The history of the U.S. state of Minnesota is shaped by its original Native American residents, European exploration and settlement, and the emergence of industries made possible by the state's natural resources. Minnesota achieved prominence through fur trading, logging, and farming, and later through railroads, and iron mining. While those industries remain important, the state's economy is now driven by banking, computers, and health care.
The earliest known settlers followed herds of large game to the region during the last glacial period. They preceded the Anishinaabe, the Dakota, and other Native American inhabitants. Fur traders from France arrived during the 17th century. Europeans moving west during the 19th century, drove out most of the Native Americans. Fort Snelling, built to protect United States territorial interests, brought early settlers to the area. Early settlers used Saint Anthony Falls for powering sawmills in the area that became Minneapolis, while others settled downriver in the area that became Saint Paul.
Minnesota gained legal existence as the Minnesota Territory in 1849, and became the 32nd U.S. state on May 11, 1858. After the upheaval of the American Civil War and the Dakota War of 1862, the state's economy started to develop when natural resources were tapped for logging and farming. Railroads attracted immigrants, established the farm economy, and brought goods to market. The power provided by St. Anthony Falls spurred the growth of Minneapolis, and the innovative milling methods gave it the title of the "milling capital of the world".
New industry came from iron ore, discovered in the north, mined relatively easily from open pits, and shipped to Great Lakes steel mills from the ports at Duluth and Two Harbors. Economic development and social changes led to an expanded role for state government and a population shift from rural areas to cities. The Great Depression brought layoffs in mining and tension in labor relations but New Deal programs helped the state. After World War II, Minnesota became known for technology, fueled by early computer companies Sperry Rand, Control Data and Cray. The Twin Cities also became a regional center for the arts with cultural institutions such as the Guthrie Theater, Minnesota Orchestra, and the Walker Art Center.
The oldest known human remains in Minnesota, dating back about 9000 years ago, were discovered near Browns Valley in 1933. "Browns Valley Man" was found with tools of the Clovis and Folsom types. Some of the earliest evidence of a sustained presence in the area comes from a site known as Bradbury Brook near Mille Lacs Lake which was used around 7500 BC. Subsequently, extensive trading networks developed in the region. The body of an early resident known as "Minnesota Woman" was discovered in 1931 in Otter Tail County. Radiocarbon dating places the age of the bones approximately 8,000 years ago, approximately 7890 ±70 BP or near the end of the Eastern Archaic period. She had a conch shell from a snail species known as Busycon perversa, which had previously only been known to exist in Florida.
Several hundred years later, the climate of Minnesota warmed significantly. As large animals such as mammoths became extinct, native people changed their diet. They gathered nuts, berries, and vegetables, and they hunted smaller animals such as deer, bison, and birds. The stone tools found from this era became smaller and more specialized to use these new food sources. They also devised new techniques for catching fish, such as fish hooks, nets, and harpoons. Around 5000 BC, people on the shores of Lake Superior (in Minnesota and portions of what is now Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada) were the first on the continent to begin making metal tools. Pieces of ore with high concentrations of copper were initially pounded into a rough shape, heated to reduce brittleness, pounded again to refine the shape, and reheated. Edges could be made sharp enough to be useful as knives or spear points.
Archaeological evidence of Native American settlements dates back as far as 3000 BC; the Jeffers Petroglyphs site in southwest Minnesota contains carvings thought to date to the Late Archaic Period (3000 BC to 1000 BC). Around 700 BC, burial mounds were first created, and the practice continued until the arrival of Europeans, when 10,000 such mounds dotted the state.
By AD 800, wild rice became a staple crop in the region, and corn farther to the south. Within a few hundred years, the Mississippian culture reached into the southeast portion of the state, and large villages were formed. The Dakota Native American culture may have descended from some of the peoples of the Mississippian culture.
When Europeans first started exploring Minnesota, the region was inhabited primarily by tribes of Dakota, with the Ojibwa (sometimes called Chippewa, or Anishinaabe) beginning to migrate westward into the state around 1700. (Other sources suggest the Ojibwe reached Minnesota by 1620 or earlier.) There were also the Chiwere Ioway in the southwest, the Algonquian A'ani to the west, and possibly the Menominee in some parts of the southeast as well as other tribes which could have been either Algonquian or Chiwere to the northeast, alongside Lake Superior (possibilities include the Fauk, Sauk, and Missouria). The economy of these tribes was chiefly based on hunter-gatherer activities. There was also a small group of Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) Native Americans near Long Prairie, who later moved to a reservation in Blue Earth County in 1855.
At some early point, the Missouria moved south into what is now Missouri, the Menominee ceded much of their westernmost lands and withdrew closer to the region of Green Bay, Wisconsin, and the A'ani were pushed north and west by the Dakota and split into the Gros Ventre and the Arapaho. Later tribes who would inhabit the region include the Assiniboine, who split from the Dakota and returned to Minnesota, but later also moved west as American settlers came to populate the region.
In the late 1650s, Pierre Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers were likely the first Europeans to meet Dakota Native Americans while following the southern shore of Lake Superior (which would become northern Wisconsin). The north shore was explored in the 1660s. Among the first to do this was Claude Allouez, a missionary on Madeline Island. He made an early map of the area in 1671.
