker room and pipe department.
ADM-Delmar #1- Maintainance Department. The stainless steel bits are part of the grain dryer added in the 1940s. The workhouse itself (the larger tower) was a dedicated Cleaning House, meaning that grain passed through both these buildings to be rid of dust, dirt and extra moisture before storage. In the foreground is the old ADM locker room and pipe department.

From east to west (closest to ADM-Delmar #1 to farthest), this string of buildings were a locker room, carpentry shop, grain dust bagging, and the millwright shop. Behind the dust bagging house used to be a small incinerator to dispose of what couldn’t be sold. The dark brick circle can still be seen on the south side of the building.

Inside, it appears that the locker room was converted into offices before being abandoned. It was turned into a binge room by what I guess to be bored University of Minnesota students a few years ago.

The other buildings in the set have not changed very much—the parts room still has a collection of various spark-proof electric switches and alarms. A single desk is stacked high with parts catalogs. The dust bagging department smells like fuel oil. Since this was designed to be one of the most fireproof buildings in the ADM campus it was probably used to store flammables after the incinerator was removed.

Kurth Malting (Electric Malting)

Kurth is the biggest extant survivor in SEMI—although almost all of its identity as a malting plant has been erased, all of its silos have survived. It even still has two Kurth logos still showing–though one is hidden. See the photo comparison.

Kurth, Under Construction (1920s?) (Source: MNHS.org?)
Kurth, Under Construction (1920s?) (Source: MNHS.org?)

What exists today is a beautiful wedge-shaped administration building, a train shed, and five big elevators that were built between 1924 and 1961. The smallest elevator was put up in 1925 and stands just shy of 70 feet, while the biggest tower (with the logo) measures about 150 feet, making it the tallest surviving elevator in the immediate area.

Besides the height of the light brown concrete tower, the most notable feature is the stainless steel arch cupola building on the southern elevator.

Ad, Electric Malting (Source: Wine and Spirit Bulletin, 1925)
Ad, Electric Malting (Source: Wine and Spirit Bulletin, 1925)

“Kurth” is a newer name for this complex, however. The original name for the operation is The Electric Malting Company, which built its first elevator here in 1907—a busy one too. It processed 750,000 bushels per annum and boasted in ads of its electric-powered machinery. Many elevators and factories at the time relied totally on steam.

The sexiest feature of Kurth is this steel arch over the silos on its south side. The manholes in the floor open to the silos directly, and flimsy grates might catch a hurried worker. Grates were removable so that workers could descend into the concrete tubes, so a few are missing today.
The sexiest feature of Kurth is this steel arch over the silos on its south side. The manholes in the floor open to the silos directly, and flimsy grates might catch a hurried worker. Grates were removable so that workers could descend into the concrete tubes, so a few are missing today.

The Minneapolis malt market attached its reputation to the flour market, which was renowned worldwide. Accord to Thomas Snelling, one of Electric Malting’s salesmen:

“Minneapolis is located in the midst of the finest barley section of the United States and is to day the great barley market of the world… Our system we believe has been shown by experience to be the best method for growing malt with absolute accuracy and as our plant is strictly up to date I am satisfied that our customers will have no reason to complain of any deliveries we may make to them.”

Kurth looks toward the city that forgot it.
Kurth looks toward the city that forgot it.

In 1912, Electric Malting was bought by Pioneer Malting, and the complex was operated under the new flag. A decade later, John Pank, the manager of Pioneer and J.R. Stewart, the owner of Banner grain and namesake of Banner’s ‘Stewart’ Elevator, precursor to Marquette Elevator merged their companies.

It should be noted that two years prior Marquette Grain bought Banner B, the ‘Stewart Elevator’, so Stewart did not bring his self-titled elevator into the mix.

Sunrise over Mill Hell, and all of Kurth's various skyways. The elevators in the foreground date to the mid-1920s, Electric Steel is behind and is a little earlier than that.
Sunrise over Mill Hell, and all of Kurth’s various skyways. The elevators in the foreground date to the mid-1920s, Electric Steel is behind and is a little earlier than that.

Kurth bought the property sometime between 1930 and 1938, and operated there until 1986 when ADM bought the elevators. Soon after, the kilns, malting drums, and powerhouse—all dating back to the early 1900s—were demolished. These were all nestled into the “U” of elevators that still exist today.

Recently, a trucking company has purchased and improved the property. Unfortunately they are not maintaining (much less utilizing) the elevators themselves, so the skyways connecting various cupolas are falling into disrepair. They have done much to improve the dump shed, which they have made into a truck storage building, and are parking trailers where the malting facilities used to be, between the silos.

Electric Steel Elevator

The Electric Steel Corporation was organized in February 1901 to serve the Electric Malting operation that became Kurth Malting. It began with 12 steel tanks, each with a capacity of 100,000 bushels, and was built by the American Bridge Company.

