Crisis years: 1900–1924

John H. MacMillan, Sr., guides the company through a financial challenge

In 1910, Cargill confronted perhaps the greatest challenge to its existence. The established grain trader, having grown throughout the new states in America's north central region, had accumulated too much debt. In 1909, Cargill's founder, William Wallace Cargill, died, leaving a small business empire that was overleveraged and had grown too quickly. It was obvious to his son-in-law John MacMillan that the company had to be restructured in order to satisfy the needs of bankers and customers. The question was whether MacMillan could act fast and strategically enough to preserve the core elevator and grain trading business.

John MacMillan, Cargill's new leader, took quick action. He negotiated with the banks and convinced them to extend credit and give the company time to meet its debts. He dissolved much of the businesses outside of the profitable grain trading, moved the headquarters to Minneapolis and created a plan that would remove the debt burden over time. Also, MacMillan implemented improved accounting procedures to give management a better financial picture of the company. Within six years, the debts were paid off and Cargill was positioned for growth.

1900 - 1924: Crisis years