Around this time, the Ojibwa Native Americans reached Minnesota as part of a westward migration. Having come from a region around Maine, they were experienced at dealing with European traders. They dealt in furs and possessed guns. Tensions rose between the Ojibwa and Dakota in the ensuing years.
In 1671, France signed a treaty with a number of tribes to allow trade. Shortly thereafter, French trader Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut arrived in the area and began trading with the local tribes. Du Lhut explored the western area of Lake Superior, near his namesake, the city of Duluth, and areas south of there. He helped to arrange a peace agreement between the Dakota and Ojibwa tribes in 1679.
Father Louis Hennepin with companions Michel Aco and Antoine Auguelle (a.k.a. Picard Du Gay) headed north from the area of Illinois after coming into that area with an exploration party headed by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. They were captured by a Dakota tribe in 1680. While with the tribe, they came across and named the Falls of Saint Anthony. Soon, Du Lhut negotiated to have Hennepin's party released from captivity. Hennepin returned to Europe and wrote a book, Description of Louisiana, published in 1683, about his travels where many portions (including the part about Saint Anthony Falls) were strongly embellished. As an example, he described the falls as being a drop of fifty or sixty feet, when they were really only about sixteen feet. Pierre-Charles Le Sueur explored the Minnesota River to the Blue Earth area around 1700. He thought the blue earth was a source of copper, and he told stories about the possibility of mineral wealth, but there actually was no copper to be found.
Explorers searching for the fabled Northwest Passage and large inland seas in North America continued to pass through the state. In 1721, the French built Fort Beauharnois on Lake Pepin. In 1731, the Grand Portage trail was first traversed by a European, Pierre La Vérendrye. He used a map written down on a piece of birch bark by Ochagach, an Assiniboine guide. The North West Company, which traded in fur and competed with the Hudson's Bay Company, was established along the Grand Portage in 1783–1784.
Jonathan Carver, a shoemaker from Massachusetts, visited the area in 1767 as part of another expedition. He and the rest of the exploration party were only able to stay for a relatively short period, due to supply shortages. They headed back east to Fort Michilimackinac, where Carver wrote journals about the trip, though others would later claim the stories were largely plagiarized from others. The stories were published in 1778, but Carver died before the book earned him much money. Carver County and Carver's Cave are named for him.
Until 1818 the Red River Valley was considered British and was subject to several colonization schemes, such as the Red River Colony. The boundary where the Red River crossed the 49th parallel was not marked until 1823, when Stephen H. Long conducted a survey expedition. When several hundred settlers abandoned the Red River Colony in the 1820s, they entered the United States by way of the Red River Valley, instead of moving to eastern Canada or returning to Europe. The region had been occupied by Métis people, the children of voyageurs and Native Americans, since the middle 17th century.
Several efforts were made to determine the source of the Mississippi River. The true source was found in 1832, when Henry Schoolcraft was guided by a group of Ojibwa headed by Ozaawindib ("Yellow Head") to a lake in northern Minnesota. Schoolcraft named it Lake Itasca, combining the Latin words veritas ("truth") and caput ("head"). The native name for the lake was Omashkooz, meaning elk. Other explorers of the area include Zebulon Pike in 1806, Major Stephen Long in 1817, George William Featherstonhaugh in 1835, and John Pope (military officer) in 1849. Featherstonhaugh conducted a geological survey of the Minnesota River valley and wrote an account entitled A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotor.
Joseph Nicollet scouted the area in the late 1830s, exploring and mapping the Upper Mississippi River basin, the St. Croix River, and the land between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. He and John C. Frémont left their mark in the southwest of the state, carving their names in the pipestone quarries near Winnewissa Falls (an area now part of Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone County).
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow never explored the state, but he did help to make it popular. He published The Song of Hiawatha in 1855, which contains references to many regions in Minnesota. The story was based on Ojibwa legends carried back east by other explorers and traders (particularly those collected by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft).
All of the land east of the Mississippi River was granted to the United States by the Second Treaty of Paris at the end of the American Revolution in 1783. This included what would become modern day Saint Paul but only part of Minneapolis, including the northeast, north-central and east-central portions of the state. The western portion of the state was part of the Spanish Louisiana since the Treaty of Fontainebleau, in 1762. The wording of the treaty in the Minnesota area depended on landmarks reported by fur traders, who erroneously reported an "Isle Phelipeaux" in Lake Superior, a "Long Lake" west of the island, and the belief that the Mississippi River ran well into modern Canada. Most of the state was purchased in 1803 from France as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Parts of northern Minnesota were considered to be in Rupert's Land. The exact definition of the boundary between Minnesota and British North America was not addressed until the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, which set the U.S.–Canada border at the 49th parallel west of the Lake of the Woods (except for a small chunk of land now dubbed the Northwest Angle). Border disputes east of the Lake of the Woods continued until the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842.
Throughout the first half of the 19th century, the northeastern portion of the state was a part of the Northwest Territory, then the Illinois Territory, then the Michigan Territory, and finally the Wisconsin Territory. The western and southern areas of the state, although theoretically part of the Wisconsin Territory from its creation in 1836, were not formally organized until 1838, when they became part of the Iowa Territory.
