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Minneapolis History is really Sioux history.

Minneapolis history before the middle of the 19th Century is really the history of the Dakota (Sioux) American Indians.

It is believed that the Dakota people lived and flourished in the area to be known as Minneapolis before Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Du Luth (known as Duluth), and Father Louis Hennepin visited the area in the 1680s. The Dakota bands were well established in the culture of hunting and gathering and were skilled in horsemanship. The other dominant Indian Nation in the area was the Ojibwe. Intertribal fighting between the Ojibwe and the Dakota had a long history. By 1800, many Dakota Mdewakanton had settled along the lower Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers below the sacred site of the Falls of St. Anthony.

To help stabilize the relationship between the two nations, in 1825, under the auspices of United States government agents, the Dakota and the Ojibwe agreed to the establishment of a demarcation between their tribal areas. The line ran northwest across Minnesota from the St. Croix River on the east to the Red River on the northwest. Starting in 1848, members of the Ho-Chunk Nation who had been driven from their original lands in Wisconsin were temporarily resettled between the Ojibwe and Dakota to act as a buffer. A significant number of these Ho-Chunk refugees were unhappy with the situation, and quietly managed to return to their homes in Wisconsin against the wishes of the United States government.

In 1829 a Dakota Mdewakanton village was located on the west shore of a lake that would be known as Lake Calhoun in the area that would become Minneapolis. Cloud Man, also known as Man-of-the-Sky (Ma-hpi-ya-wi-ca-sta), was chief of this village, known as Reyataotonwe (Inland Village) or Eatonville (for John H. Eaton). Cloud Man agreed with the Fort Snelling Indian Agent, Lawrence Taliaferro, to have his band learn to farm using the plow.

Philander Prescott was the government farmer who worked with the Lake Calhoun band. Volunteer missionaries, Gideon and Samuel Pond, were enlisted to work with them. Samuel Pond took the opportunity to write down the Dakota language and compile a dictionary. In 1839, Cloud Man and his band moved to Oak Grove in Bloomington because of renewed conflict with the Ojibwe.

Gideon Pond also moved to Oak Grove. Other Mdewakanton villages included Chief Wabasha’s at Winona, Wacouta’s at Red Wing, Little Crow’s at South St. Paul, Black Dog’s near the present site of the power plant on the Minnesota River in Burnsville, Pennesha’s near the mouth of Nine Mile Creek in Bloomington, and Chief Shakopee at the community of Shakopee. These were the main villages during the years 1805 to 1852 in the area to become southern Minnesota. By 1819, the Mdewakanton traded furs with the American Fur Company at Mendota.

In 1838, an agreement with chiefs of the Dakota tribe opened the lands east of the Mississippi River to private ownership by white settlers. By 1839, some five hundred non-native persons lived in the area. The Mdewakanton tribe numbered about 2,150 in 1846. By that time, significant changes in the region had occurred, including the logging of the trees and turning prairie lands into farm land. The buffalo population had been killed off and the populations of deer, bear, and other animals had been greatly depleted. During this same time period, the disease whooping cough killed many.

The Dakota were accustomed to living through hard times but now, as they were finding it difficult to find food, they saw the settlers and the soldiers having adequate rations. In a weakened condition due to health, lack of resources and food, life grew harder, alcoholism spread and the debt they owed to the traders increased. The buying and selling of land was a concept foreign to the Dakota but they had become dependent on the goods available at the stores and were in need of monies to purchase the goods. To receive monies from the U.S. government, they agreed to sign a treaty to give up their rights to their ancestral lands.

In 1851, the Mdewakanton signed the treaty of Traverse des Sioux. With this treaty, the lands west of the Mississippi River were purchased from the Dakota and the area opened for settlement the following year. The Dakota gave up their rights to the lands lying east of the Red River, Lake Traverse, the Big Sioux River, and the area south of the boundary line of 1825.

The treaty meant the abandonment of hereditary lands, a bowing to white power, reservations along the Minnesota River, temporary gifts, a trust fund, and cash payments, which in large part were diverted to satisfy debts to the traders. The Dakota people moved on to a strip of land ten miles wide along either side of the Minnesota River from Lake Traverse to the Yellow Medicine River. Some worked to become farmers while others hunted, but ten years later it appeared that many of the Dakota peoples might starve.

Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple understood the consequences of the American treaty system. He realized the significant role the Indian agents played, the need for reform of the treaty system, the need for law and order and control of the liquor situation, and the significance of a relationship under which the Indians would be fairly treated. Whipple denounced the administration of Indian affairs and stated that the guilt lies at the “Nation’s door.” According to analysis by the historian William Watts Folwell, the American Indian policy was “calculated to invite outbreaks of passion and revenge.”

In 1862, the United States government was focusing its attention on the Civil War and neglected to pay the Dakota in a timely fashion. The Dakota people were plagued by hunger; they were disgusted with the unfulfilled promises from the government, and they were dissatisfied with reservation life. This condition drove many back to their old lands which now were being farmed or logged. The stage was set for conflict between the two very different cultures. A sudden, violent attack on settlers in the southeastern part of the state took place on August 17, 1862 which set in motion a violent killing spree by the Dakota, the military, and the settlers.

The conflict lasted until September 26th. Governor Henry Sibley was in charge of the military. The area around Fort Ripley in southwestern Minnesota had the most conflict between the Dakota, the military and the new settlers. By September 26th, the Dakota realized they had not gained control over the military. The deaths of about 500 whites and the destruction of property evoked cries for their removal. Over three hundred captured warriors were initially held either at Mankato (those who had been condemned) or Fort Snelling. President Lincoln pardoned all but those who had been condemned to death for the killing of settlers.

