When you drive into Northfield, you are greeted with the city sign which boasts the motto “Cows, Colleges & Contentment.” “Colleges” makes sense to most everyone who see it. We have two world-class liberal arts colleges in our small community. “Contentment”, yes I get that too. It’s a quaint little city with a bustling downtown scene that is second to none. Northfield has a cool vibe that brings people in and makes them want to stay, content with where they are today and in the future. The cows however, are a mystery to most. Since June is Dairy Month, we thought it would be fun to explore why Northfield makes a big deal about cows.
It all started in 1897 when part-time farmer and editor of the Northfield News, William Schilling, had a conversation with a horse breeder named Tom Delancey about how certain places in Europe were known for breeding only certain types of purebred horses, and people came from all over the world to purchase them. The two men discussed how Northfield could draw business like this by focusing on breeding one type of cow – the Holstein breed. Holsteins were chosen because they are known for the high amount of low-fat milk they produce (and also some herds were already here).
Schilling purchased a dairy farm and a Holstein herd himself and urged the community to follow suit. He wrote stories and editorials on the benefits of raising Holstein cattle in the Northfield News. He also wrote and edited the Minnesota Dairyman and worked for improvements in dairying, he started a Holstein Club in 1903, and eventually there were nearly 300 herds in Northfield. Both Carleton and St. Olaf Colleges had Holstein herds, too.
Northfield was involved in the dairy industry for more than raising Holsteins – they also had a number of local creameries to make milk products and take them to market (mostly in the Twin Cities). One of these was the Northfield Milk Products Company, started in 1917, which produced cans of Northfield Brand Evaporated Milk.
Sadly, the dairy industry began to struggle in the 1920’s due to number of factors, including: new laws requiring expensive milking equipment, high cost of feeding cows, high taxes, and even new technologies that made growing grain easier again.
In 1914, the Northfield Commercial Club (now known as the Northfield Chamber of Commerce) adopted the slogan “Cows, Colleges and Contentment” based in part on the high concentration of Holstein cattle herds in the city (261 herds counted in the area in 1914). Commercial Club member, Ludwig Roe is credited as the originator of the slogan “Northfield, the center of cows, colleges and contentment” for the club in the Northfield News on Dec. 4, 1914. Roe was the city editor for the News from 1913 to 1917.