Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March is National Flour Month

By Ruth A. Ringelstetter

When we were growing up, our mother baked a lot. She made muffins, homemade donuts, cream puffs and cakes from scratch. Every other Saturday we made bread or cookies. Joann made the white bread, and our brother David made the raisin bread. Kneading was a good way to take out any aggressions that were built up. On the other weekends, we made Pride of Wisconsin Cookies (known to us as “Daddy’s cookies” since those were his favorite), and peanut butter cookies for us kids.

March is National Flour Month, and I have to admit, I haven’t baked a thing. I do have some bananas that are past the stage that I want to eat them, so they may need to be turned into banana bread.

As Joann and I drive around on our photography outings, we are always looking at all the old brick buildings, seeing if we can spot an old advertisement. These today are called ghost signs, since they are often very faded. Many have been around for 100 years or so. Unless they have been repainted, they are often so faded it takes us a while to make out what the advertisement is for.

Often what we find are old signs for flour. They were often on the side of old store buildings. The store carried the brand of flour, and advertised with their store name, and the brand of flour on the side.

On a trip to Iowa in 2008, we found a very faded Ceresota flour sign on an old brick building. We haven’t been able to find anything but very faded ads for this brand, but I do have some restored ads marked for us to visit. So many ads, so little time.

Locally, there is a pretty famous advertising sign for King Midas Flour on the side of a historic grocery store in a historic neighborhood. The King Midas Brand began in the early 1900’s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the Millbourne Mills. In 1912, they bought the Gardner Mill in Hastings, Minnesota, and renamed it the King Midas Mill. The brand exists today.

Gold Medal is one of the old flour ads that we find most often. The name of Gold Medal Flour was chosen after the Washburn Crosby Company entered their finest flours in the First Millers International Exhibition in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1880 and won the Gold, Silver, and Bronze.

In Iowa in 2011, we found a Gold Medal Flour ghost sign that had been painted over with a new ad. It must have been an old store that later became a drugstore and a new ad for the drugstore products was painted over the Gold Medal ad. The new ad showed “Headache Tablets, Cold Tablets, Kidney Tablets.” The “Easy to Bake” from the Gold Medal flour advertising slogan had been repainted as Easy to Take. Now the Gold Medal is showing through, but the words below still show Easy to Take.

Then in the late spring of 2013, on a long day trip to eastern Wisconsin, we passed a small crossroads town that had a restored Gold Medal Flour sign painted on the end of a barn. We had to stop to get a few pictures. This sign had Easy to Bake painted at the bottom, but for some reason, the painter had spelled “easy” as “eazy.” The original ads on buildings and in magazines, used the correct spelling of Easy.

We had never heard of the brand Duluth Universal Flour until we found an advertisement on the side of an old brick building in northern Minnesota. Duluth used to be home to many very large flour mills right along Lake Superior. All of the mills are gone now, but we were lucky enough to find this advertisement.

On the way to Missouri last spring, we planned to detour a little out of the way to find an old general store with a restored Occident Flour sign painted on the side of the whole building. Because this flour was milled in what was then the extreme western area of wheat production, the word Occident, which means “out of the West”, was chosen as the brand name.

On that same trip, we found a full wall ad for a brand called “Aristos Flour”. The ad features a little girl feeding a red turkey. This image was chosen because Red Turkey Wheat was used for the flour. The wheat was originally brought from Russia to Kansas by the Mennonites in the 1880’s.

We actually stopped at the town twice on the trip. The first time, there was the dark shadow of a basketball hoop on the ad. We waited around for a while, but there were few clouds in the sky, and the shadow was too dark to make a good picture.

Late the next day as we were heading back east, I mentioned to Joann that we were passing the little town again. I mentioned it too late for us to pull in, but just down the road, we swung into a little parking lot and turned around. The sky had more clouds, so Joann thought maybe we could get a good picture without the basketball hoop shadow. It was good thinking since we didn’t have to wait too long for the clouds to cover the sun and obscure the shadow. Sometimes I don’t consciously know why we end up on the same road on our trips, but usually there ends up being a good reason.

One of the flour ads we found in Wisconsin that we hadn’t heard of before was for Big Jo Flour. Big Jo Flour was manufactured in Wabasha, Minnesota. The mill was established in 1877. I’m not sure when the mill was shut down, but the mill was demolished in 2001. Sadly, we didn’t know about the mill, so we have no photos to document the large flour mill and the Big Jo Flour advertising on the storage silos.

Another brand of flour that was new to us was Wingold Flour which we came across in La Crosse County. The first Wingold Flour was milled March 18, 1899 in Winona, Minnesota. Bay State’s Winona Mill is still operational, now offering other types of flour and some organic flours.

We’ve learned in our travels that you have to look closely at all sides of brick buildings, and you have to look up. Even close to home, we’ve passed a lot of buildings over and over again, and when we finally look up, we see something we’ve never seen before. We’ll share more of those in the future.

Until then, Happy Shunpiking!


  1. Thank you for another great insight into little-noticed Americana with application to your family roots!

    1. Jean, thanks. It's always nice to tie this stuff back to our childhood.

  2. Great story, Ruth! And, I'd like to add to things Mom and we made when we were kids: homemade pie crust made with flour and lard (it was delicious!); fried chicken, fried liver and other meats dredged in flour; and homemade dumplings, just to name a few!

    1. Phyllis, thanks for the childhood memories. I forgot about some of that stuff. Other than roasts, it seems all the meat was coated in flour and fried in lard. And, as for the pie crust, Mom always made enough dough to allow for a couple of pie pans full of strips of dough that she would sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon, then bake. It was a warm crispy treat for all of us.

    2. Yes!! We always rolled the crust out quite a bit larger than the pie pan and cut around the edge of the pan to the right size. Then the clipped off parts would be put in a pie pan, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon and baked for us to eat. It sure was a warm, crispy treat! I used to do that for my girls back when I still made homemade pie crust. Now on the rare occasions that I do make a pie (usually only at Thanksgiving), I use the Pillsbury crusts which are just the right size so no extra clippings to bake!

  3. Leave it to you both to make me appreciate flour ads! Most of these brands I had not heard of.
    Yes, my mom saved the bits of dough and baked them with sugar and cinnamon. We loved that.

    1. Diana, it's so nice to have younger people like you take an interest in things with historical value. Of course, your biggest contribution there is all the work you do for the First Lutheran Church in Middleton. I'm glad our flour ads struck a chord with you. Keep your eye out and you will surely see one. Thanks for commenting.

  4. As usual wonderful pictures and memories. :)