Washburn High School was named for a pioneer in the Minneapolis flour milling industry, Mr. Cadwallader C. Washburn. C. C. Washburn and his partners founded a mill company on the west bank of the Mississippi River utilizing the water power generated by St. Anthony Falls. In addition to investing in a variety of business ventures, Mr. Washburn served as a major general in the Civil War, as a senator in the U. S. Congress, and as a governor of Wisconsin. Because his permanent residence was in Wisconsin rather than in Minnesota, he convinced his brother William to manage the mill operation.
In 1880, the flour milled at the Washburn mill won the gold medal (best in the world) at the Cincinnati Millers Exhibition; thus, the mills flour became known as Gold Medal Flour and was sold in its characteristic blue and orange bags.
In the milling industry, C. C. Washburn was known for utilizing innovative techniques. Through milling and other ventures, he amassed a sizeable fortune. The milling company he formed with partner John Crosby later became General Mills and was also the parent company of radio station WCCO with the call letters formed from the first letters of Washburn-Crosby Company.
When he died, Cadwallader Washburn left $375,000 in his will to found an orphanage in memory of his mother. The orphanage was built on 50th and Nicollet within Washburn Park, a new housing development area which ran from Minnehaha Creek to 48th Street and from 4th Avenue to Lyndale.
A portion of Washburn Park which was not being used by the orphanage was sold to the Minneapolis Board of Education in 1924 for building of a badly needed junior and senior high school in this expanding part of the city.
When the name for the proposed school was presented to the School Board, the official name presented was William D. Washburn. It is thought that this was an error and that the intent was to name it for Cadwallader C. Washburn; at any rate, Washburn is thought to be the namesake of C. C. Washburn.
The new Washburn opened on September 8, 1925, with 1031 students in grades 7-10 with the 11th and 12th grades added as the students advanced.. The official opening ceremonies were held May 21, 1926.
The first graduating class was 1928. Until 1929, Washburn served both senior and junior high School students.
The first principal was A. E. MacQuarrie. He wanted Washburn to be a pioneer school, to do things that other schools would be doing in ten years. In many ways, the first principal, A. E. MacQuarrie, was more Mr. Washburn than C. C. Washburn. He set the highest standards for the students. He was also legendary in his effort to have a well-run school and was very careful with school finances.
The Washburn Orphange was torn down in1929 and a school was built on the site. At first, the School Board intended to make the new school a senior high named Washburn and to use the building which already existed as the junior high; the students at Washburn lobbied the School Board. The Board reversed their decision and the original Washburn remained the senior high; the name of Washburn was also retained as the name of the high school.
During the 1960s there was serious overcrowding, 2300 students in a school meant for 1500. There were 5 lunch periods and two shifts of students with seniors attending 0-6th hours and underclassmen attending 2-8th hours. The big gym, the band/choir , industrial arts, and business rooms were added in 1967.
A 50th Anniversary celebration with an all-class reunion was held in May of 1976. The 75th Anniversary will soon be celebrated.
In the fall of 1996, a new science and tech prep wing opened. Computer networking was added during the summer of 1997; the media center was totally remodeled during the summer of 1998.
Throughout the years, the Miller tradition has continued the rich heritage of academics, athetics and achievements that began in 1925.