Thirty-eight Dakota men were hanged. The others held in captivity finally received their sentence, in 1863. Those sentenced were moved out of the state of Minnesota, mostly to the Missouri Valley (not far from Fort Randall). Those who had been convicted (but not hung) were sent to Davenport, Iowa. The remaining Dakota were exiled to a reservation at Crow Creek (in the area that is now South Dakota). In 1866, the Dakota at Crow Creek were moved to the Santee Reservation in northeastern Nebraska. The Ho-Chunk remaining in Minnesota in 1862, by then residing primarily in the region around Mankato, were also forced by the United States government to move west as a result of the war, even though they had not participated in the fighting. In the 1870s only a few Dakota remained in Minnesota.

Those living closest to Minneapolis lived at Oak Grove in Bloomington at the residence of Gideon Pond or at a remnant of a Dakota scout camp in Shakopee. A few also lived in Bloomington and in Mendota. In 1884, a Dakota named Good Thunder purchased land near the site of one of the skirmishes of the 1862 conflict. Later others joined him.

With the help of government appropriations, the colony eventually became the Lower Sioux Community under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. In 1886, government appropriations helped to buy land at Prior Lake. Migration and land purchases continued in the state with people settling in growing communities as well as in the metropolitan areas. By 1899, seventy Dakota people were living in Hennepin County. In 1910 this number dropped to 27. By 1930, the census noted 199. In 1970, a total of 6,722 Dakota people lived in Hennepin County. In the 1990 census, the Native American population in Minneapolis was 12,144.

Minneapolis Becomes Part of the United States

From the 1680s forward, the area to include Minneapolis was “on paper” under the European rule of the countries of France, England, and Spain until finally becoming a part of the United States of America in 1784.

France’s occupation of the area came from the visit made by Father Louis Hennepin in 1680. By the operation of the Franco-Spanish Treaty of 1762, the area of Minnesota west of the Mississippi and south of the Hudson Bay watershed passed from the dominion of France to that of Spain. For the next 40 years it was under the proprietorship of Louisiana. In 1803, after briefly returning to French control, these lands were purchased from France and thereafter called the Louisiana Purchase (this was the area west of the Mississippi including part of the area to become Minneapolis).

The area to the east of the Mississippi passed to England at the close of the French and Indian War (1763). This area, including parts of Minnesota (and Minneapolis), became part of the United States after the War of Independence. When the United States accepted the Virginia Colony’s deed of cession (1783), the area became the (old) Northwest Territory. Out of this area were later carved the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and part of Minnesota.

To demonstrate the western reach of United States’ power and the northern reaches of the Louisiana Territory, the U.S. military established Fort Snelling. The Fort Snelling site was formally acquired by Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike from some of the Dakota chiefs in 1805.

The land Fort Snelling encompassed took in nearly the complete area of present-day Minneapolis and almost half of the present-day city of St. Paul. The original Fort Snelling, headquartered at the junction of the Minnesota and the Mississippi Rivers, was established in 1819 to meet the rapidly changing conditions in the Northwest Territory. The first commanding officer was Henry Leavenworth; Josiah Snelling replaced Leavenworth in 1820.

Naming of Minneapolis

The community of St. Anthony on the east side of the Mississippi River near St. Anthony Falls was surveyed and platted as a townsite in 1849, the same year the territory of Minnesota was established. In 1852, President Millard Fillmore approved an act of Congress reducing the Fort Snelling reservation, thereby opening the land west of the river to settlers, although most of the settlers did not receive clear title until 1855.Also occurring in 1852 was the creation of Hennepin County by the Territorial Legislature. Hennepin County was named after Father Louis Hennepin, a Catholic friar of Belgian birth and an explorer in the service of France.

Father Hennepin named the falls of the Mississippi “St. Anthony” after his patron saint, Anthony of Padua. Father Hennepin, in 1683, published his memoirs of the exploration in a publication, Description of Louisiana, Newly Discovered of the Southwest of New France. The first commissioners selected the land to the west of St. Anthony Falls as the county seat although the settlement there was without municipal existence, or even a name.

The first name selected by the county commissioners in October 1852, was Albion. However, it proved unpopular. Other names for the young community considered but discarded included All Saints, Lowell, Brooklyn, Addiseville, and Winona. The name Minnehapolis was selected by popular acclaim following schoolmaster Charles Hoag’s proposal to the editor of the St. Anthony Express, George D. Bowman. The name came from a derivative of laughing waters, “Minnehaha,” and the Greek suffix for city, “polis,” or city of the falls.

Bowman published the name in the paper in November 5, 1852 and in the November 12th issue it was given favorable review. The ‘h’ was dropped early on; the literal meaning is “city of waters”. Minneapolis was authorized by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856 as a town.

In 1858 the town of Minneapolis government was organized. Then in 1866 under a legislative act, the city of Minneapolis was incorporated. However, the act established boundaries for the city that included St. Anthony for certain purposes although that city was allowed to retain its corporate existence as a separate municipality. Minneapolis was divided into four wards. The act proved unpopular with residents of both St. Anthony and Minneapolis, the result being that there was no election of city officers, hence the act did not become effective.

At the next legislative session, another act of incorporation was passed and approved in 1867. This time, St. Anthony was not part of it. Dorilus Morrison was the first mayor. The two communities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony were not joined until 1872.

