Driving along Highway 61 near Red Wing, Minn., one might not know that the former owner of an expansive estate is responsible for the quintessential modern American breakfast: cold cereal.
Born in 1862, Alexander Pierce Anderson built Tower View, a 350-acre farm with a 115-foot water tower and Georgian Revival home in 1921. It marked the scientist’s triumphant return back to his boyhood home after inventing puffed rice and finding fame as the pioneering food product’s marketing figurehead for Quaker Oats Company.
“Alexander Pierce Anderson was a farm boy – he grew up not far from where we are now,” said historian Frederick Johnson. Anderson grew up as the son of immigrants from Sweden and during a booming wheat trade in Red Wing.
“Minnesota had the King Wheat era in the 1870s and ’80s, and Red Wing made money off of storing it and shipping it. The farmers brought it to them, so if you weren’t in the grain business, you weren’t very smart,” Johnson added.
A scientist at heart, Anderson left farming to pursue his studies in mechanical engineering at the University of Minnesota, followed by a doctorate in Germany. After returning to the U.S., he spent some time in New York, where his experiments yielded an astonishing discovery. He found microscopic traces of water in grains at their nucleus and, when put under pressure and heated quickly, they would transform and explode in air.
The discovery garnered some soft interest from investors – but that interest didn’t really gain steam until the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. There, Anderson’s invention was shot out of small guns and caused a spectacle. At the time, the puffed grain was sold as a confectionery product. Later, Quaker would successfully market it as a cold cereal.
When Anderson eventually returned to Red Wing, he wanted to re-establish a family farm, and build a home laboratory where he could raise his family and continue his experiments. He became known as a generous philanthropist in the area and, together with his wife Lydia, led a community-minded life.
He died in 1943, but his legacy lives on. The campus now houses an alternative high school, and serves as the site for artistic and scholarly collaboration and inspiration. One program invites artists from around the world to spend a few weeks in Anderson’s former home and focus on bringing their creative ideas to life. It has also served as a site for childcare instruction.
“A.P. Anderson was a man of the future, he looked ahead, and I think he’d be very proud to see what has become of Tower View, the home he built and loved. It serves the community well, it serves the state well,” said Johnson.
This story was published April 28, 2020.
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