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John S. Pillsbury

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John Sargent Pillsbury
8th Governor of Minnesota
In office
January 7, 1876 – January 10, 1882
LieutenantJames Wakefield
Charles A. Gilman
Preceded byCushman Davis
Succeeded byLucius Frederick Hubbard
Personal details
Born(1827-07-29)July 29, 1827
Sutton, New Hampshire, U.S.
DiedOctober 18, 1901(1901-10-18) (aged 74)
Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.
Resting placeLakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseMahala Fisk (1832–1910)
Pillsbury at a Board of Regents meeting at the University of Minnesota.

John Sargent Pillsbury (July 29, 1827 – October 18, 1901) was an American politician, businessman, and philanthropist. A Republican, he served as the eighth Governor of Minnesota from 1876 to 1882. He was a co-founder of the Pillsbury Company.

Early life[edit]

Pillsbury was born in Sutton, New Hampshire, of English descent, the son of John and Susan (Wadleigh) Pillsbury. He was a descendant of William Pillsbury, who emigrated from England to Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1640.[1] In 1851, he opened a store in Warner, New Hampshire, partnering with Walter Harriman, a future Governor of New Hampshire and Civil War general.


Pillsbury Company[edit]

Pillsbury came to Minnesota from New Hampshire in 1855 and settled in St. Anthony (now part of Minneapolis). The entrepreneur tried his hand at several different types of businesses including hardware, real estate, and lumber, though his greatest success came when he co-founded C. A. Pillsbury and Company[2] along with his nephew Charles Alfred Pillsbury, for whom the company was named.[3][4]

Political career[edit]

After the American Civil War, Pillsbury was elected as a third class companion of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.[5]

Pillsbury served in the Minnesota Senate for several years before becoming the eighth Governor of Minnesota.[6] He served as governor from January 7, 1876, until January 10, 1882.[7] During the Grasshopper Plague of 1877, Governor Pillsbury called for a day of prayer on April 26, 1877.[8] A subsequent sleet storm killed all the grasshoppers. In Cold Spring, Minnesota, a chapel was built to honor the miracle.[9]


Pillsbury was a noted philanthropist and often anonymously donated funds to causes he favored. In particular, he helped the University of Minnesota recover from debt in its early years, and later served as a regent. Since then, he has become known as "The Father of the University."[10] Pillsbury Hall at the University of Minnesota is named in his honor.[11][12]

Personal life[edit]

Pillsbury married Mahala Fisk on November 3, 1856.[13] He and Mahala had four children, daughters Addie, Susan May, and Sarah Belle, and then son Alfred.[14] Addie married Charles M. Webster, but died at the age of 25; Susan married Frederic Beal Snyder and died at the age of 28; Sarah Belle married Edward C. Gale, an area lawyer and son of the area's first real estate developer, Samuel Chester Gale. Edward Gale was also an art collector and contributed to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) as well.[15] Alfred did not go into business, but instead became an art collector. When he died in 1950, the works were donated to MIA.[16][17]

His daughter's Susan's only son, John Pillsbury Snyder (1888 –1959), was a survivor of the RMS Titanic in 1912. John and his wife, Nelle, returning from their European honeymoon, are said to have been the first people to have entered the very first lifeboat, No. 7.

Pillsbury died on October 18, 1901, and is interred in Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.[18] He is featured on a New Hampshire historical marker (number 44) along New Hampshire Route 114 in Sutton.[19]


Early John S. Pillsbury signature, January 1855

A 1901 magazine article described him as follows:

[Pillsbury's] impulse always was: "Act; act now; act effectively; act for the greatest good." He belonged to the type of man who "does things."[20]

— Horace B. Hudson, The American Monthly Review of Reviews


  1. ^ The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Volume 10 – Page 65
  2. ^ "John Pillsbury Biography". Governors of Minnesota. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  3. ^ Elliott, Alan (1998). A Daily Dose of the American Dream: Stories of Success, Triumph, and Inspiration. Thomas Nelson Inc. p. 29. ISBN 9781418571474.
  4. ^ Morris, Evan (2004). From Altoids to Zima: The Surprising Stories Behind 125 Famous Brand Names. Simon and Schuster. p. 68. ISBN 9780743276474.
  5. ^ "Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States". Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  6. ^ Carney, Mary Vance (1918). Minnesota: the star of the North. D. C. Heath & co. p. 218.
  7. ^ "John Pillsbury Biography". Governors of Minnesota. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  8. ^ Dregni, Eric (2006). Weird Minnesota: Your Travel Guide to Minnesota's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 74. ISBN 9781402739088.
  9. ^ "Minnesota Gov. John Pillsbury Called for Day of Prayer to End Grasshopper Plague". American Profile. Retrieved January 3, 2014.
  10. ^ Carney, Mary Vance (1918). Minnesota: the star of the North. D. C. Heath & co. p. 218.
  11. ^ Minnesota. University (1921). Bulletin. Minnesota. University. p. 67.
  12. ^ Millett, Larry (2007). AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: The Essential Source on the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minnesota Historical Society. p. 132. ISBN 9780873515405.
  13. ^ Higginson Book Company (1900). Encyclopedia of Biography of Minnesota: Illustrated with Steel Plate and Copper Plate Engravings. Higginson Book Company. p. 125.
  14. ^ "Mahala Pillsbury Biography". Governors of Minnesota. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  15. ^ Press Biographical Company (1902). The Successful American, Volumes 5–6. Press Biographical Company. p. 19.
  16. ^ "Explore the Collection". Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Archived from the original on October 16, 2012. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  17. ^ "The Art of Asia". Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  18. ^ "Mahala Pillsbury Biography". Governors of Minnesota. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
  19. ^ "List of Markers by Marker Number" (PDF). nh.gov. New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources. November 2, 2018. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
  20. ^ Hudson, Horace B. (December 1901). "A Public Servant of the Northwest: The Fruitful Career of the Late Governor John S. Pillsbury, of Minnesota". The American Monthly Review of Reviews. 24: 690.

Further reading[edit]

Sturdevant, Lori (2011). The Pillsburys of Minnesota. Minneapolis: Nodine Press. ISBN 978 1 935666 22 6.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of Minnesota
1875, 1877, 1879
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Minnesota
Succeeded by