Falls of St. Anthony

The Falls of St. Anthony and its islands, like many other natural formations, were sacred to the Indians. In the early years of the development of Minneapolis and St. Anthony the falls were a popular tourist attraction. By the 1850s lumbermen and millers were interested in the hydro power it offered.

In 1857, a great canal was constructed along First Street South to improve the distribution of water to the fast growing milling industry. Other dams and tunnel projects also were undertaken to direct the waterflow and power for the various mills. Concern for the falls and the impact on the mills was paramount by 1866. The riverbed of the falls consisted of a thin layer of limestone sitting on top of approximately 100 feet of sandstone. The sandstone was easy to tunnel into but not structurally strong. Several techniques were attempted to protect the falls by building an apron over the falls, but in 1867 and again in 1870, floods took out the aprons. Monies for these protective construction projects were raised on a local, state, and even national level.

The most disastrous event took place on October 5, 1869, when a 2,500-foot long tunnel that was being constructed as a tailrace for exhausting the water between Nicollet and Hennepin Islands began to fill up with water. By the following day a maelstrom (a violent whirlpool that sucks all the objects within a given radius) was sucking rocks and debris into the tunnel. It seemed that the galvanized manpower of Minneapolis and St. Anthony were going to provide the heroic efforts needed to stop the maelstrom.

But it took almost two years of various attempts and the cooperation of both the communities of Minneapolis and St. Anthony, the mill owners, and finally the assistance of the United States Army Corps of Engineers to stabilize the falls.

By the end the communities and mill owners understood how important the falls were to their livelihoods. Key players in the preservation and near destruction of the falls in the 1860s include Alexander Ramsey, Ignatius Donnelly, Hercules L. Dousman, William W. Eastman, John L. Merriman, George A. Brackett, John Jarvis, and Franklin Cook.

River Transport

Water was significant in everyday life for those living around the area that would become Minneapolis. Early travelers learned the waterways and traveled by canoe, barge, boat, and steamboat. However, the Falls of St. Anthony prevented large vessels from going much beyond Fort Snelling. A Dakota woman operated the first documented ferry (using a canoe) in the area in 1840. In the 1840s and ’50s the Mississippi River, which flows through the heart of Minneapolis, was a significant vehicle for transporting logs and for supplying the power to run the mills in Minneapolis and St. Anthony Falls.

Although the Mississippi River flows through the city, the Falls of St. Anthony cut off navigation of the river. In the 1850s, numerous projects were promoted in hopes of enabling steamboats to come up to the falls. However, byproducts of the sawmills and industrial waste detracted from the Falls and reduced the water flow. By the 1860s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers had agreed with the recommendation of the local business owners and developers to deepen the river and make it navigable by the building of locks and dams.

However, it wasn’t until 1937 that the United States Congress approved financing for the Upper Minneapolis Harbor Development Project. The project was to extend a 9-foot channel in the Mississippi River by 4.6 miles. In 1956, the St. Anthony Falls Lower Lock and Dam was completed as far as the Northern Pacific Railway bridge just upstream from the Washington Avenue bridge.

The St. Anthony Falls Upper Lock and Dam was completed in 1963. The completion of these locks and dams made it possible for numerous commercial and pleasure vessels to navigate up the river to and beyond the only waterfall on the Mississippi River.


In 1862, the St. Paul and Pacific Railway laid tracks between St. Paul and St. Anthony, bringing the village’s first railroad. This railroad, which would become the Great Northern, crossed the river into Minneapolis at Nicollet Island in 1866. The first all-rail line connecting Minneapolis and Chicago opened in 1867. As railway track increased, railroads supplanted the earlier settlement patterns along the rivers. The population grew in communities that were serviced by the railroads.

Minneapolis grew in population, prosperity, and in size, prompting the demand for rail connections for passengers as well as freight. A man by the name of James J. Hill became manager of the St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railway (principal forerunner of the Great Northern). The Stone Arch Bridge, which spans the Mississippi River just below the St. Anthony Falls, was built by Hill and completed in 1883. That same year, a jubilee was held in Minneapolis celebrating the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad all the way to the West Coast. By 1889, there were twenty independent railway lines branching out from Minneapolis, reaching all regions of the country.

Minneapolis was also connected to the Canadian Pacific Railroad at Sault Ste. Marie by the Soo Line, completed in 1887. In 1889, the Milwaukee Road built a new passenger station at Third Street and Washington Avenue. In 1891 an average of 1,080 railcars per day entered Minneapolis, carrying everything from wheat to corn to wood to bricks to household goods. The railway service was extremely important during its heyday to the health and economy of the city and its residents. By 1900, 75% of the nation’s freight went by rail.

Rail service continued to grow until after WWI. By 1925 passenger service was down 50% in Minnesota. The financial crisis in the 1930s delivered a crippling blow to the rail companies. During WWII, freight and troops were moved over the nation’s rails. After the war people returned to their cars. Rail service is still the principal mode of transporting freight but passenger service is just a fraction of the total rail service. A reflection on the times, the Milwaukee Road Depot ceased being used as a passenger station in 1971.

Today the Milwaukee Road Depot is the city’s only reminder of its once bustling train stations. (The Great Northern Station was built in 1914 and razed in 1978.) Empty for many years, the Milwaukee Road Depot and train shed have been transformed into a hotel, restaurant and ice rink complex.