Fort Snelling was the first major U.S. military presence in the state. The land for the fort, at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, was acquired in 1805 by Zebulon Pike. When concerns mounted about the fur trade in the area, construction of the fort began in 1819. Construction was completed in 1825, and Colonel Josiah Snelling and his officers and soldiers left their imprint on the area. One of the missions of the fort was to mediate disputes between the Ojibwe and the Dakota tribes. Lawrence Taliaferro was an agent of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. He spent 20 years at the site, finally resigning in 1839.
In the 1850s, Fort Snelling played a key role in the infamous Dred Scott court case. Slaves Dred Scott and his wife were taken to the fort by their master, John Emerson. They lived at the fort and elsewhere in territories where slavery was prohibited. After Emerson's death, the Scotts argued that since they had lived in free territory, they were no longer slaves. Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court sided against the Scotts. Dred Scott Field, located just a short distance away in Bloomington, is named in the memory of Fort Snelling's significance in one of the most important legal precedents in U.S. History.
By 1851, treaties between Native American tribes and the U.S. government had opened much of Minnesota to settlement, so Fort Snelling no longer was a frontier outpost. It served as a training center for soldiers during the American Civil War and later as the headquarters for the Department of Dakota. A portion has been designated as Fort Snelling National Cemetery where over 160,000 are interred. During World War II, the fort served as a training center for nearly 300,000 inductees. After World War II, the fort was threatened with demolition due to the building of freeways Highway 5 and Highway 55, but citizens rallied to save it. Fort Snelling is now a historic site operated by the Minnesota Historical Society.
Fort Snelling was largely responsible for the establishment of the city of Minneapolis. In an effort to be self-sufficient, the soldiers of the fort built roads, planted crops, and built a grist mill and a sawmill at Saint Anthony Falls. Later, Franklin Steele came to Fort Snelling as the post sutler (the operator of the general store), and established interests in lumbering and other activities. When the Ojibwe signed a treaty ceding lands in 1837, Steele staked a claim to land on the east side of the Mississippi River adjacent to Saint Anthony Falls. In 1848, he built a sawmill at the falls, and the community of Saint Anthony sprung up around the east side of the falls. Steele told one of his employees, John H. Stevens, that land on the west side of the falls would make a good site for future mills. Since the land on the west side was still part of the military reservation, Stevens made a deal with Fort Snelling's commander. Stevens would provide free ferry service across the river in exchange for a tract of 160 acres (0.65 km2) at the head of the falls. Stevens received the claim and built a house, the first house in Minneapolis, in 1850. In 1854, Stevens platted the city of Minneapolis on the west bank. Later, in 1872, Minneapolis absorbed the city of Saint Anthony.
The city of Saint Paul, Minnesota owes its existence to Fort Snelling. A group of squatters, mostly from the ill-fated Red River Colony in what is now the Canadian province of Manitoba, established a camp near the fort. The commandant of Fort Snelling, Major Joseph Plympton, found their presence problematic because they were using timber and allowing their cattle and horses to graze around the fort. Plympton banned lumbering and the construction of any new buildings on the military reservation land. As a result, the squatters moved four miles downstream on the Mississippi River. They settled at a site known as Fountain Cave. This site was not quite far enough for the officers at the fort, so the squatters were forced out again. Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant, a popular moonshiner among the group, moved downriver and established a saloon, becoming the first European resident in the area that later became Saint Paul. The squatters named their settlement "Pig's Eye" after Parrant. The name was later changed to Lambert's Landing and then finally Saint Paul. However, the earliest name for the area comes from a Native American colony Im-in-i-ja Ska, meaning "White Rock" and referring to the limestone bluffs nearby.
Minneapolis and Saint Paul are collectively known as the "Twin Cities". The cities enjoyed a rivalry during their early years, with Saint Paul being the capital city and Minneapolis becoming prominent through industry. The term "Twin Cities" was coined around 1872, after a newspaper editorial suggested that Minneapolis could absorb Saint Paul. Residents decided that the cities needed a separate identity, so people coined the phrase "Dual Cities", which later evolved into "Twin Cities". Today, Minneapolis is the largest city in Minnesota, with a population of 382,618 in the 2000 census. Saint Paul is the second largest city, with a population of 287,151. Minneapolis and Saint Paul anchor a metropolitan area with a population of 2,968,806 as of 2000, with a total state population of 4,919,479.
Henry Hastings Sibley built the first stone house in the Minnesota Territory in Mendota in 1838, along with other limestone buildings used by the American Fur Company, which bought animal pelts at that location from 1825 to 1853. Another area of early economic development in Minnesota was the logging industry. Loggers found the white pine especially valuable, and it was plentiful in the northeastern section of the state and in the St. Croix River valley. Before railroads, lumbermen relied mostly on river transportation to bring logs to market, which made Minnesota's timber resources attractive. Towns like Pine City, Marine on St. Croix and Stillwater became important lumber centers fed by the St. Croix River, while Winona was supplied lumber by areas in southern Minnesota and along the Minnesota River. The unregulated logging practices of the time and a severe drought took their toll in 1894, when the Great Hinckley Fire ravaged 480 square miles (1,200 km2) in the Hinckley and Sandstone areas of Pine County, killing over 400 residents. The combination of logging and drought struck again in the Baudette Fire of 1910 and the Cloquet Fire of 1918.
