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Cadwallader Colden Washburn (April 22, 1818–May 15, 1882) was an American businessman, politician, and soldier noted for founding what would later become General Mills and working in government for Wisconsin. He was born in Livermore, Maine one of seven brothers that included Israel Washburn, Jr., Elihu B. Washburne, William D. Washburn, and Charles Washburn.

Education and early career[]

Washburn attended school in Wiscasset, Maine, and later taught there in 1838–1839. In 1839 he moved to Davenport, Iowa. There he helped in the geological survey of the state before moving to Rock Island, Illinois to study law. In 1840 he was elected surveyor of Rock Island County. Two years later, he was admitted to the bar and moved to Mineral Point, Wisconsin where he began a legal practice.

Politics and military career[]

In 1854 Washburn ran for Congress as a Republican, later serving three terms, from March 4, 1855 to March 3, 1861. In his last term Washburn served as chairman of the Committee on Private Land Claims. He declined to run again in 1860.

File:Cadwallader C. Washburn - Brady-Handy.jpg

The Washburn family had always been strongly opposed to slavery. Washburn moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1861 but returned to Washington, D.C. later that year as a delegate in the peace convention that was held in an attempt to prevent the American Civil War. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War, becoming colonel of the 2nd Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry, on February 6, 1862; brigadier general of Volunteers on July 16, 1862; and major general on November 29, 1862. Washburn had the honor of having his appointment document signed by President Abraham Lincoln. At one point Ulysses S. Grant called Washburn "one of the best administrative officers we have."[1] He commanded the cavalry of the XIII Corps in the opening stages of Ulysses S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign.[2] Once siege operations had begun against the city of Vicksburg and Grant called for all available forces, Washburn led a detachment of the XVI Corps during the siege of Vicksburg. He commanded the 1st Division in the XIII Corps in Nathanial P. Banks' operations along the Texas Coast.

For the rest of the war he served in administrative capacities in Mississippi and Tennessee. When Nathan B. Forrest led a raid against Memphis, Tennessee in 1864, Washburn was forced to flee his headquarters in his nightshirt to avoid capture, heading for to Fort Pickering.[3][4] He left the Union Army on May 25, 1865.

After the conclusion of the war, Washburn returned to his home in La Crosse, where he was elected again for two terms in the House of Representatives from March 4, 1867 to March 3, 1871, where he was chairman of the Committee on Expenditures on Public Buildings in the first term. He declined to run in 1870.

In 1871 he was urged to run for Governor of Wisconsin against the Honorable James R. Doolittle. Washburn won the election and was inaugurated governor of Wisconsin on the first Monday in January, 1872 and served from 1872 to 1874. He ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1873.[5]

A year later he purchased the Edgewood Villa estate from Samuel Marshall, where Edgewood College sits today.[6]


In 1844 Washburn formed a partnership with land agent, Cyrus Woodman. Together the two men developed a number of companies, such as the Wisconsin Mining Company. The most successful business venture undertaken by the men was land acquisition. In May 1855 they established Washburn's and Woodman's Mineral Point Bank. Washburn and Woodman dissolved their partnership amicably in 1855. After that, Washburn moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1859 and purchased the La Crosse Lumber Company.[7]

In his lifetime, Washburn also worked in the lumber industry, establishing mills in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He began in that city in 1856 by leasing power rights to the water flowing over St. Anthony Falls through the Minneapolis Milling Company. In 1866, he built his own Washburn "B" Mill, which was thought at the time to be too large to ever turn a profit. However, he succeeded and in 1874 built an even larger Washburn "A" Mill. The original "A" mill complex was destroyed, along with several nearby buildings, in a flour explosion in 1878, but was later rebuilt.[8] In 1877, Washburn teamed with John Crosby to form the Washburn-Crosby Company. At the same time, Washburn sent William Hood Dunwoody to England to open that market for spring wheat.[9] Successful, Dunwoody became a silent partner and went on to become one of the wealthiest millers in the world. Dunwoody became a philanthropist endowing hospitals, educational facilities, and a charitable home which ultimately became Dunwoody Village. The corporation eventually became known as General Mills.[10]

Family life[]

Shortly after birth Washburn was diagnosed with epilepsy. Cadwallader Colden Washburn married Jeanette Garr, daughter of Elizabeth Sinclair Garr and Andrew Sheffield Garr on January 1, 1849.[11] Both were 30 at the time. The couple brought their first daughter, Jeanette (Nettie) Garr Washburn, into the world in 1850. After giving birth to Nettie, Jeanette showed signs of mental illness. After the birth of their second daughter, Frances (Fanny), in 1852, Washburn made arrangements for his wife's care at the Bloomingdale Asylum. Later she was transferred to an institution in Brookline, Massachusetts, where she remained until her death at age 90 in 1909.[12]

Washburn donated the Edgewood Villa estate to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters of Madison, Wisconsin in 1881.[13] The Edgewood Villa later became Edgewood College,[14] and Edgewood High School.[15] Nearly a year later, in 1882, he died. After his death his estate had an estimated value of between two and three million dollars.[7] In his will, Cadwallader left money to his daughter as well as other members of his family. However, the largest portion was set aside to pay for the care of his wife, Jeanette.[12] After Washburn's death in 1882 a tradition was started at Edgewood College of celebrating "Washburn Day" in June.[16]

Later life[]

Washburn died in Eureka Springs, Arkansas while on a visit to the springs for his health. His body was interred in Oak Grove Cemetery[17] in La Crosse, Wisconsin. After his death, a large bequest was made to the city; land was bought and a building for the La Crosse Public Library was built.[18]


The city of Washburn in Bayfield County, Wisconsin was named after Cadwallader Washburn,[19] as was Washburn County in northern Wisconsin.[20] Washburn Observatory, at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, was also named for Washburn, who as governor, allocated the money for its construction.[21] Washburn High School in Minneapolis was also named after Cadwallader Washburn.

See also[]

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Paynter, Mary O.P. (2002). Phoenix from the Fire: A History of Edgewood College. Madison, WI: Edgewood College. pp. 172. 

External links[]

Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccessionBox Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Lucius Fairchild |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Wisconsin
1872–1874 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
William R. Taylor |- |} Template:Governors of Wisconsin

de:Cadwallader C. Washburn ja:カドワラダー・ウォッシュバーン sv:Cadwallader C. Washburn