As early as the 1850s lumber was important to the development of Minneapolis. The milling of wheat likewise became increasingly significant as new strains were found that were winter hardy (spring wheat) and new milling processes were developed. Saw milling and flour milling both proved financially rewarding, establishing the area as a significant commercial district. Early key milling figures included Franklin Steele, Cadwallader C. Washburn, John Sargent Pillsbury and his nephew Charles A. Pillsbury, George H. Christian, brothers Edmund and Nicholas La Croix, and George T. Smith.

Within a few decades the mills that were clustered around St. Anthony Falls led the world in the production of lumber and flour. A v-shaped dam spanned the river just above the falls and diverted water to either side, where it powered the mills that lined the riverbanks. Local millers and engineers were responsible for several technological advances in flour milling, including the “middlings purifier,” a process that could make hard, winter wheat into clean, white flour that was salable. This process helped make Minneapolis flour world-renowned and the city led the world in flour production from 1882 to 1930.

Dominating the milling district was the Washburn A Mill, of the Minneapolis Mill company, built in 1874 and at that time owned by Cadwallader Washburn, Governor of Wisconsin. It was the pride of the city and when it was destroyed by fire in 1878, the future of flour milling in Minneapolis was in question.

Washburn rebounded, however, and the new “A” Mill built the next year was even larger than its predecessor. In tandem with the growth of flour milling was the growth of grain trading. The Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce (later to be named the Minneapolis Grain Exchange) was established in 1881 to purchase grain from the Midwest region and ship it to the East.

The Chamber of Commerce rapidly established Minneapolis as an important terminal grain market. The number of bushels of wheat shipped from Minneapolis to the East jumped from less than 200,000 bushels in 1881 to 2 million bushels in 1882. By 1885, Minneapolis was the number one wheat receiving market in the United States.

By 1891, 21 million bushels of wheat moved from Minneapolis to the East and overseas. Minneapolis eventually became, and remains today, the largest cash exchange market in the world. Legislation enacted in 1885 gave the state power to regulate and license grain elevator companies. The companies in turn were allowed to issue commercial paper on grain they received on consignment. Not only did this facilitate operations of the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce but went far to establish Minneapolis as a major financial center. Lumbering prospered because high quality timber was available in abundance, the Mississippi River provided a means to convey the logs to waiting mills, and with the rush of immigrants moving into the area, there was a demand for the milled wood.

From 1849 to 1852 the number of saw mills increased from one to four and daily production capacity went from 15,000 to 50,000 board feet. By 1869, there were 18 mills manufacturing lumber at or near the Falls of St. Anthony, and the number of board feet these mills produced per year increased to 90,734,595. Key players included Franklin Steele, Caleb Cushing, Robert Ratoul, Thomas B. Walker, Thomas H. Shevlin, Henry C. Akeley, and S.C. Hall.

During the first decades of the 20th Century, first lumbering and then flour milling became less significant in the city’s economy. The white pine in northern Minnesota, which had helped build St. Paul, St. Louis, and numerous other cities along the Mississippi, was depleted. The last sawmill in Minneapolis, the Carpenter-Lamb Mill, closed in 1921.

By 1931, Minneapolis had lost its place as the nation’s largest flour producer, a title it held for 50 years. A variety of factors contributed to the decline of flour milling in the area, including tariff changes favoring other markets, higher freight rates, decreased supply of spring wheat, decreased demand for high-grade flour, and cheaper sources of power other than water, however, many companies with roots in the milling, flour, and lumber business went on to diversify and grow.

Will Cargill established his grain elevator company in Minneapolis in 1865. Today the company, which is the nation’s largest private corporation, is international in scope and active in a wide range of agricultural and industrial sectors.

The Pillsbury Company, founded in Minneapolis in 1869, has been one of America’s oldest and best-known names in food retailing. The Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant are known throughout the U.S., and Häagen-Dasz is another well-known Pillsbury brand. Pillsbury was acquired by London-based Grand Metropolitan PLC in 1989, becoming Diageo PLC in 1997.

In 2001, Diageo PLC was acquired by General Mills, a local company that grew out of the milling company of Washburn Crosby in 1928.

Super Valu, the second-largest food wholesaler and distributor in the U.S., originated in the merger of two Minneapolis wholesale grocers in the late 19th century, B.S. Bull & Company and Newell and Harrison. The company undertook a number of acquisitions and mergers, changing its name to Super Valu Stores in 1951.

Ancillary industries that sprung from the grain and lumber industries included sash and door factories, furniture factories, farm implement manufacture (for example, Minneapolis Moline), and linseed oil processing (a precursor to paints and varnishes), with Minnesota Paints founded in 1870, becoming Valspar in 1970. Another significant local industry was the textile industry, as exemplified by Munsingwear (founded in 1886) and North Star Woolen Mills (founded in 1860 and for a time the largest manufacturer of fine woolen blankets in the country.)

These industries were well established and remained strong, partly due to the network of railroads that was then in place to transfer their products.

Other Industries

In the 1890/91 Minneapolis City Directory, four advertising agencies were listed. By 1925, there were 60 advertising agents listed in Minneapolis. One of the fairly early agencies was the John H. Mitchell Advertising Agency. Mitchell began in the business in 1903. His agency managed accounts for companies such as Munsingwear, Toastmaster, Anacin, Minneapolis Moline, and Pure Oil. Minneapolis began to come into its own as a force in the advertising and creative services industry during the Great Depression.

The products promoted for the clients were mostly food products, heavy equipment and electronics. As communication improved, it became less and less significant for the client and the advertising agency to be in the same state, much less the same city. Campbell-Mithun Advertising (now Campbell Mithun Esty) started in 1933, with offices in downtown Minneapolis. The firm quickly began to gain prestigious accounts, and established a name for itself as one of the most reliable and creative advertising firms west of the Mississippi.

