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Parkin, Arthur W. (1872–1963)

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Photograph of Arthur W. Parkin (1872–1963) late in life.

Cheese making in Minnesota took a backseat to milk and butter production during the nineteenth century. In the early 1900s, Arthur Parkin of Pine Island changed that picture.

Arthur W. Parkin's rise in Minnesota's dairy industry can be traced to Professor Stephen M. Babcock. The University of Wisconsin professor, who taught Parkin in 1894, devised a reliable test for butterfat in milk. That simple test helped American dairy farmers weed out cows producing low-quality milk and improve their herds.

The twenty-two-year-old Parkin took his knowledge to Auburndale, Wisconsin, where he became a cheesemaker. Around 1900, the dairying expert moved to Pine Island near the border between Minnesota's Goodhue and Dodge Counties. This small-sized district was the state's cheese-making hotbed. Swiss immigrants had been making and selling cheese there since the late 1860s. Parkin got right to work, setting up thirty-eight new cheese factories in the eight years following his arrival.

Overall, state cheese making fell during the early 1900s because the University of Minnesota's dairy school, influenced by dairy farming expert Oren C. Gregg, emphasized butter making. In southern Goodhue County, however, cheese production soared. Credit for that boom went to Parkin, along with other producers like the Baumgartner brothers, Walter, Jake, and John. Cheese-making cooperatives at Sogn, Roscoe and Minneola added production. In 1906, Goodhue County produced 1.1 million pounds of cheese. The amount more than doubled that of its second-placed Dodge County neighbor.

Arthur Parkin believed Goodhue County cheese makers should publicize their efforts. In 1911 he came up with an eye-catching publicity stunt. Pine Island would make a giant cheese. He convinced eighteen cheese factory owners within a twelve-mile radius of the village to help him. The dairy owners brought more than seven thousand pounds of curd to a railroad flat car. Awaiting them was a Parkin-created cheese form four-feet-six-inches in height and nineteen feet in circumference. Parkin's cheddar cheese was made of seventy thousand pounds of milk, the production of 3,300 cows.

After curing, Parkin shipped the giant cheese to the Minnesota State Fair. On the way, he gave the three-ton cheddar a promotional truck ride through downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul. Arthur Parkin and a bugler sat atop of the mammoth cheese during the drive. A New Jersey firm later purchased the cheese for forty cents a pound—ten cents more than market price.

Parkin enjoyed sharing his knowledge and often served as a dairy show judge. The University of Minnesota also selected him to be an instructor at its annual month-long seminars on dairy science in 1901. He continued to teach until 1912.

Because of his expertise, state agriculture officials offered the respected Pine Island man the job of Minnesota's first dairy and food inspector. He held the office from 1907 to 1913. The agriculture department endorsed Pine Island's importance in dairying by appointing town residents, John J. Roch and John B. Baumgartner, as Parkin's immediate successors.

Arthur Parkin's work in the state's cheese industry led to the July 10, 1920 formation of the Minnesota Cheese Producers Association (MCPA) in Pine Island. Roots of the American Dairy Association of Minnesota, organized in 1939, are also found in the community, thanks to the ideas of the MCPA and a forty-thousand-dollar grant from the state legislature.

Pine Island voters elected Arthur Parkin mayor, and he held that position for twenty-six years. He was also president of the town's Commercial Club for sixteen years. Parkin died in 1963.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
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Anderson, Martin J. "The Development of the Dairy Products Industry in Minnesota." Minnesota Dairy and Food Department Bulletin 52 (1914): 30–37.

Holst, Gladys V. "Mr. John Roch, 1888–1955." Goodhue County Historical News 2 (November 1968): 3.

Johnson, E. Bird. Forty Years at the University of Minnesota. Minneapolis: General Alumni Association, 1910.

Johnson, Frederick L. Goodhue County, Minnesota: A Narrative History. Red Wing, MN: Goodhue County Historical Society, 2000.

Mondale, Mrs. C.T. (Ruth). "Pine Island Cheese Industry: A.W. Parkin, 1873–1963." Goodhue County Historical News 2, no. 3 (November 1968): 1, 3.

———. The Cheese Industry in Minnesota. Typescript. Pine Island, 1955.
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul

Stoffer, Paul. "A History of the Early Minnesota Cheese Making Industry." Typescript. St. Paul, 1966.
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul

Related Images

Pine Cheese Mart, a retail sales operation shown here in 1971, preserved Pine Island’s reputation as a cheese-making center.
Pine Cheese Mart, a retail sales operation shown here in 1971, preserved Pine Island’s reputation as a cheese-making center.
The entrance to the village of Pine Island, photographed in the 1920s.
The entrance to the village of Pine Island, photographed in the 1920s.

Turning Point

Having studied with the celebrated Dr. Stephen W. Babcock at the University of Wisconsin, Arthur Parkin takes his knowledge to Pine Island at the turn of the twentieth century, making that community the center of Minnesota's cheese-making industry.



Arthur W. Parkin studies with Dr. Stephen M. Babcock at the University of Wisconsin.


Parkin gets his first job as a cheese maker at Auburndale, Wisconsin.


Parkin moves to Pine Island on the Goodhue and Dodge County border, the heart of Minnesota's small cheese producing area.


Parkin becomes instructor at the month-long University of Minnesota dairy school and continues in the position until 1912.


State officials ask Parkin, who has set up more than thirty cheese factories, to become Minnesota's first dairy and food inspector.


To promote the cheese industry in the Pine Island area, Parkin leads an effort to create a three-ton cheddar cheese and brings it to the Minnesota State Fair.


Minnesota Cheese Producers Association is organized in Pine Island, thanks to Parkin and other local industry leaders.


Parkin dies in Pine Island.