New book lauds ND, Minn., entrepreneurs
GRAND FORKS — Politicians and soldiers get a lot of ink in history books, but more important are our “innovators, the entrepreneurs and capitalists.”
So says Bruce Gjovig, co-author of a new book “Innovative Entrepreneurs of North Dakota and Northwest Minnesota: 150 years of Impact!”
It is the fifth book project for Gjovig, 69, chief executive officer emeritus of the University of North Dakota Center for Innovation Foundation at Grand Forks. His co-author is Hiram Drache, 95, of Moorhead, Minn., author of 18 books and longtime historian-in-residence at Concordia College in Moorhead.
The book offers vignettes of business people and inventors from 150 years. More than half are tied to food or agriculture. Gjovig says the book is for “history buffs, people who like business and entrepreneurship and people who like agriculture — there’s many rich lessons.”
The 300-page paperback is a “who’s who” of the region’s business titans, with 64 compact stories spanning from the Oliver Dalrymple Bonanza farm at Casselton, N.D., in the 1870s to today. Gjovig describes the region’s leadership in agriculture as far longer than the car industry in Detroit or the airplane industry in Wichita, Kan. Many of the innovations spawned Fortune 500 companies, some identifiable as brands or divisions of other companies more than a century later.
Among its topics and subjects:
Bonanza farms — Oliver Dalrymple, who had farmed near Cottage Grove, Minn., in 1862, suffered in the panic of 1873, but went to work for a Bonanza farm in 1875, near Casselton, N.D. It was a year after the Northern Pacific Railway had filed the town site of Fargo. By 1896, Dalrymple owned 30,000 acres and had influence over 65,000 acres under cultivation. The big farms adopted machinery and technology that influenced farming. (Former North Dakota first lady Betsy Dalrymple, who still lives with former Gov. John “Jack” Dalrymple III, in the house built in 1880, wrote the forward for the new book.)
Cream of Wheat — George Bull, who farmed near Arvilla, N.D., started a flour mill. He sold some baking flour to a broker in New York, and threw in — a novelty bonus — 10 cases of a breakfast porridge, made from “farina” and dubbed “Cream of Wheat.” The broker wanted only the Cream of Wheat and the breakfast sensation made a profit. They moved production to Minneapolis and grew it with high-end color painted advertisements printed in women’s magazines. The company was sold to NABISCO (National Biscuit Co.) in 1962. The company became part of Kraft Foods and the brand was sold for $200 million to B&G Foods, Inc.
Cloverdale Foods — Hoy Russell was a dairy farmer near Mandan, N.D.,and started Mandan Creamery & Produce. He had a trucking branch and in 1958 introduced meat products. The Russells (eventually Bill, Don, T.J., and Scott Russell, among them) went on to establish a slaughter plant in Minot from 1979 to 2011, and a meat business that thrives today. The company had 320 employees in Mandan in 2017, with about $70 million in annual revenue. ,
ThermoKing —Frederick McKinley Jones, born in 1893 in Kentucky to an African American mother and an Irish father, moved to Minneapolis. In 1913 he met Oscar Youngren who invited him to move to Hallock, Minn., to fix steam tractors on a large farm with 3,000 acres. After serving in World War I, he returned to a business that developed sound systems for movies. In 1938, he invented a mechanical refrigeration system for semi-trailer trucks, to replace cooling trucks with ice. The ThermoKing brand was created in 1941, and was propelled by World War II. Westinghouse Electric Corp. bought it in 1961 for the equivalent of $300 million today. In 1997, Ingersoll-Rand, based in Bloomington, Minn., bought it for $2.56 billion.
Melroes: Bobcat, Steiger, Concord, Amity — E.G. Melroe, a Gwinner, N.D., farmer, in 1916 had what was billed as the first “tractor-operated farm” in the Dakotas. In 1940, he invented a windrow pickup, and a factory at Gwinner in the late 1940s. He and his family developed a spring-toothed harroweeder. They developed the “Bobcat” skid-steer loader from an invention by Louis and Cyril Keller of Rothsay, Minn., in 1957. Clark Equipment Co. bought them out in 1969 and Ingersoll-Rand purchased the company in 1995, followed by Doosan Infracore in 2007. The Melroes, including E.G. Melroe’s son-in-law Eugene Dahl, went on to making and marketing Steiger Tractors, and his grandsons, Howard and Brian Dahl made Concord air drills for minimum- and no-till drills, and other equipment.
The book is published cooperatively by Concordia College and Smoky Water Press of Bismarck, and sells for $24.99. It is available at regional bookstores or online at www.DakotaBookNet.com. Gjovig says he’s continuing to gather stories for perhaps a followup to the book. Contact him at Bruce@Gjovig.net.