Saint Anthony, on the east bank of the Mississippi River later became part of Minneapolis, and was an important lumber milling center supplied by the Rum River. In 1848, businessman Franklin Steele built the first private sawmill on the Saint Anthony Falls, and more sawmills quickly followed. The oldest home still standing in Saint Anthony is the Ard Godfrey house, built in 1848, and lived in by Ard and Harriet Godfrey. The house of John H. Stevens, the first house on the west bank in Minneapolis, was moved several times, finally to Minnehaha Park in south Minneapolis in 1896.
Stephen A. Douglas (D), the chair of the Senate Committee on Territories, drafted the bill authorizing Minnesota Territory. He had envisioned a future for the upper Mississippi valley, so he was motivated to keep the area from being carved up by neighboring territories. In 1846, he prevented Iowa from including Fort Snelling and Saint Anthony Falls within its northern border. In 1847, he kept the organizers of Wisconsin from including Saint Paul and Saint Anthony Falls. The Minnesota Territory was established from the lands remaining from Iowa Territory and Wisconsin Territory on March 3, 1849. The Minnesota Territory extended far into what is now North Dakota and South Dakota, to the Missouri River. There was a dispute over the shape of the state to be carved out of Minnesota Territory. An alternate proposal that was only narrowly defeated would have made the 46th parallel the state's northern border and the Missouri River its western border, thus giving up the whole northern half of the state in exchange for the eastern half of what later became South Dakota.
With Alexander Ramsey (W) as the first governor of Minnesota Territory and Henry Hastings Sibley (D) as the territorial delegate to the United States Congress, the populations of Saint Paul and Saint Anthony swelled. Henry M. Rice (D), who replaced Sibley as the territorial delegate in 1853, worked in Congress to promote Minnesota interests. He lobbied for the construction of a railroad connecting Saint Paul and Lake Superior, with a link from Saint Paul to the Illinois Central.
In December 1856, Henry M Rice brought forward two bills in Congress: an enabling act that would allow Minnesota to form a state constitution, and a railroad land grant bill. Rice's enabling act defined a state containing both prairie and forest lands. The state was bounded on the south by Iowa, on the east by Wisconsin, on the north by Canada, and on the west by the Red River of the North and the Bois de Sioux River, Lake Traverse, Big Stone Lake, and then a line extending due south to the Iowa border. Rice made this motion based on Minnesota's population growth.
At the time, tensions between the northern and the southern United States were growing, in a series of conflicts that eventually resulted in the American Civil War. There was little debate in the United States House of Representatives, but when Stephen A. Douglas introduced the bill in the United States Senate, it caused a firestorm of debate. Northerners saw their chance to add two senators to the side of the free states, while Southerners were sure that they would lose power. Many senators offered polite arguments that the population was too sparse and that statehood was premature. Senator John Burton Thompson of Kentucky, in particular, argued that new states would cost the government too much for roads, canals, forts, and lighthouses. Although Thompson and 21 other senators voted against statehood, the enabling act was passed on February 26, 1857.
After the enabling act was passed, territorial legislators had a difficult time writing a state constitution. A constitutional convention was assembled in July 1857, but Republicans and Democrats were deeply divided. In fact, they formed two separate constitutional conventions and drafted two separate constitutions. Eventually, the two groups formed a conference committee and worked out a common constitution. The divisions continued, though, because Republicans refused to sign a document that had Democratic signatures on it, and vice versa. One copy of the constitution was written on white paper and signed only by Republicans, while the other copy was written on blue-tinged paper and signed by Democrats. These copies were signed on August 29, 1857. An election was called on October 13, 1857, where Minnesota residents would vote to approve or disapprove the constitution. The constitution was approved by 30,055 voters, while 571 rejected it.
The state constitution was sent to the United States Congress for ratification in December 1857. The approval process was drawn out for several months while Congress debated over issues that had stemmed from the Kansas–Nebraska Act. Southerners had been arguing that the next state should be pro-slavery, so when Kansas submitted the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, the Minnesota statehood bill was delayed. After that, Northerners feared that Minnesota's Democratic delegation would support slavery in Kansas. Finally, after the Kansas question was settled and after Congress decided how many representatives Minnesota would get in the House of Representatives, the bill passed. The eastern half of the Minnesota Territory, under the boundaries defined by Henry Mower Rice, became the country's 32nd state on May 11, 1858. The western part remained unorganized until its incorporation into the Dakota Territory on March 2, 1861.
Minnesota strongly supported the Union war effort, with about 22,000 Minnesotans serving. The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry was particularly important to the Battle of Gettysburg. Governor Alexander Ramsey happened to be in Washington D.C. when Ft. Sumter was fired upon. He went immediately to the White House and made his state the first to offer help in putting down the rebellion.
At the same time, the state faced another crisis as the Dakota War of 1862 broke out. The Dakota had signed the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux and Treaty of Mendota in 1851 because they were concerned that without money from the United States government, they would starve, due to the loss of habitat of huntable game. They were initially given a strip of land of ten miles (16 km) north and south of the Minnesota River, but they were later forced to sell the northern half of the land. In 1862, crop failures left the Dakota with food shortages, and government money was delayed. After four young Dakota men, searching for food, shot a family of white settlers near Acton, the Dakota leadership decided to continue the attacks in an effort to drive out the settlers. Over a period of several days, Dakota attacks at the Lower Sioux Agency, New Ulm and Hutchinson, as well as in the surrounding farmlands, resulted in the deaths of at least 300 to 400 white settlers and government employees, causing panic in the settlements and provoking counterattacks by state militia and federal forces which spread throughout the Minnesota River Valley and as far away as the Red River Valley. The ensuing battles at Fort Ridgely, Birch Coulee, Fort Abercrombie, and Wood Lake punctuated a six-week war, which ended with the trial of 425 Native Americans for their participation in the war. Of this number, 303 men were convicted and sentenced to death.
