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James Ford Bell papers

Identifier: ua00685

Scope and Content

The collection contains clippings and correspondence regarding the building the Natural History Museum and its exhibits, memos detailing the rare books and items that should be housed in the Treasure Room at Walter Library, reports, photographs and a scrapbook of the dedication of the Museum of Natural History.


  • Creation: 1917-1960


Language of Materials


Use of Materials

Items in this collection do not circulate and may be used in-house only.


Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law Title 17, U.S. Code. Requests to publish should be arranged with the University of Minnesota Archives.

Biographical Sketch of James Ford Bell (1879-1961)

James Ford Bell was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1879. His father, James S. Bell, was a miller and was hired to head the Washburn Crosby Company in Minneapolis in 1888. James Ford Bell graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1901 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and joined the Washburn Crosby Company that same year. In 1915, with the death of his father, he became vice president of the company. From 1916-1918, he was chairman of the milling division of the United States Food Administration under Herbert Hoover and from 1918-1919 he was named treasurer and general manager of the Sugar Equalization Board. He was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor by the French Government and was also made a member of the Belgian Order of the Crown for his contributions during World War I.

When he returned home, he resumed his duties at Washburn Crosby and in 1925 became president of the company. At that time he began a plan to consolidate the milling industry by merging several mills into one company, which was named General Mills. He was president of General Mills from its inception until 1934. Upon his retirement from president, he became Chairman of the Board until 1948. From 1948 to 1959, James Ford Bell served as a director of the Board and chairman of the Committee on Finance and Technological Progress at General Mills. He died on May 7, 1961 at the age of 81.

James Ford Bell was a great benefactor of the University of Minnesota to which he contributed a great deal of his time, monetary resources and possessions, believing that he could never repay the University for what it had given to him. He financed a major portion of the Minnesota Museum of Natural History, which opened in 1940, as well as the exhibits housed there. The museum was renamed the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History in 1966. In 1953 he donated his personal collection of rare books dealing with early trade and exploration to be housed in a Treasure Room called the James Ford Bell Room, located in Walter Library. The collection was later moved to Wilson Library and renamed the James Ford Bell Library. Upon his death he gave the remainder of his rare book collection to the University and established a trust fund consisting of $200,000 to maintain it. James Ford Bell also served as a University Regent from 1939-1960 and in 1961 received a Regents Award "in special recognition of the qualities of benefaction, fidelity and leadership."


1 oversize box


The collection contains correspondence, memos, reports, photographs and a scrapbook of James Ford Bell's involvement with the University of Minnesota.

Related Materials in the University of Minnesota Archives

Guy Stanton Ford papers

Henry Francis Nachtrieb papers

Fred Beal Snyder papers

University of Minnesota James Ford Bell Library collection

University of Minnesota Museum of Natural History papers

University of Minnesota Office of the Vice President, Business Administration papers

Other Related Material

The Minnesota Historical Societyalso holds a collection of papers of James Ford Bell.

James Ford Bell papers, 1909-1960
Karen Klinkenberg; updated by Karen Spilman
January 2005
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The University Archives Collecting Area