About John Sargent Pillsbury
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.
John S. Pillsbury was born in Sutton, New Hampshire of English descent, son of John and Susan (Wadleigh) Pillsbury, and descendant of Joshua Pillsbury, who emigrated from England to Newburyport, Mass., in 1640. 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 came to Minnesota from the Eastern U.S. in 1855 and settled in St. Anthony (now part of Minneapolis, Minnesota). He married Mahala Fisk the next year on November 3, 1856. The entrepreneur tried his hand at several different types of businesses (after his business with Walter Harriman) including hardware, real estate, and lumber, though his greatest success came when he founded C.A. Pillsbury and Company along with his family (it is named for his nephew, Charles Alfred Pillsbury). Pillsbury attended the University of Minnesota, where he joined Chi Psi. Today, Pillsbury Hall, located at the University of Minnesota, is named in honor of Pillsbury.
John and Mahala had four children, daughters Addie, Susan May, and Sarah Belle, and then son Alfred. Addie married Charles M. Webster, but died at the age of 25; Susan married Fred B. 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 MIA as well. Alfred did not go into business, but instead became an art collector. When he died in 1950, the works were donated to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Pillsbury served as the 8th Governor of Minnesota from January 7, 1876, until January 10, 1882. During the Grasshopper Plague of 1877, Governor Pillsbury called for a day of prayer on April 26, 1877. A subsequent sleet storm killed all the grasshoppers. In Cold Spring, Minnesota, a chapel was built to honor the miracle.
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." Pillsbury Hall at the University of Minnesota is named in his honor.
A 1901 magazine article describes 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."
—Horace B. Hudson , The American Monthly Review of Reviews
Pillsbury is buried at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.