239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

September 19, 1912
Minneapolis, MN
Storify Feature

Minneapolis, Flour Power, and the Ideal Virtues of Man

THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER rushed over the half-circled ledges of layered limestone and sandstone, pouring forward on its long journey toward America’s south. St. Anthony Falls was the focal point of a city that was the world leader in flour milling: Minneapolis, Minnesota. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke at the industrial center on September 20, 1912. He talked about the need for moral progress in addition to the material progress so evident in America.

“If we review history,” he told his audience, “we will observe that human advancement has been greatest in the development of material virtues. Civilization is the sign and evidence of this progression.”

Civilization in Minneapolis had been built on St. Anthony Falls, the only major natural waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River. Early on, the white settlers of the Minnesota Territory harnessed the power of the falls for industrial use. They built a dam — shaped like a “V” to divert water on either side of the river — and power mills along its banks. First came the sawmills, chewing through the logs of white pine that had floated down from the forests up north. During the 1870’s, the flour mills began to take over. Minneapolis soon became known as “The Flour Milling Capital of the World,” passing Budapest as the world’s leading processor of grain in 1897; by 1900 its mills produced over fourteen percent of America’s flour. The wheat came in by way of rail lines across the Northern Plains, was processed in Minneapolis, then shipped out to destinations in the Eastern United States for export and domestic distribution.

“Throughout the world,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said in Minneapolis, “material civilization has attained truly wonderful heights and degrees of efficiency — that is to say, the outward powers and virtues of man have greatly developed, but the inner and ideal virtues have been correspondingly delayed and neglected.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s audience in Minnesota could see the material power he discussed all around them, stemming from the unceasing march of the water that drove their mills.

As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá set out across America in 1912, Minnesota’s flour industry was reaching its peak. Culture and sophistication had followed. “Minneapolis has built for herself a social fabric that is in every way creditable to the high standard of Western civilization,” Harper’s Weekly had observed in 1890.

But today ‘Abdu’l-Bahá argued for more. “It is now the time in the history of the world,” he asserted, “for us to strive and give an impetus to the advancement and development of inner forces — that is to say, we must arise to service in the world of morality, for human morals are in need of readjustment.” “[T]he minds of men,” he said, had to “increase in power and become keener in perception . . . so that the ideal virtues may appear.”

Minneapolis’s milling industry started to collapse after 1916. Steam power, and then electricity, surmounted the advantage which the water power of St. Anthony Falls had given Minnesota. Wheat fields along the Red River Valley exhausted themselves from repetitive planting. Farmers on the southern plains developed a new brand of winter wheat, which could be processed closer to the source in Kansas City. Finally, the Interstate Commerce Commission ruled that flour was a manufactured product, which should be shipped at a higher rate. This meant that it now made better economic sense to send unprocessed grain further east along the iron rails to be processed closer to market. Soon Buffalo supplanted Minneapolis as America’s flour capital.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá had begun his talk in Minnesota with a statement of intent. “There are many meetings in the world,” he said, “thousands of them perhaps being held at this very moment, mostly for social, political, scientific or commercial purposes; but our gathering here tonight is for God, for heavenly purposes.” If spiritual advancement was to occur, it necessitated its own structures, its own enterprises. The ideal virtues that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá discussed, which included “insight,” “memory,” “the power of love,” and the “ability to prove the existence of God,” would strengthen as these societal structures gradually emerged.


  • Firooz Oskooi

    The KIngdom of God is here materially already. Only the hearts must change, so love and service become the norm.

    • Loie Mead

      I loved reading your comment, Firuz. So here we all are…at the threshold of changing many, many hearts! I witnessed some hearts of dear ones changing last weekend as my adult children listened to me tell the Baha’is’ view of America’s Destiny. They were so moved to see a vision of the real “American Dream” and the role of the United Nations. Hopefully, we can all view the General Assembly meeting today and hear about the pressing issues confronting the world. Best wishes, Loie

  • shahla

    “If spiritual advancement was to occur, it necessitated its own structures, its own enterprises.”
    Perhaps, in worldwide core activities for spiritual empowerment of people of all ages, Baha’is are establishing the spiritual structures, and are witnessing the beginnings of the spiritual enterprises for the spiritual advancement that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is anticipating.

  • http://twitter.com/MasterCopyWrite Karridine

    Shahla, Firooz… the ‘wondrous system’ created by The Glory of God and bequeathed to humankind in His Kitab-i-Aqdas (Book of Laws) IS BRINGING into existence (and HAS BEEN BRINGING) the structures, resources and means for the unification of all humankind!

    In the face of naysayers, sneering elitists, laughing critics and others who belittle and deride, Baha’is are LIVING and PRACTICING the ‘Kingdom of God, on Earth as it is in Heaven’…

    For example, some of us record this report daily, and then post it for all to download and listen at their leisure… http://bit.ly/T6DfK8

  • http://www.facebook.com/janet.cundall.3 Janet Cundall

    water power is likely more advantageous again in 2012 as we need to create renewable energy based economies and water power doesn’t produce CO2. moral decision making – to be renewable for future generations or not care