Episcopal Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple pleaded to President Abraham Lincoln for clemency, and the death sentences of all but 39 men were reduced to prison terms. On December 26, 1862, 38 men were hanged by the U.S. Army at Mankato—the largest mass execution in the United States. Many of the remaining Dakota Native Americans, including non-combatants, were confined in a prison camp at Pike Island over the winter of 1862–1863, where more than 300 died of disease. Survivors were later exiled to the Crow Creek Reservation, then later to a reservation near Niobrara, Nebraska.
A small number of Dakota Native Americans managed to return to Minnesota in the 1880s and establish communities near Granite Falls, Morton, Prior Lake, and Red Wing. However, after this time Dakota people were no longer allowed to reside in Minnesota with the exception of the meritorious Sioux called the Loyal Mdewakanton. This separate class of Dakota did not participate in the Dakota War of 1862, since they were assimilated Christians and instead decided to help some of the missionaries escape the Sioux warriors who chose to fight.
After the Civil War, Minnesota became an attractive region for European immigration and settlement as farmland. Minnesota's population in 1870 was 439,000; this number tripled during the two subsequent decades. The Homestead Act in 1862 facilitated land claims by settlers, who regarded the land as being cheap and fertile. The railroad industry, led by the Northern Pacific Railway and Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad, advertised the many opportunities in the state and worked to get immigrants to settle in Minnesota. James J. Hill, in particular, was instrumental in reorganizing the Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad and extending lines from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area into the Red River Valley and to Winnipeg. Hill was also responsible for building a new passenger depot in Minneapolis, served by the landmark Stone Arch Bridge which was completed in 1883. During the 1880s, Hill continued building tracks through North Dakota and Montana. In 1890, the railroad, now known as the Great Northern Railway, started building tracks through the mountains west to Seattle. Other railroads, such as the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad and the Milwaukee Road, also played an important role in the early days of Minnesota's statehood. Later railways, such as the Soo Line and Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway facilitated the sale of Minneapolis flour and other products, although they were not as involved in attracting settlers.
Oliver Hudson Kelley played an important role in farming as one of the founders of the National Grange, along with several other clerks in the United States Department of Agriculture. The movement grew out of his interest in cooperative farm associations following the end of the Civil War, and he established local Grange chapters in Elk River and Saint Paul. The organization worked to provide education on new farming methods, as well as to influence government and public opinion on matters important to farmers. One of these areas of concern was the freight rates charged by the railroads and by the grain elevators. Since there was little or no competition between railroads serving Minnesota farm communities, railroads could charge as much as the traffic would bear. By 1871, the situation was so heated that both the Republican and Democratic candidates in state elections promised to regulate railroad rates. The state established an office of railroad commissioner and imposed maximum charges for shipping. Populist Ignatius L. Donnelly also served the Grange as an organizer.
Saint Anthony Falls, the only waterfall of its height on the Mississippi, played an important part in the development of Minneapolis. The power of the waterfall first fueled sawmills, but later it was tapped to serve flour mills. In 1870, only a small number of flour mills were in the Minneapolis area, but by 1900 Minnesota mills were grinding 14.1% of the nation's grain. Advances in transportation, milling technology, and water power combined to give Minneapolis a dominance in the milling industry. Spring wheat could be sown in the spring and harvested in late summer, but it posed special problems for milling. To get around these problems, Minneapolis millers made use of new technology. They invented the middlings purifier, a device that used jets of air to remove the husks from the flour early in the milling process. They also started using roller mills, as opposed to grindstones. A series of rollers gradually broke down the kernels and integrated the gluten with the starch. These improvements led to the production of "patent" flour, which commanded almost double the price of "bakers" or "clear" flour, which it replaced. Pillsbury and the Washburn-Crosby Company (a forerunner of General Mills) became the leaders in the Minneapolis milling industry. This leadership in milling later declined as milling was no longer dependent on water power, but the dominance of the mills contributed greatly to the economy of Minneapolis and Minnesota, attracting people and money to the region.
At the end of the 19th century, several forms of industrial development shaped Minnesota. In 1882, a hydroelectric power plant was built at Saint Anthony Falls, marking one of the first developments of hydroelectric power in the United States. Iron mining began in northern Minnesota with the opening of the Soudan Mine in 1884. The Vermilion Range was surveyed and mapped by a party financed by Charlemagne Tower. Another mining town, Ely began with the foundation of the Chandler Mine in 1888. Soon after, the Mesabi Range was established when ore was found just under the surface of the ground in Mountain Iron. The Mesabi Range ultimately had much more ore than the Vermilion Range, and it was easy to extract because the ore was closer to the surface. As a result, open-pit mines became well-established on the Mesabi Range, with 111 mines operating by 1904. To ship the iron ore to refineries, railroads such as the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway were built from the iron ranges to Two Harbors and Duluth on Lake Superior. Large ore docks were used at these cities to load the iron ore onto ships for transport east on the Great Lakes. The mining industry helped to propel Duluth from a small town to a large, thriving city. In 1904, iron was discovered in the Cuyuna Range in Crow Wing County. Between 1904 and 1984, when mining ceased, more than 106 million tons of ore were mined. Iron from the Cuyuna Range also contained significant proportions of manganese, increasing its value.