Electric Steel Elevator, 1906 (Source: MH5.9 MP3.1E r6, mnhs.org)
Electric Steel Elevator, 1906 (Source: MH5.9 MP3.1E r6, mnhs.org)

The Van-Dusen Harrington Co. planned and oversaw the construction and operation for its first few years. Right away the elevator began breaking records—it proved it could load 86 grain cars in just under 13 hours. Besides its futuristic exterior (giant steel buildings like this were exotic at the time) the elevator’s insides were cutting edge as well, keeping with the company’s values.

“Ever since the elder Van Dusen substituted the cup and belt process for the shovel and muscle in 1858, the company has used every mechanical device and improvement known to the trade,” reads an advertisement of the opening of the elevator.

A long exposure panorama of Electric Steel and Kurth from the roof of Russell Miller B, days before it was demolished.
A long exposure panorama of Electric Steel and Kurth from the roof of Russell Miller B, days before it was demolished.

Later that year, Russel Miller Co bought rights to use the elevator for $500,000. After Russell Miller closed, Peavey bought the elevator, and it is still in operation today, though it receives little traffic by my observations.

It has grown a lot since those first 12 tanks—it even features a 1938 concrete addition that holds 250,000 bushels, breaking the steel bin paradigm. The 1916 administration building on 25th Ave SE still reads “Electric Steel Elevator” though its doors are stenciled “Peavey” in red.

On the left is the 1907 elevator section and its 1926 expansion is on the right. Interesting how the century-old silos seem to be faring better. Windows provided light to the underground conveyor tunnels, which were used to bring grain out of the silos by gravity.
On the left is the 1907 elevator section and its 1926 expansion is on the right.

Calumet Elevator

Like Electric Steel, this elevator is still active. It lies across the SEMI rail yard from Electric Steel, near where Froedert used to stand. It was built in two sections, one in 1907 and the other in 1926—the older section is farthest from the offices.

In fact, I would have to say the offices are the most interesting part of the whole complex, visually speaking. Although I have not found the records to confirm my suspicion, they appear to date to the 1926 expansion. There is a coal room in one corner—a two deep wells and two boilers in another, and a dust house.

If you work at Calumet and are reading this, I seriously want a peek inside your office.

Bunge Elevator

The elevator that eats people, well, at least two people. Its engineering notoriety is that it was the first elevator constructed using the continuous pour method, which did not go exactly as planned. The workers went on strike when the silos were nearly finished, stopping the flow of concrete. As a result, there is a seam near the top of the silos still visible today.

Bunge, Sept 29 (Source: Library of Congress, FSA:OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 060350-D)
Bunge, Sept 29 (Source: Library of Congress, FSA:OWI Collection, LC-USF34- 060350-D)

The concrete sections were actually an expansion of an extant wooden elevator complex that supplied the various milling operations on the Mississippi.

It was abandoned in 2003, and half of the silos were demolished in 2007.

To most, it is probably best known as the elevator that University of Minnesota students climb for a great view of downtown. In 2006 one such student fell to her death while navigating the upper floors in the dark. There was a similar death recorded in 1937—just one year after the elevator opened—when a 74 year old night watchman perished after falling down a manlift.

The city has built low-income housing on the property and plans exist (at least) to build 20 condos into the elevator’s tower.

References »

  • (1901). Minnesota. The Grain Dealers Journal, 6, 280. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=qT0yAQAAMAAJ
  • (1907). A glimpse of the wheat industry in the north west.Grain and Farm Service Centers, 18, 105. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=jUMyAQAAMAAJ
  • (1908). The Wine and Spirit Bulletin, 22(4), 67. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=vQFQAAAAYAAJ
  • (1912). Big minneapolis terminal elevator to change hands.Commercial West, , 22, 46. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=waAwAQAAMAAJ
  • (1914). Engineering features. Journal of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers , 36(5), 1914. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=woRMAAAAYAAJ
  • (1920). The marquette elevator co. The Northwestern miller, Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=HWlZAAAAYAAJ
  • (1922). Mineapolis men buy malting plant. American feed and grain, 6, 38. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=3mBBAAAAYAAJ
  • (1922). The Northwest Miller, 129. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=j2JZAAAAYAAJ
  • Como history. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/a/comogreenvillage.info/como-history/home/places/bunge-elevator
  • Daykin, T. (2010). Historic milwaukee malting plant to shut down, laying off 23. Knight Ridder Tribune Business New
  • House Agriculture Committee. (1921). Future trading. (p. 823). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books?id=5GU10ot5Jg8C
  • Sanborn fire insurance co. maps [Print]. (1952).
  • Steller, C. (2006, Feb 22). Student falls to death at bunge.Bridgeland News. Retrieved from http://www.bridgelandnews.org/757
  • Shutter, M. (1932). History of minneapolis: gateway to the northwest. S.J. Clarke Publishing Company.