SERA Cannery Project


SERA Cannery 1The State Emergency Relief Administrations (SERA) was established in 1933 to alleviate poor economic and work conditions caused by the Great Depression. The initial responsibilities of the SERA included the distribution of state and federal funds for unemployment relief and the provision of work relief—or temporary work in exchange for relief goods or emergency pay—to those in need. A common practice for SERA was the establishment and staffing of factories. Relief workers were typically the sole workers within these factories and were responsible for their functioning and management. The products of these factories were often used to aid local relief efforts.

The Hopkins canning factory was one such factory. The factory was located at the Hennepin county fair grounds and operated entirely by SERA relief workers, many of them women. Workers were paid “with checks exchangeable for food and clothing or other necessary articles handled by the relief organization.” In September of 1934, 60 workers were employed inside the factory while another 40 were employed in the nearby vegetable field. With only about 100 workers at any given time, the factory produced upwards of 200,000 cans of vegetables in the canning season of 1934 and upwards of 250,000 cans in the canning season of 1935.

Tomato juice, swiss chard, and beans were some of the many canned products turned out by this factory. Vegetables for the factory were sourced from SERA gardens in Robbinsdale, Hopkins, Minnetonka, Golden Valley, Crystal, Richfield, Bloomington and St. Louis Park. In total, about 100 acres of land were planted with SERA crops to be canned at the Hopkins factory. These factory products were either sold back to the Federal government or given to the needy in neighboring Minnesota communities. SERA factory products were desirable to both the state and individual consumers as “the canned vegetables turned out by the Hopkins factory [were] given a 93 per cent score by the state dairy and food commission, making them an average fancy grade.”

SERA factories such as the Hopkins location fought to undue nearly two decades of agricultural and economic crisis in Minnesota. World War I had led to a period of prosperity for Minnesota farmers as the United States began to provide crops for war-torn Europe. As World War I drew to a close and crop production in Europe returned to normal, the demand for US exports fell and land values dropped steeply. Farmers were often left with costly surpluses and found it difficult to repay their loans, leading to a period of economic depression in Minnesota which is now known as the Agricultural Depression. This situation was worsened by the coming of the Great Depression. Families were unable to sustain themselves as they lost or could no longer afford their farms and were unable to find alternative employment.

The SERA was absorbed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in late 1935. Many projects, including the Hopkins canning factory, were phased out or converted to new projects as this change took place.

SERA Cannery 2

The images of the Hopkins SERA cannery can be found in the Hennepin History Museum Archives. 

Written by Emma Celebrezze, Archive Volunteer


Blood in the Streets: Governor Floyd B. Olson and the Teamsters’ Strike of 1934 

In 1934, the streets of Minneapolis were a battleground. Teamsters had declared a city-wide strike to end discrimination against union workers, and their cars of strikers chased heavily-guarded trucks to keep them from crossing picket lines. Roving battles were waged between convoys of police with riot guns and trucks of strikers. Crowds of club-wielding picketers and strikebreakers clashed in the market center over the unloading of goods onto non-union trucks. The three-month strike would be one of the deadliest in the state’s history.  

Truckers Strike 7.21.34


Standing between the two sides of this violent struggle was Governor Floyd B. Olson. A former prosecutor, Olson had clashed in the past with the anti-union organization the Citizens’ Alliance that had formed the backbone of strikebreaking in Minneapolis since the turn of the century. These efforts, along with prosecution of corrupt businessmen and the Ku Klux Klan had won him the support of working-class Minnesotans, who would elect him governor in 1930 — the first governor elected on a Farmer-Labor ticket. As the strike began in May of 1934, he would be torn between his ties to the workers who supported his candidacy and his need as governor to keep the peace and maintain order in the city.  

 Olson carried this personalized portfolio with him that summer as he worked tirelessly to facilitate negotiations between unions and employers. After the first major episode of violence just days into the strike, when twenty thousand strikers and onlookers crowded the market district and special deputies were driven back from their attempts to unload non-union trucks, Olson secured a short-term truce between strike organizers and business owners, and days later a broader settlement between the two sides. 