Dr. William Worrall Mayo, the founder of the Mayo Clinic, emigrated from Salford, United Kingdom to the United States in 1846 and became a medical doctor in 1850. In 1863, Mayo moved to Rochester, followed by his family the next year. In the summer of 1883, an F5 tornado struck, dubbed the 1883 Rochester tornado, causing a substantial number of deaths and injuries. Dr. W. W. Mayo worked with nuns from the Sisters of St. Francis to treat the survivors. After the disaster, Mother Alfred Moes and Dr. Mayo recognized the need for a hospital and joined together to build the 27-bed Saint Marys Hospital which opened in 1889. The hospital, with over 1100 beds, is now part of the Mayo Clinic, which grew out of the practice of William Worrall Mayo and his sons, William James Mayo (1861–1939) and Charles Horace Mayo. Dr. Henry Stanley Plummer joined the Mayo Brothers' practice in 1901. Plummer developed many of the systems of group practice which are universal around the world today in medicine and other fields, such as a single medical record and an interconnecting telephone system.
As a result of industrialization, the population became more concentrated into urban areas. By 1900, the Twin Cities were becoming a center of commerce, led by the Minneapolis Grain Exchange and the foundation of the Federal Reserve Bank with its ninth district in Minneapolis. Many of the businessmen who had made money in the railroad, flour milling, and logging industries lived in the Twin Cities and personified the gilded age. They started to donate money for cultural institutions such as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (now the Minnesota Orchestra). The parks of Minneapolis, under the direction of Theodore Wirth became famous, and the new Minnesota State Capitol building and the Cathedral of Saint Paul attracted attention to Saint Paul.
The role of government also grew during the early 20th century. In the rural areas, most people obtained food and manufactured goods from neighbors and other people they knew personally. As industry and commerce grew, goods such as food, materials, and medicines were no longer made by neighbors, but by large companies. In response, citizens called on their government for consumer protection, inspection of goods, and regulation of public utilities. The growth of the automobile spurred calls to develop roads and to enforce traffic laws. The state officially started its trunk highway system in 1920, with the passage of the Babcock Amendment that established 70 Constitutional Routes around the state. New regulation was necessary for banking and insurance. The safety of industrial workers and miners became an increasing concern, and brought about the workers' compensation system. Since government was getting more complex, citizens demanded more of a role in their government, and became more politically active.
Wilbur Foshay, an owner of several utility companies, built the Foshay Tower in 1929, just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The building was the tallest building in Minnesota at the time. It remained the tallest building in Minneapolis until 1973, when the IDS Tower surpassed it. The tower was a symbol of the wealth of the times, but when the stock market crashed, Foshay lost his fortune in the crash.
The Great Depression had several effects on Minnesota, with layoffs on the Iron Range and a drought in the Great Plains from 1931 through 1936. While the Depression had several causes, one most relevant to Minnesota was that United States businesses in the 1920s had improved their efficiency through standardizing production methods and eliminating waste. Business owners were reaping the benefits of this increase in productivity, but they were not sharing it with their employees because of the weakness of organized labor, nor were they sharing it with the public in the form of lowered prices. Instead, the windfall went to stockholders. The eventual result was that consumers could no longer afford the goods that factories were producing.
Floyd B. Olson of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party was elected as the governor in the 1930 election. In his first term, he signed a bonding bill that authorized $15 million ($230 million as of 2020) for highway construction, in an effort to provide work for the unemployed. He also signed an executive order that provided for a minimum wage of 45 cents per hour for up to 48 hours weekly. This effort predated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 that established a nationwide minimum wage. By 1932, with the Depression worsening, the Farmer-Labor Party platform was proposing a state income tax, a graduated tax on nationwide chain stores (such as J.C. Penney and Sears, Roebuck and Company), low-interest farm loans, and a state unemployment insurance program. The progressive 1933 legislative session saw a comprehensive response to the depression including a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures, a reduction in property taxes for farmers and homeowners, the state income tax, and chain store taxes, tavern reform, ratification of a child labor amendment, a state old-age pension system, and steps toward preserving the area that later became the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Meanwhile, formerly quiet labor unions began asserting themselves rather forcefully. The Minneapolis Teamsters Strike of 1934 turned ugly, with the union demanding the right to speak for all trucking employees. As a result of this strike and many others across the nation, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. Government programs such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration brought much-needed work projects to the state. Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, giving Minnesota's Ojibwa and Dakota tribes more autonomy over their own affairs.
The Minnesota Orchestra dates back to 1903 when it was founded as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. It was renamed the Minnesota Orchestra in 1968 and moved into its own building, Orchestra Hall, in downtown Minneapolis in 1974. The building has a modern look with a brick, glass, and steel exterior, in contrast to the old-world look of traditional concert halls. The interior of the building features more than 100 large cubes that deflect sound and provide excellent acoustics. Later the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra became the second full-time professional orchestral ensemble in the cities.
