• W. W. Cargill’s daughter Edna marries John MacMillan, Sr., in 1895, forever joining the two families and influencing the future of the Cargill business.
  • Friends since childhood, the newlyweds sit in a buggy outside the Cargill home in La Crosse, Wisconsin, just across the street from the MacMillans.
  • Merging the two families gives way to future generations of leadership, including John Sr. and Edna’s first son, John MacMillan, Jr. (above), who becomes president in 1936.

A move to La Crosse joins two families

Arriving in Wisconsin, W. W. Cargill and his family meet the MacMillans, establishing the successful future of the Cargill business.

From the earliest days of his business, Cargill founder William Wallace (W. W.) Cargill made family the cornerstone of his company. His brothers Samuel, Sylvester and James were instrumental in helping establish and build the Cargill business. Eventually, Sylvester and James left the enterprise to pursue other interests, but Samuel continued on as a trusted partner of W. W.

A decade into his grain trade business, W. W. moved his family to La Crosse, Wisconsin, a growing Mississippi River town located at the intersection of two major railroads. It was a move that would continue the company’s focus on family, but in unexpected ways.

W. W. and his wife, Ellen, built their new home across the street from a large family whose patriarch, Duncan D. McMillan, was also an entrepreneur with businesses in logging and finance, including the La Crosse Gas Light Company.

As neighbors, the Cargill and McMillan children played together. In time, the McMillans’ eldest son, John Sr., proposed to W. W.’s daughter, Edna Cargill. The two wed in Wisconsin in 1895, forever joining the two families and introducing new leadership to the family-run enterprise. In addition, John Sr. changed the spelling of his last name, introducing the revised “MacMillan” surname that would be passed down to future generations.

The marriage not only expanded the Cargill family—Edna and John Sr. had two sons, John MacMillan, Jr., and Cargill MacMillan—it also gave W. W. another loyal business associate. After briefly pursuing his own interests in the Texas grain industry, John Sr. went to work for W. W., eventually becoming president after his father-in-law’s death in 1909. His fiscally conservative style brought the company out of significant debt, preparing it well for future growth. 

John Sr.After W. W. Cargill’s death in 1909, John Sr. (above) takes hold of the business, successfully transforming Cargill into a modern corporation.