Flour milling was Richmond's earliest industry, and in the 19th century, only tobacco surpassed flour as Richmond's largest commercial product. Richmond flour brands were known internationally for not spoiling in tropical conditions, and were particularly popular in South America and Australia.
Wheat arrived in Richmond by railroad, canalboat, and ship. Flour from country mills, shipped in by canalboat, was inferior and known as "canal flour".
During the California Gold Rush, clipper ships carried Richmond flour around Cape Horn to San Francisco Bay in large quantities - 300,000 barrels in 1853. Vessels carrying flour to South America often returned with coffee and spices, which spawned a number of Richmond industries. The city was the leading coffee market in the country in 1860.
Although the flour industry recovered after the Civil War, it never regained its former prominence.