When Cream of Wheat took Grand Forks County to the U.S. Supreme Court..

A fact not well-known is that Grand Forks, ND is the birthplace of “Cream of Wheat” cereal.  The porridge was invited at the Grand Forks Diamond Milling Company in 1893.  The mills owners George Bull, Emory Mapes and George Clifford, Sr. had a feeling about the product, which George Clifford’s brother, Fred, had named “Cream of Wheat”.  After being well received by customers, the mill advertised it nationally in the Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post and orders soared from 554 in 1896 to 15,600 in 1897.  By 1898, the company was renamed the Cream of Wheat Company and moved all production to Minneapolis with Fred Clifford in tow.

By 1897, George Clifford was President of the company after the death of George Bull in a car accident.  Clifford, who had just built two stately homes in Grand Forks–one for himself as well as one for his brother Fred, began spending less and less time in the town.  In 1907, Mrs. George Clifford died after an automobile accident which occurred while the family was travelling to visit Fred Clifford in Minneapolis.  This fact no doubt had an impact on George Clifford’s decision to move himself as well as company headquarters out of Grand Forks in 1909.  Nevertheless the Cream of Wheat Company remained incorporated in the State and continued to have an office in Grand Forks until 1914.  Thus giving rise to the fact pattern leading to the U.S. Supreme Court case of Cream of Wheat Co. vs. Grand Forks County, 253 U.S. 325 (1920), which involved what most of us dread……Taxes.

With nothing more in the state than a small office and a corporate status, the State of North Dakota apparently felt very little need to cater to the now booming company.  Like many states, North Dakota had a personal property tax at the time.  Using this authority, North Dakota assessed taxes from 1908 to 1913 on the company’s intangible personal property (i.e. stocks and bonds) even though they were not held in the state and were actually already taxed by another state.  Cream of Wheat objected claiming that it was “double taxation” in violation of the 14th Amendment.  While Clifford remained President, Daniel Bull was now CEO (yes, he was the son of the late George Bull) when the decision was made to appeal it’s loss in the North Dakota Supreme Court to the highest court in the land–with the assistance of some high-powered Minneapolis attorneys.  In an opinion written by the legendary Justice Louis Brandeis, Cream of Wheat found no sympathy and the North Dakota Supreme Court’s decision was affirmed on June 1, 1920.

Little remains of Cream of Wheat’s time in Grand Forks, except the two homes built side-by-side by George Clifford on Reeves Drive in 1895.  Interestingly enough, I am fortunate enough to be residing in one of them–the one build for Fred.