• Shown mid-construction, Cargill’s first terminal elevator in Nebraska is built in 55 days for US $500,000—one-third the cost of a conventional elevator.
  • The innovative “Big Bin” design includes a mechanism that lifts, turns and empties an entire railcar of grain in less than 4 minutes.
  • In 1932, Cargill builds another, vastly larger terminal elevator in Albany, New York. Holding 13.5 million bushels, it is declared the world’s largest.
  • The efficiency and low cost of the new design inspires Cargill to adapt the structure for East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1934.
  • A fourth “Big Bin” is built in 1937 in Memphis, Tennessee. It is a gateway to the South, enabling heavier trade across the region.

A grain storage revolution in Nebraska

To handle more grain and avoid high storage costs, Cargill unveils the “Big Bin” model, a rail-side terminal with maximum space and efficiency.

John MacMillan, Jr., an innovative businessman who served as Cargill’s president from 1936 to 1960, approached the company’s early grain challenges with an inventive spirit. One such example is his grain elevator in Omaha, Nebraska, a creative terminal design nicknamed the “Big Bin,” thanks to its larger-than-life storage vessels.

It all began in 1930. Grain demand was higher than ever and Cargill needed to store and transport larger crop volumes. With external storage prices at a premium, John Jr. resolved to create an entirely new infrastructure: a 5 million-bushel grain elevator housed within a terminal, strategically located on the east-west railroad in Omaha.

Built in just 55 days, the structure was groundbreaking, performing one task at a time with incredible speed. Entire rail cars were lifted by machine, turned sideways and emptied in four minutes flat, amounting to 10 cars of grain unloaded every hour, or hundreds per day.

“We are more than delighted. It is by all odds the most economical of any grain elevator.” — John MacMillan, Jr., President of Cargill

To maximize space, John Jr. installed four “Big Bins” in the terminal—the first of their kind—each holding an enormous 1 million bushels of grain in flat storage. With the pieces in place, Cargill was able to process, store and transport grain with industry-changing efficiency.

Following the terminal’s success, Cargill built three more in seven years, strategically stationed along rail lines in Albany, East St. Louis and Memphis. The network granted Cargill and its customers unprecedented access to grain storage, moving bigger volumes to market at a more cost-efficient rate.