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John Sargent Pillsbury papers

Identifier: uarc 769

Scope and Content

This collection documents John Sargent Pillsbury's relationship with the University of Minnesota through correspondence and land dealings. Miscellaneous correspondence, papers on mining and the lumber industry, photographs, and biographical information on Pillsbury and his family are also included. The collection does not include information on Pillsbury Company or his other business ventures.

Correspondence and related papers regarding the University of Minnesota cover academic appointments, reports from building committees, receipts of goods, and land dealings. Items of note include a letter from William Watts Folwell describing when he should arrive to take the post of president of the University (August 1869), presentation copy of the unveiling of the Pillsbury statue on campus, inscribed "To Master John Pillsbury Snyder from your grandpa. John S. Pillsbury," and selected list of lands claimed by the State of Minnesota as University land (April 12, 1876).

An old typed finding aid created by University Archives staff, circa 1960s, is included in the first folder of the collection, giving detailed item level descriptions of some of the letters. Note that the folder numbers no longer apply and this list was not checked against actual box contents.

Other materials related to Pillsbury's hardware business were transferred to the Minnesota Historical Society in March 2009.


  • 1858, 1867-1915


Language of Materials

Collection material in English

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 John Sargent Pillsbury (1827-1901)

John Sargent Pillsbury, regent (1863-1895) and benefactor of the University of Minnesota; governor of the state of Minnesota (1876-1882); founder of Pillsbury Company; referred to as the Father of the University of Minnesota.

John S. Pillsbury was born in Sutton, New Hampshire on July 29, 1827. He arrived in Minnesota in 1855 and joined in a hardware business with George F. Cross, forming Cross, Pillsbury & Co. In 1858 he married Mahala Fisk. He served as a city councilman (1858-1864), state senator (1864-1874), and 8th governor of the State of Minnesota. (1876-1882). He sold the hardware store in 1875 to Janney, Moles, Brooks & Co. to devote himself to flour milling. In 1872 he founded C.A. Pillsbury and Company with his nephew Charles A. Pillsbury. Pillsbury Company became on of the largest flour milling operations in the world.

In 1862, the University was in debt of $110,000. To settle this, the Minnesota Territorial board allowed creditors to receive notes of indebtedness against University land. When only a few accepted the offer, Pillsbury, in his role as state senator, proposed a law allowing a three member board of regents to be appointed to handle the University's affairs. He was appointed as regent, along with O.C. Merriman and John Nicols, to sell land grants to settle the University's debt. By 1867, the University was debt free. In 1887, Pillsbury donated a science building to the University at a cost of approximately $150,000, now known as Pillsbury Hall. He served as regent from 1863-1895 and was then appointed "regent for life" by the state legislature. In 1900, a statue created by sculptor Daniel Chester French of John S. Pillsbury was installed; it is oldest piece of public art on the University of Minnesota campus. John Sargent Pillsbury died on October 18, 1901.


1 box (1.0 cubic feet)


Collection contains correspondence and land dealings of John Sargent Pillsbury, governor of the state of Minnesota and regent of the University of Minnesota. The materials deal primarily with Governor Pillsbury's involvement with the University of Minnesota.

Source of acquisition

Donated by Philip Pillsbury in 1951.

Related Materials at Other Archival Institutions

The Minnesota Historical Society holds a collection of Pillsbury family personal papers. The state archives at the Minnesota Historical Society have the gubernatorial records of John S. Pillsbury.

John Sargent Pillsbury Papers, 1858, 1867-1915
Karen Spilman
February 2009
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