Other advertising agencies, both large and small, began to spring up in Minneapolis and surrounding cities. Martin/Williams Inc. started in 1947 in the productive post-war years. Other agencies that are still a large force in the local advertising scene include Fallon McElligott, founded in 1981, and Carmichel Lynch Spong, started in 1962.

These four Minneapolis firms, the largest in the state, had almost $2 billion in billings in 1998, making them, along with a number of smaller firms, a force in the city’s economy.

Manufacturing interests were also growing during the early part of the 20th century as well. A local firm, Minneapolis Electric Heat Regulator Company, was manufacturing the automatic thermostat, which was finally catching on with consumers. That company moved into a new factory at 4th Avenue and 28th Street and changed its name to the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company.

In 1927, the company merged with its principal competitor, Honeywell Heating Specialties Co., of Indiana. The newly formed company, Honeywell, was headquartered in Minneapolis. Honeywell went on to become a Fortune 500 company, and was based in Minneapolis until late 1999.

Minneapolis’ diverse economy has always included a significant high-technology component. In the 1960s and 1970s the city had a strong computer hardware manufacturing industry, bolstered by such giants as Honeywell and Control Data Corporation. Although not headquartered in Minneapolis, Control Data had a major presence in the city at a Northside manufacturing plant, which company founder William Norris started to provide employment and economic development for that part of the city.

Both companies were major competitors to IBM; Control Data focused on supplying large-scale scientific computers, while Honeywell concentrated on large sharing systems and communications. By the early 1970s, Honeywell was the second largest U.S. computer company, and 47 computer companies were located in Minneapolis. However, in the 1980s, the computer industry began to migrate from mainframes to personal computers. That industry never developed to a large extent locally, and business and employment shifted to other technology industries.

Local technology companies have been bolstered by such organizations as the Minnesota Business Partnership and Minnesota Technology, Inc., both located in Minneapolis, and by the continuing interest of the University of Minnesota in supporting technology-based development.

One of the industries that began to develop in Minneapolis in the 1980s and 90s was the computer software industry. These businesses, though typically smaller in size than those in the heyday of the large computer, are a significant source of employment and economic growth, with a total of 106 software companies located in Minnesota in 1999.

Also important is the biomedical industry, which is epitomized by Medtronic Inc. Medtronic, founded in 1949 in Minneapolis by Earl Bakken, is still one of the leading medical technology companies in the world. The state’s medical technology industry, referred to as the “Medical Alley,” owes much to the University of Minnesota medical school.

Many of the state’s more than 500 medical device companies trace their beginning to the University of Minnesota, either through alumni or scientific innovation, making Minneapolis a pivotal hub even for those companies not headquartered here. Another of the company giants in Minneapolis was started by Curtis Carlson, an industrious University of Minnesota graduate in 1938. Carlson noted with interest the relatively new practice of giving trading stamps as a premium to store customers. This premium was a new incentive to build customer store loyalty.

The Gold Bond Stamp Company was the brainchild of Curt Carlson. The original company was a mail drop and desk space in the Plymouth Building in downtown Minneapolis. A very modest beginning with years of struggle eventually led to landing a major client, the Super Valu Food Store chain. At many stores where people shopped, both locally and around the country, they received Gold Bond stamps with their purchases. The stamps could be saved and redeemed for premiums, and many people today can remember having their moms sit them down at the kitchen table to glue stamps into books

Trading stamps became extremely successful. By the 1960s when companies began to lose interest in trading stamps, Curt Carlson diversified into other areas: hotels, restaurants, catalog showrooms, real estate and manufacturing and transformed the company into Carlson Companies. Carlson headed the Carlson Companies until his daughter Marilyn Carlson Nelson succeeded him to became the chief operating officer in 1998, and was elected chair of the board in 1999. One of the most important retailers headquartered in Minneapolis is Dayton Hudson Corporation, which in January 2000 changed its corporate name to Target.

From its beginnings in 1902, Dayton Hudson had by the late 1990s grown to be the fourth largest retailer in the United States, with stores in 38 states. The company is legendary for its philanthropy, contributing to a wide variety of charitable organizations, and is also recognized for corporate responsibility in other areas and good management. In 2001, the stores formerly known as Dayton’s, owned by Target Corporation, were renamed Marshall Field’s.

Best Buy, a major U.S. consumer electronics retailer, got its start in Minneapolis as Sound of Music, Inc., in 1963. Richard Schulze started the company to capture a share of the home and car stereo retail market and the company continued to expand, becoming Best Buy in 1983.

The city continues to have a strong, resilient and diverse economy. One indicator is the city’s perfect bond rating from 1963 to 2000. (In 2001, two bond houses, Standard & Poors and Fitch, continued the City’s top rating, while Moody’s downgraded their rating by one notch.)

Central Business District
Early commercial activity prospered on the east side of the Mississippi River in what was then the town of St. Anthony. The first store opened on Main Street in 1848 and other business establishments soon followed. To this day, the street retains its cobblestone charm and two buildings originating from the 1850s remain standing.

The first commercial district on the west side of the river centered on Bridge Square, where Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues came together. The original City Hall, built in 1873, was the anchor. As the area became more congested, the business district began expanding south from Washington Avenue. Nicollet Avenue became the primary shopping street with the opening of stores such as Powers (1881), Donaldson’s (1884), Young Quinlan (1894), and Dayton’s (1902). Elizabeth Quinlan was the first and only woman-clothing buyer in the country at the time her ready-to-wear store opened.