The Walker Art Center was established in 1927 as the first public art gallery in the Upper Midwest. In the 1940s, the museum shifted its focus toward modern art, after a gift from Mrs. Gilbert Walker made it possible to acquire works by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, and others. The museum continued its focus on modern art with traveling shows in the 1960s.
The Guthrie Theater, opened in 1963, was the brainchild of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, who wanted to found a regional theater without the commercial constraints of Broadway. The high cost of staging Broadway productions meant that shows had to be immediately successful and return a high amount of revenue. This discouraged innovation and experimentation, and made it difficult to stage important works of literature. These ideas were first disseminated in a 1959 article in the drama section of the New York Times, and citizens in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area were eager to support the idea. The theater served as a prototype for other resident non-profit theaters.
Like other U.S. States, Minnesota made its contributions to the effort of World War II in wartime manufacturing and other areas. The United States Navy contracted with Cargill to build ships after seeing their success in building ships and barges used to haul grain. Cargill built facilities in Savage, Minnesota on the south bank of the Minnesota River and turned out 18 refueling ships and four towboats in four years. After the war, the Cargill facilities became a major grain shipping terminal. Honeywell built airplane control systems and periscope sights for submarines, and also developed a proximity fuse for anti-aircraft shells. The United States government built the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant to produce munitions. The plant employed 8,500 workers in 1941, and since there was a shortage of male workers during the war, more than half of the workers at the munitions plant were women. The plant also employed nearly 1000 African American workers, as President Roosevelt had issued an executive order forbidding racial discrimination in defense industries. Native American workers also found opportunities due to workforce shortages in wartime.
Savage was also the home of Camp Savage, a school designed to improve the foreign language skills of Japanese-American soldiers and to train them in military intelligence gathering. The school was originally established in San Francisco, but moved to Minnesota after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Eventually, the school outgrew its facilities in Savage and was moved to Fort Snelling. Fort Snelling itself served a major role as a reception center for newly drafted recruits after the Selective Service Act was passed in 1940. New recruits were given a physical exam and the Army General Qualification Test to determine their fitness for service in a particular branch. The most intelligent recruits, about 37% of Minnesotans going through Fort Snelling, were assigned to the Army Air Corps. Recruits were also issued uniforms and sent from the fort to other training centers. Over 300,000 recruits were processed through Fort Snelling during the World War II years.
Agriculture evolved from an individual occupation into a major industry after World War II. Technological developments increased productivity on farms, such as automation of feedlots for hogs and cattle, machine milking at dairy farms, and raising chickens in large buildings. Planting also became more specialized with hybridization of corn and wheat, fertilization, and mechanical equipment such as tractors and combines became the norm. University of Minnesota professor Norman Borlaug contributed to this knowledge as part of the Green Revolution. Large canneries such as the Minnesota Valley Canning Company fed the country from Minnesota's productive farmland.
The Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M) was founded in 1902 in Two Harbors, Minnesota, and was later moved to Duluth, Saint Paul, and then Maplewood. The founders of 3M got their start by manufacturing sandpaper. Under the leadership of William L. McKnight, the company established product lines such as abrasives for wet sanding, masking tape and other adhesives, roofing granules, resins, and films.
Suburban development intensified after the war, fueled by the demand for new housing. In 1957, the Legislature created a planning commission for the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This became the Metropolitan Council in 1967.
Northwest Airlines, the dominant airline at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, was founded in 1926 carrying mail from the Twin Cities to Chicago. The airline, long headquartered in Eagan, merged with Delta Air Lines in October 2008. The company will keep the Delta name and will be headquartered in Atlanta.
More than any other Midwestern state, Minnesota attracted engineers, especially in the computer industry, and became a center of technology after the war. Engineering Research Associates was formed in 1946 to develop computers for the intelligence community. It soon merged with Remington Rand, and later became Sperry Rand. William Norris left Sperry in 1957 to form Control Data Corporation (CDC). Cray Research was formed when Seymour Cray left CDC to form his own company. Medical device maker Medtronic also was founded in the Twin Cities in 1949. Honeywell was a national player as well, until 1999 when it was bought out and its headquarters moved to New Jersey. National firms, such as International Business Machines, operated large branch offices. IBM also operated a substantial manufacturing and development site in Rochester starting in 1956. State government and powerful politicians such as Hubert Humphrey maintained a favorable climate. The University of Minnesota trained many computer specialists who decided to stay in the Minnesota rather than move to sunny California. By the 1960s Minnesota thus became a successful precursor to Route 128 around Boston and Silicon Valley.
