William D. Washburn

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William Drew Washburn
United States Senator
from Minnesota
In office
March 4, 1889 – March 4, 1895
Preceded byDwight M. Sabin
Succeeded byKnute Nelson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1883 – March 3, 1885
Preceded byDistrict created
Succeeded byJohn Gilfillan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Minnesota's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1879 – March 3, 1883
Preceded byJacob H. Stewart
Succeeded byHorace B. Strait
Personal details
Born(1831-01-14)January 14, 1831
Livermore, Maine
DiedJuly 29, 1912(1912-07-29) (aged 81)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Political partyRepublican
Alma materBowdoin College

William Drew "W.D." Washburn, Sr. (January 14, 1831 – July 29, 1912) was an American politician. He served in both the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate as a Republican from Minnesota. Three of his seven brothers became politicians: Elihu B. Washburne, Cadwallader C. Washburn, and Israel Washburn, Jr. He was also cousin of Dorilus Morrison, the first mayor of Minneapolis. He served in the 46th, 47th, 48th, 51st, 52nd, and 53rd congresses.

Washburn was born in Livermore, Maine. A graduate of Bowdoin College, he first studied law in the office of John A. Peters in Bangor, Maine before moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota around 1857.[1] There he practiced law, and worked for the Minneapolis Milling Company (founded by his brother Cadwallader). His business ventures in lumber and flour milling allowed him to amass a large fortune, and by the 1880s, he was among the wealthiest men in Minnesota. Washburn served as the first president from 1883 to 1889 of what was to become Soo Line Railroad.[2] He also founded the Pillsbury-Washburn Milling Company, which later became the Pillsbury Company, and was eventually absorbed by his brother's firm, General Mills.

Washburn built a mansion known as "Fair Oaks" in 1883. It was designed by E. Townsend Mix, who also designed Minneapolis's Metropolitan Building, and the outdoor landscape was laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted. The grounds included an artificial stream leading to a pond, a rustic footbridge, a greenhouse, and a carriage house. The home was demolished in 1924 to make way for a park, although the region is now part of the Washburn-Fair Oaks Mansion District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Washburn served in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1871.[3] He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1878 and served from March 4, 1879 to March 3, 1885. He was elected to the Senate in 1888 and served from March 4, 1889 to March 4, 1895.

Washburn was a founder of the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis in 1859. A major benefactor, he served as a trustee and President for much of his remaining life. He died in Minneapolis in 1912. His grandson C. Langhorne Washburn was to be active in the Republican Party from the 1950s through the 1970s.

William Washburn's son, Cadwallader Lincoln Washburn, was born in 1866. Cad became deaf as a child. His talent as an artist was noticed at an early age. Cad eventually became a noted artist and news correspondent who pioneered many new painting techniques in the west. The arts center at his alma mater, Gallaudet University, is named for Cad Washburn.[4] Another son William Drew Washburn, Jr. also served in the Minnesota House of Representatives.[5]


  1. ^ Progressive Men of Minnesota (Minneapolis, 1897), p. 81
  2. ^ Gjevre, John A. (1990). Saga of the Soo, West from Shoreham (Second ed.). Moorhead, Minnesota: Gjevre Books.
  3. ^ Minnesota Legislators Past and Present-William Drew Washburn, Sr.
  4. ^ Gannon, Jack. 1981. Deaf Heritage–A Narrative History of Deaf America, Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf, p. 147-150 (PDF)(PDF)(PDF)(PDF)
  5. ^ Minnesota Legislators Past and Present-William Drew Washburn, Jr.

External links[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Dwight M. Sabin
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Minnesota
Served alongside: Cushman Davis
Succeeded by
Knute Nelson
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jacob H. Stewart
U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 3rd congressional district
Succeeded by
Horace B. Strait
Preceded by
U.S. Representative from Minnesota's 4th congressional district
Succeeded by
John Gilfillan
Business positions
New title President of Soo Line Railroad
Succeeded by
Thomas Lowry