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During the Civil War, a man gained national recognition by repeatedly auctioning off a plain sack of flour. By doing so, he raised $250,000 which aided wounded soldiers.

Neil Patrick

Reuel Colt Gridley was an American storekeeper who gained nationwide attention in 1864 when he repeatedly auctioned a plain sack of flour. This raised over $250,000 for the United States Sanitary Commission, which provided aid to wounded American Civil War soldiers.

Gridley with his sack of flour in 1864

Gridley with his bag of flour in 1864. Source: Wikipedia/Public Domain

In 1864, Gridley supported the Democratic candidate for mayor in Austin, Nevada, where he operated a grocery store. He made a bet with a Republican friend that the loser would carry a fifty-pound sack of flour through the town. He performed his punishment with the accompaniment of the town band, and at the end, someone offered that the sack should be auctioned off to raise money for the Sanitary Fund, a new organization that aided disabled Civil War veterans. After finally selling for $250, the winning bidder did not take the sack but instead donated it back to Gridley to be auctioned off again. It was repeatedly sold until over $8,000 was raised. When nearby Virginia City, Nevada heard of the event (and where young newspaper editor Mark Twain was working at the time), they invited Gridley to come there, which he did. He then traveled to California where San Franciscans donated $2,800, and Sacramento citizens gave $10,000, before heading to St. Louis and the major eastern cities. These bidders added around $170,000 to the Sanitary Commission’s fund, and within twelve months Gridley had raised $275,000 with his sack of flour.

The Gridley Store in Austin, Nevada, which was placed on National Register of Historic Places listings in Nevada in 2003

The Gridley Store in Austin, Nevada, which was placed on National Register of Historic Places listings in Nevada in 2003 By AlishaV – Upload to Flickr as 102_0586, CC BY 2.0,

Twain told the story of the Gridley flour sack in his 1872 book Roughing It. In 1866, Gridley moved to Stockton, California, where he died in 1870. In Austin, Gridley’s store still stands and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

In 1887, the Reuel Colt Gridley Monument was dedicated in Stockton’s Rural Cemetery, depicting Gridley standing next to a large sack of flour.