The construction of the Lumber Exchange building in 1885 helped establish Hennepin Avenue as the primary office district. Gradually, Hennepin Avenue took on another dimension, that of the theater district. At least twenty-five theaters were entertaining customers by 1916. Meanwhile, the office and financial district shifted to Marquette and 2nd Avenues, where it remains today. Bridge Square was transformed into Gateway Park in 1915.

Because of its strategic location, with proximity to the railroad stations where numerous newcomers disembarked, to the river, and to the city itself, it was to be the “vestibule of the city”. The park had comfort stations, a classic fountain, a pavilion, formal gardens, and a George Washington Memorial Flagstaff. The inscription on the pavilion read “The Gateway: More than her gates the city opens her heart to you.”

The park failed to live up to expectations, however, because nearby cheap hotels and rooming houses gradually transformed the area into the city’s “Skid Row”.

Gateway Park became Gateway Redevelopment in the 1950s in a massive urban renewal program. One aspect of this redevelopment was the decision to relocate the new Minneapolis Public Library to 4th Street and Nicollet Avenue. The library opened in 1961 and was intended to lead the way for regenerating the city’s north end.

When ground was broken for the new library in 1958, planners hoped that someday the library would be surrounded by new hotels, public buildings and park space, instead of the run-down brick buildings that stood nearby.

The library did indeed bring about a slow rebirth; by the 1980s, posh condominiums replaced the parking lots that had replaced the aged warehouses and bars. However, by the 1990s, the library again became an island in a sea of empty parking lots, as both the neighboring hotels, the old Nicollet and the newer Sheraton Ritz, were torn down.

A unique climate-related addition to the downtown landscape in more recent years was the development of the skyway system. The first all-weather pedestrian skyway was built in 1962, spanning 7th Street South between Marquette and 2nd Avenue. Today more than 50 blocks are connected by these second story walkways. In addition to providing all-season convenience for downtown residents, employees, and visitors, the skyway system connects numerous and varied retail outlets.

It is reported that downtown Minneapolis has more retail outlets in a four-block area than any other city in the country. Also in the 1960s, Nicollet Avenue in the downtown district was converted to Nicollet Mall, a curving, tree-lined pedestrian and transit mall that is closed to automobile traffic. The Mall is accented with fountains and flower beds and hosts a busy farmers’ market in the summer. Winter amenities include popular nighttime parades from Thanksgiving through Christmas featuring brightly-lit floats and participants.

Governance and Infrastructure

Minneapolis developed later than St. Anthony because much of the area west of the Mississippi River was occupied by the Fort Snelling Military Reservation. Although there were “squatters” who had settled in the area, registration of claims was not accomplished until 1855, when the reduction of Fort Snelling was ordered by President Millard Fillmore.

The town of Minneapolis was finally authorized by the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856 and the first town council was organized in 1858. In 1867, the town was upgraded to a city by a charter issued by the state legislature and the city’s first mayor, Dorilus Morrison, was elected. Though reluctant to relinquish their individual identities, St. Anthony and Minneapolis agreed to merge in 1872 under the name of Minneapolis.

The new charter, written by the state legislature, provided for a mayor, comptroller, treasurer, and a city council. There were ten wards with two aldermen representing each ward. The first mayor of the merged cities was Eugene M. Wilson. By this time, the police force numbered ten full time officers. In 1879, the volunteer fire department was replaced by a paid department consisting of 59 men and eight companies.

The city’s infrastructure grew by leaps and bounds in the last twenty years of the 19th century. The first hydroelectric station in the United States began supplying water power at St. Anthony Falls in 1882. In the years from 1885 to 1890, 150 miles of water mains were laid. In 1889, the street railway system electrified its first line. In 1889 and 1890, 145 miles of sidewalks were constructed. By 1908 there were about 125 miles of paved streets. Work began on the city’s sewer system as early as 1871, and by the early 1900s, there were 225 miles of sewers in the city.

In 1884 the city occupied 24 square miles; by 1889 the boundaries had expanded to cover 53.5 square miles. With the city’s last major annexation of land in 1927, the total land area of the city became 58.7 square miles. The population of Minneapolis exceeded 300,000 by 1910 and governing a city of such size was becoming more complex.

In 1920, voters approved a home rule charter for the city. It provided for the election of a mayor, city treasurer, city comptroller, a city council, members of a board of education, board of park commissioners, library board, and a board of estimate and taxation. Home rule granted the city’s governing body exclusive authority to deal with matters municipal or local in nature.


As the city was growing in size, population, and prosperity in the latter part of the 19th century, there were foresighted individuals who wanted to see the city’s natural beauty preserved. In 1883, the Minneapolis Board of Trade adopted a resolution to establish an independent park commission, with the reasoning that the rapid growth of the city “warns us that the time has come when, if ever, steps should be taken to secure the necessary land for such a grand system of Parks and Boulevards as the natural situation offers.”

The resolution was sent as a bill to the State Legislature, which authorized a referendum to be voted upon by the citizens, who overwhelmingly approved it in 1883. One of the first acts of the newly established board, and its president, Charles M. Loring, was to engage the services of two well-known landscape architects of the time, H. W. S. Cleveland and Frederick Law Olmsted. Cleveland had been the head of the country’s oldest park commission, that of Boston. Olmsted was the designer of Central Park in New York City.