Historian Annette Atkins has explored the changing long-term pattern of Minnesota politics. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the heavily rural state was hostile to business and railroads, with the Republicans dominant in the small towns, and the Democrats on the farms. Numerous left-wing groups and third-parties emerged, such as the Anti-Monopolist party in the 1870s, the Populists in the 1890s, the Non-Partisan League in the 1910s, and the Farmer-Labor party in the 1930s. Isolationism was strong, Atkins argues, because of the fear that Eastern bankers and industrialists forced the United States into World War I to enlarge their profits. Business fought unions, and the unions fought back, and with the governor on their side unions won some violent battles in the 1930s. In recent decades, however, the liberal coalition has weakened. Labor unions are a shadow of their old strength. Most farmers have left for the towns and especially the Twin Cities, where more than half of the people live. The New Right has mobilized social conservatives, especially those from traditional religious backgrounds, with abortion a furiously contested issue. State government has become much more friendly toward growth and the needs of business entrepreneurship. Environmentalism has split left and right, with the industrial workers in the Up North and Iron Range districts demanding that their jobs be protected from environmentalists. Atkins finds that:
Hubert Humphrey was a Minnesotan who became a nationally prominent politician. He first ran for mayor of Minneapolis in 1943, but lost the election to the Republican candidate by just a few thousand votes. As a Democrat, Humphrey recognized that his best chance for political success was to obtain the support of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party. Other members of the Farmer-Labor Party had been considering the idea, as encouraged by Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the merger only became reality after Humphrey traveled to Washington, D.C. to discuss the issue. Rather than simply absorbing the Farmer-Labor party, with its constituency of 200,000 voters, Humphrey suggested calling the party the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. He was elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1945, and one of his first actions was to propose an ordinance making racial discrimination by employers subject to a fine. This ordinance was adopted in 1947, and although few fines were issued, the city's banks and department stores realized that public relations would improve by hiring blacks in increasing numbers. Humphrey delivered an impassioned speech at the 1948 Democratic National Convention encouraging the party to adopt a civil rights plank in their platform. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1948 and was re-elected in 1954 and 1960.
In the early 1960s, the topic of civil rights was coming to national prominence with sit-ins and marches organized by Martin Luther King Jr. and other black leaders. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent a comprehensive civil rights bill to Congress, based largely on the ideas that Humphrey had been placing before the Senate for the previous fifteen years. The bill passed the House in early 1964, but passage through the Senate was more difficult, due to southern segregationists who filibustered for 75 days. Finally, in June 1964, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law. Humphrey called this his greatest achievement. Lyndon B. Johnson recruited Humphrey for his running mate in the 1964 presidential election, and Humphrey became Vice President of the United States. Governor Karl Rolvaag (DFL) appointed Walter Mondale to fill Humphrey's Senate seat. Humphrey voiced doubts about the 1965 bombings of North Vietnam, which alienated him from Johnson. He later defended Johnson's conduct of the Vietnam War, alienating himself from liberals, who were beginning to oppose the war around 1967. In the 1968 presidential election, Humphrey ran against Richard Nixon and Independent candidate George Wallace and lost the popular vote by only 0.7%. Humphrey later returned to the Senate in 1971 after Eugene McCarthy left office.
Eugene McCarthy (DFL) served in the United States House of Representatives from 1949 through 1959 and in the United States Senate from 1959 through 1971. He gained a reputation as an intellectual with strong convictions and integrity. In 1967, he challenged Lyndon B. Johnson for the presidential nomination, running on an anti-war platform in contrast to Johnson's policies. His strong support in the New Hampshire primary convinced Johnson to leave the race.
Democrat Walter Mondale also achieved national prominence as Vice President under Jimmy Carter. He served in the Senate from his appointment in 1964 until becoming Vice President in 1977. In 1984, he ran for President of the United States, choosing Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate. The election proved to be a landslide victory for popular incumbent Ronald Reagan. In 2002, just 11 days before election day, when incumbent Senator Paul Wellstone was killed in a plane crash, Mondale stepped into the race as the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. He lost the bid by two percentage points to the Republican, Norm Coleman.
In 1970, Wendell Anderson (DFL) was elected as governor of Minnesota. He spent two years working with a split Minnesota Legislature to enact a tax and school finance reform package that shifted the source of public education funding from local property taxes to state sales taxes, as well as adding excise taxes to liquor and cigarettes. This achievement, dubbed the "Minnesota Miracle", was immensely popular. In the next few years, the Legislature enacted other facets of their "new liberalism", including ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, strong environmental laws, increases in workers' compensation and unemployment benefits, and elimination of income taxes for the working poor. Time Magazine featured Wendell Anderson and the state in an article entitled, "Minnesota: A State That Works". In 1976 when Mondale resigned his Senate seat to become Jimmy Carter's running mate, Anderson resigned the governor's seat and turned it over to Lieutenant Governor Rudy Perpich (DFL), who promptly appointed Anderson to fill Mondale's vacant Senate seat. Voters turned Perpich and Anderson out of office in 1978, in an election dubbed the "Minnesota Massacre". Perpich was again elected as governor in 1983 and served until 1991.
Paul Wellstone (DFL) was elected to the United States Senate in 1990, defeating incumbent Rudy Boschwitz (R) in one of the biggest election upsets of the decade. In 1996, he defeated Boschwitz again in a rematch of the 1990 election. Wellstone was known for being a liberal activist, as evidenced by his books How the Rural Poor Got Power: Narrative of a Grassroots Organizer, describing his work with the group Organization for a Better Rice County, and The Conscience of a Liberal: Reclaiming the Compassionate Agenda. He explored a possible presidential bid in 1998, telling people he represented the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party". On October 25, 2002, he was killed in a plane crash near Eveleth, Minnesota, along with his wife, his daughter, three campaign staffers, and the two pilots.
Jesse Ventura, elected governor in 1998, had a colorful past as a Navy SEAL, a professional wrestler, an actor, mayor of Brooklyn Park, and a radio and TV broadcaster. He left office after one term. His election brought international attention to the Independence Party.
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