A railroad outbuilding in Conover
Acquiring a small grain warehouse marked the beginning of Cargill. By the late 1970s, all that remained of Conover was this railroad outbuilding.

The warehouse that started it all


In 1865, Cargill’s founder begins his business with the purchase of a single grain warehouse. His hunch about grain is right—there is no way to go but up.

The American Civil War had ended and the railroad was expanding across the newly settled prairie, designed to connect the Mississippi Valley with the Pacific coast. Eager to enter the new business frontier, William Wallace (W. W.) Cargill left his family home in Janesville, Wisconsin, for Conover, Iowa.

Portrait of W. W. CargillFrom a young age, W. W. Cargill shows a strong entrepreneurial spirit as he pursues grain across the American plains.

Until the fall of 1864, Conover was nothing more than a vast cow pasture, but when word hit that the railroad would pass through the area, a village quickly emerged on the farmland. A year later, Conover was a true boomtown, boasting over 200 buildings complete with fresh produce markets and some 32 saloons.

W. W. became the proprietor of a single grain warehouse at the end of the McGregor & Western Railroad, where he collected and stored grain for trade. Two years later, his brothers joined him, constructing a second warehouse and lumberyard in nearby Lime Springs, Iowa.

The developments marked the beginning of the Cargill family’s strategic moves into new territory. In 1875, headquarters would be established in La Crosse, a Wisconsin town perched on the Mississippi River. The location introduced W. W. to more farmers, sparking new supplier relationships that would make use of both railroad and river for transport. It was the beginning of the company’s work in nourishing people near and far.