When I first received this book, I thought that it would probably be boring - one of those typical centennial or commemorative books companies and other organizations put out that only their members would be interested in. I was pleasantly surprised to find how good this book really is. For sure, it tells the one-hundred-year story of the Shawnee Milling Company of Shawnee, Oklahoma, but it also tells the history of the city and the local area over the past century. It is a great local history, especially with Oklahoma’s centennial coming up next year.
The authors, husband and wife, Virginia and Jim Bradshaw, are journalists who worked for years with the local Shawnee newspaper, The Shawnee News-Star. They are also friends of the present president of the Shawnee Milling Company, Bill Ford, which enabled them to tell the story of this company on a more personal level. The facts and figures of a traditional commemorative book are there, but the intimate story of this company and the family who founded it shines out much more than those facts and figures. Copious color and black and white photographs throughout provide a visual aid to the story the Bradshaws tell, a story that flows quite well.
Shawnee is in the northern part of Potawatomi County of Oklahoma. Today it is the Potawatomi County seat, but originally it was not. Tecumseh to the south held that title until the 1930s. Shawnee was also one of three cities on the ballot to chosen from as the new state capital, finishing third behind Guthrie and Oklahoma City. The Shawnee Milling Company was founded in 1906 by J. Lloyd Ford when he bought the Shawnee Roller Mills in Shawnee, Oklahoma Territory, later improving on the building and expanding his company.
As the Shawnee Milling Company grew, so did the city, with other businesses, schools, homes and railroad connections. Two religious-connected colleges were drawn to Shawnee in the 1910s - Okalahoma Baptist University in 1910, and the Catholic University of Oklahoma, later to be known as St. Gregory’s University, in 1915. As time went along and the company expanded, J. Lloyd Ford purchased other mills in other Oklahoma cities and towns; the mill in Okeene is still owned and operated by the Fords. He also purchased mills in other states. Ford’s milled wheat, corn, alfalfa and other grains into flour, cornmeal and other foods for humans, and they also created food for animals.
J. Lloyd Ford died on February 26, 1958, after building one of the major milling companies in the United States, which his son Leslie A. Ford would continue to build and expand upon. He died on August 29, 1979, and was succeeded by his son William L. Ford, who is the current president of the Shawnee Milling Company. The Ford family, one of Shawnee’s most prominent, have been great stewards of their company and benefactors to various organizations in the community and the state.
The company’s physical buildings have burned down almost completely more than once in its hundred years, but the Fords have been able to rebuild and go on. The Shawnee Milling Company concrete mills and elevators are a prominent fixture in downtown Shawnee. During the Christmas season, they light a star on the tallest of the buildings; they also added an American flag after the 9/11 Attacks. And yes, at times you can smell the contents of the mill when the ever-blowing Oklahoma wind turns your way. One could consider that the smell of success since this company has endured and prospered when other mills in Oklahoma and other places have closed their doors. Happy Centennial to the Shawnee Milling Company!
Jim Bradshaw is a member of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. He was a journalist for 47 years and worked for The Shawnee News-Star, Lawton Constitution, and The Daily Oklahoman. Virginia Bradshaw worked for The Shawnee News-Star and the Norman Transcript and has worked with the The Daily Oklahoman. She also was the public information director for, taught journalism and edited a quarterly news magazine, student newspaper and yearbook at St. Gregory’s College, now a university.
This centennial history of the Shawnee Milling Company is recommended to those interested in local Oklahoma history and in milling companies.