They both pressed for acquiring parklands well in advance of the existing need. The Board followed their advice, acquiring large areas of land that would have been prohibitively expensive, if even available, in later years. To illustrate, the first thiry acres of Loring Park were purchased in 1883 for $4,904 per acre. In 1902, some additional land by Loring Park was acquired at the cost of $48,096 per acre.

Theodore Wirth, superintendent of Parks from 1905 to 1935, was largely responsible for the development and expansion of the park system in its formative years. Wirth dredged the lakes and graded their banks, thereby eliminating the swampy sections as well as the frequent flooding. The park system he built, influenced by Olmsted’s vision, reflects the individuality of the various components contained within. It is no accident that the character and function of Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, and Lake of the Isles differ from one another.

Lake Harriet, with its playground and band shell, has a family and group recreation orientation. Lake Calhoun reflects a faster pace as a favorite for iceboating and sailboarding, while Lake of the Isles has a more reflective feel and is frequented by cross-country skiers, roller bladers, and strollers. Today, along the 53-mile parkway system known as the Grand Rounds, are numerous parks and parkways, lakes (22 within the city limits), streams and creeks, the Mississippi River, and the 53-foot high Minnehaha Falls, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in his “Song of Hiawatha.”

The 6,400-acre park system is designed so that every home in Minneapolis is within six blocks of green space. Furthermore, the park system has been called “the best-located, best-financed, best-designed, best maintained public open space in America.” (Alexander Garvin, The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t, 1996, p. 63)

19th Century Settlement

In the early 1800s, there were individuals who attempted to establish farms in the area that would become Minneapolis, but not until the 1838 treaty with the Dakota was signed did the lands east of the Mississippi River become open.

One of the earlier attempts to claim the land was by Franklin Steele in 1838, in the area that would become the village of St. Anthony. It took until 1848 for the lands to be surveyed and offered for sale. Steele did get legal ownership of the land, and he and several partners built the first dam, started a sawmill, and laid out the town site of St. Anthony. Millwright, postmaster, and miller Ard Godfrey built a house in 1849. It still stands, and is the oldest remaining house in the City of Minneapolis (located at Richard Chute Square, at the intersection of Central and University Avenues).

The land west of the Mississippi was purchased from the Dakotas in the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and opened for settlement the next year. Colonel John H. Stevens’ house was built in 1850. It was the first permanent settler’s home on the west bank of the Mississippi in what was to become Minneapolis. Some of the early residents in St. Anthony were individuals who had branched out from fur trading like Pierre Bottineau, a son of a French-Canadian fur trader and an Ojibway mother.

Other early residents include Emily Grey and her husband Ralph, who were free black people living in Minnesota. They were friends of the anti-slavery leader Frederick Douglass and they were deeply committed to seeking freedom for all slaves. They moved here in 1855 and assisted other Blacks in securing their freedom by working with the state law or helping get individuals to Canada. The first sizable wave of settlers reached Minneapolis in the 1850s and 1860s.

They represented town site developers, timber speculators, small businessmen, and organizers of churches and schools, with many coming from the New England states and New York. Influential early settlers include John S. Pillsbury, John H. Stevens, William Cheever, Caleb Dorr, Anson Northrup, and Henrietta Bishop.

Scandinavians began arriving in the United States as early as the mid-1820s. Because of their roots in an agrarian economy, increasing numbers of Swedes, Norwegians, and Danes made their way to the plains and prairies of the Midwest.

The first major influx of Scandinavians to Minneapolis occurred in the mid-1860s, influenced by the end of the Civil War and the worsening economic conditions in Norway and Sweden. Two Scandinavians who had visited the area in the 1850s and had promoted the area to their fellow countrymen back home were Frederika Bremer (of Sweden) and Ole Bull (of Norway), a concert violinist. Bull was largely responsible for the formation of a Scandinavian Society, organized in 1869. In 1895 a group of Norwegian immigrants formed the Sons of Norway, a fraternal insurance organization, which continues to this day.

Minneapolis was to become one of the primary centers of the Scandinavian press in the United States. Published here were the Minneapolis Tidende, a Norwegian daily and weekly; the Vikingen-Minneapolis, a Danish-Norwegian publication; and the Svenska-Amerikanska Posten, a Swedish weekly (owned by Swan J. Turnblad, who donated his mansion on 26th Street and Park Avenue to the American Swedish Institute in 1929).

The Scandinavian influence was also seen in the establishment of their churches, primarily Lutheran, and schools. A chair in Scandinavian languages was formed at the University of Minnesota in 1884. Augsburg College, founded as a Norwegian Lutheran seminary in 1869, was moved in 1871 from Wisconsin to Minneapolis, where it remains today. The largest overall influx of Europeans to the city occurred just before the end of the 19th Century. Many were new to the United States; others were offspring of Scandinavian and German immigrant farmers moving to the city to seek their fortunes.

In the 1880s nearly all the cooks and maids in Minneapolis were immigrants. Two-thirds were Scandinavian and the rest German and Irish. Until the 1890s most immigrants to Minnesota were from northern and western European countries. By 1900 many of the newcomers came from countries like Italy, Greece and Poland, and southern or eastern European countries. Minneapolis had about 60,000 foreign-born residents (36.8% of the total population) in 1890. In 1900, Minneapolis had more working women, most of whom were immigrants, living in rented rooms than most other cities in the country.

20th Century Growth and Diversity

By 1930, the Swedes had become the largest foreign-born group in every section of the city except in the heavily eastern European First and Third wards. The Norwegians followed as the second largest group. Danish settlers, the third largest group, originally settled on the west bank of the Mississippi River, under the Washington Avenue Bridge, in an area known as the “Danish Flats.”

