Reuel Gridley raised money for the Union war effort with his famous "Sanitary Sack of Flour." By now the nation was deeply involved in the Civil War. To care for the vast number of sick and wounded, the United States government established the Sanitary Commission, a forerunner of the American Red Cross. Nevadans, though far removed from the scenes of battle, were anxious to contribute. What may have been the first national fund raising campaign began in the mining towns of Austin.
Among the small but outspoken group of southern sympathizers in Nevada was Austin grocer Reuel Gridley. When he lost an election bet, Gridley had to carry a 50 pound sack of flour decorated with the Union flags down Austin’s main street. With the Austin Brass Band playing and Union supporters cheering, the grocer donated his sack of flour to the Sanitary Fund. The sack was then auctioned for donations, each buyer giving it back so it could be auctioned again and again over and over.
At the end of the day in April 1864, Gridley’s “Sanitary Sack of Flour” had brought in more than $6,000. Gridley, who soon became a convert to the Union cause, took it to the Virginia City area, where generous bidding brought in another $40,000. The grocer spent a year traveling with his flour sack, selling it over and over for a grand total of $265,000. -All for charity. Ironically, because of his absence, his business back in Austin went bankrupt.