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James Ford Bell


"What I have collected has been carefully chosen and is, I think, of a quality and an extent to form at least the nucleus of a library which…may help to make the generations of students that will pass through the University of Minnesota good trustees for posterity of the boldness, confidence, vision, and wisdom which these books contain as gifts from the past." – James Ford Bell, "Bound Fragments of Time"

James Ford Bell, Merchant Explorer

James Ford Bell, a leading figure in the American flour milling industry and founder of General Mills, Inc., was born in Philadelphia, PA, in 1879. He moved to Minneapolis, MN as a boy of nine, when his father, James Stroud Bell, became general manager of the Washburn Crosby Company. James Ford Bell received a BS in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1901. Following his graduation, he joined the Washburn Crosby Company, where he demonstrated outstanding gifts in research and management;  his responsibilities in the company grew rapidly.

During World War I, he was appointed chairman of the Milling Division of the U.S. Food Administration and in this capacity he accompanied President Herbert Hoover on his European Hunger Relief Mission in 1918.

For this, Bell was awarded the Belgian Order of the Crown and was made a member of the French Legion of Honor. James Ford Bell became president of the Washburn Crosby Company in 1925; three years later he was responsible for the founding of General Mills, a consolidation of many western and Midwestern milling companies. He became chairman of the board of directors of the company in 1932, an office he held until his retirement in 1947. Throughout his life, he was active in national and international affairs and in the growth of his community.

In 1953, Minneapolis civic leader, businessman, and philanthropist James Ford Bell presented to the University of Minnesota his collection of approximately 600 books related to discovery, exploration, and trade in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. The collection established the James Ford Bell Library, a center for study, research, public outreach, and further acquisition.  Since then, the collection has grown to some 30,000 books, maps, and manuscripts that document international trade and cross-cultural interaction from the ancient world to ca. 1800.