Other immigrant groups eventually settled there as well. As Slovaks, Poles, French Canadians, Germans, and Irish settled in the area it became known as the “Bohemian Flats.” Depending on proximity to the river, rents ranged from an average of $15 to $25 per year. While the inhabitants were poor, the housing crude, and the landscape inhospitable, the community possessed a strong spirit. It recovered from periodic floods but finally was dismantled in 1931 to make way for municipal coal docks.

By 1880, there were 362 Blacks in Minneapolis, and by 1930 the Black population numbered 4,176. The Black community tended to concentrate in two areas–on the near north side of the city and on the south side near Fourth Avenue South and 38th Street. The first African-American Church organized in Minneapolis was the St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1863.

The Minneapolis Urban League was established in 1925 to assist African-Americans in overcoming obstacles in employment, education, housing, health care and social services. One of its prominent leaders was Gleason Glover, who served the organization from 1967 to 1992. The Minneapolis Spokesman, edited by Cecil E. Newman and focused on the African-American community, began publishing in 1934.

The Jewish community was comprised of German Jews who arrived earliest, followed by Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian Jews, and finally Romanian Jews. These groups tended to settle in one of three areas: the near north side of the city, on the south side between Chicago and Cedar Avenues near Franklin Avenue, and near Lake Calhoun.

The City’s first major synagogue, dedicated in 1880, was Shaarai Tov (“Gates of Goodness”), located on Fifth Street between First and Second Avenues South. It later was named Temple Israel and is presently located at 24th Street and Hennepin Avenue. One of its illustrious rabbis was Samuel N. Deinard. Rabbi Deinard worked to unite the various ethnic groups within the Jewish community. He was devoted to social justice beyond the Jewish community as well, and served as the first president of the local chapter of the NAACP.

A more recent wave of Russian immigration to Minnesota began in the late 1980s. Since 1987, more than 3,000 Russian-speaking Jews have settled in Minneapolis, constituting 10% of its Jewish population. The City’s Asian residents have come from China, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, and in the past thirty years, from Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand. Minneapolis had the largest Chinese settlement in the state in the early decades of the 20th Century.

Westminster Presbyterian Church had Chinese-language services in 1918, and the congregation’s Chinese members started a Chinese language weekly newspaper. The first large scale Japanese-American migration to the state, and to Minneapolis, occurred during World War II as the War Relocation Authority, recognizing the harmful effects of the detention camps, relocated the internees to other parts of the country. From 1942 to 1948, between 6,000 and 10,000 persons of Japanese descent came to the state. Most eventually returned to the West Coast. A national leader who remained in Minnesota was Rev. Daisuke Kitagawa.

He was the director of the Japanese American Community Center at 2200 Blaisdell Avenue (established in 1947), and served on the Mayor’s Human Relations Council in the 1940s. Historically, the Mexican-American population of the Twin Cities has largely been concentrated in St. Paul’s West Side. The 1990s saw a burgeoning Latino population in Minneapolis, particularly in the Powderhorn, Phillips, Whittier, Central, and Lyndale neighborhoods.

In 1999, a mercado–a retail center comprised of several dozen Hispanic businesses owners and operators–opened on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue.

Native Americans began returning to the Twin Cities in large numbers during the 1950s, largely the result of the Bureau of Indian Affairs program to relocate reservation Indians to urban areas. Of the major cities in the United States, Minneapolis had the fourth highest percentage of American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut people in the 1990 census (behind Anchorage, Tulsa, and Oklahoma City).

The city, however, lost nearly 4,000 Indians to outstate Minnesota in 1990s, perhaps due to the healthy casino economy coupled with the desire to return to the reservation. The American Indian Movement (A.I.M.), which brought Indian issues, sovereignty, and treaty rights to the public’s attention, was founded in Minneapolis in 1968.

Unfortunately, over the course of the city’s history, not all were made to feel welcome. Immigrants often faced job, housing, and racial discrimination. By one estimate, there were as many as 10 active Ku Klux Klan chapters in Minneapolis in 1923. Their attacks were broadly focused on nonwhites, socialists, Jews, Catholics, and the new Communist threat.

The Klan popularity quickly lost ground amidst scandals surrounding its leadership based in Indianapolis. Sociologist Carey McWilliams named Minneapolis the most anti-Semitic city in the United States in 1946. Stung by this designation, Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey established the city’s civil rights commission that same year (then known as the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights.)

The Commission operated without public funds and exercised no powers save those of education and persuasion. In its first year, the Commission sponsored a training program in race relations for police officers and helped prepare the way for the enactment of a fair employment practice ordinance. Minneapolis later elected a Jewish mayor, Arthur Naftalin, in 1961. The Phyllis Wheatley House was established in 1920 in North Minneapolis as a settlement house where Blacks could reside and enjoy community life.

The Rainbow Club, organized by Reverend Daisuke Kitagawa, served to help Japanese American families who were facing racial prejudice settle in the area.

According to the 1990 census, foreign-born residents numbered 6% of the city’s total population. Since 1990, there has been a significant wave of immigration to the city, bringing immigrants, many of whom are refugees from Africa (including a large Somali contingent), Southeast Asia, and Latin America.

Today there is an effort among the public and private sectors to offer services for, and combat discrimination against, new arrivals to Minneapolis, building on the city’s social service tradition while striving to avoid the mistakes of the past.