 Olson’s settlement unraveled by July, and the threat of more violence hung over Minneapolis. On July 20th it came to a head as a heavily-armed police escort moved trucks labeled “hospital supplies” to deliveries around the city. The trucks were met by cars of unarmed strikers that attempted to block their deliveries. Police, armed with shotguns, responded by firing upon the cars and strikers, injuring more than sixty and killing two. The governor’s worst fears had come true.  

 “Bloody Friday,” as the event became known, threatened to tear the city apart as the organizations of the wealthy rallied behind the police and the working class renewed efforts to support the strike. One-hundred thousand lined the route of the funeral procession for the slain union activist Henry Ness. Unions rejected new settlement offers. Employers continued to move trucks despite union blockades. Olson was forced to act.  

Truckers Strike 1934

 The governor declared martial law and raided the headquarters of both unions, arresting organizers and members of the Citizens’ Alliance.  

 This time, Olson’s decisive action successfully brought an end to the violence and forced the two sides to a lasting settlement. With the support of President Roosevelt and pressure from the federal Reconstruction Finance Agency, negotiations succeeded. Employers conceded to workers’ demands of union recognition, non-discrimination, and seniority in hiring and firing. The back of the anti-union Citizens’ Alliance in Minneapolis was broken and unions gained a foothold in the once fiercely anti-union city.  

Olson went on to win a third term as governor in November on the back of his success and then ran for Senate in 1936 but he died of stomach cancer in August, just three months before the election. Although his efforts were cut short, Olson is remembered as a fierce advocate of Minnesota’s working class. And eventually this portfolio made its way to Hennepin History Museum, preserved for all these years as a physical connection to the summer of 1934 and a reminder of Olson’s role as an intermediary.  

 Author Bio 

Noah Barnaby is a Research Intern at Hennepin History Museum. He has a bachelor’s degree in History and Philosophy from the University of Minnesota, and focuses on Social, Economic, and Labor History.  


See also: 

An interview  with strike organizer Vincent Raymond Dunne  

Bryan D. Palmer. Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934. Haymarket Books, 2014. 

 Charles Walker. American City: A Rank-and-File History of Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press, 2005. 

 Dennis Harrington. Floyd B. Olson and the Teamster Strikes of 1934. 1977. 

Polling Progressive Peter Pryts


Peter J. Pryts_01

With the primary elections for Minnesota only a few weeks away (August 14th), it is important to highlight Hennepin History Museum’s pieces of political history. This election poster promotes Peter J. Pryts’ 1923 re-election as Alderman in the Minneapolis’ 11th ward. A carpenter by trade, Pryts had grown up on a farm in Fillmore county Minnesota, following his immigration from Norway in 1866.

After settling in Minneapolis in the 1881, Pryts became involved in city politics and the labor movement. He first ran for 11th ward Alderman in 1916 but was defeated. He was elected in 1918 and served until 1925. By the time Pryts became involved in politics, Minneapolis was no longer farmland, but had a growing population and industrial sector.

Pryts promoted himself as a progressive candidate and was initially elected based on this platform. In 1923, he was endorsed by the nonpartisan league, organized labor and the socialist party. He ran in favor of “city beautification and improvement for the benefit of the people of Minneapolis.”  Many of these progressive groups and populist movements supported government infrastructure development and improvement. Pryts and other progressive politicians pushed for improvements like paved streets, curbs and water mains. While modern Minneapolis residents may take these for granted, the advancements supported by the populist movement are what made Minneapolis a modern city in the 1920’s.

After his defeat in 1925, Pryts worked for the city as the bridge watchman for the Franklin Avenue and Lake Street bridges. The position was eventually eliminated in an effort to cut city payroll. Peter Pryts died on November 11, 1937 at the age of 77.

This poster and other Hennepin County elections artifacts can be found in the Hennepin History Museum Archives.


Endorsed by the Working People’s Nonpartisan Political League. The Minneapolis Star. June 7, 1923.

A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at the Owning Up Exhibit Design Process

Hennepin History Museum’s upcoming exhibition, Owning Up: Racism and Housing in Minneapolis explores the history of racial housing discrimination in Minneapolis through the stories of three black families. The exhibit,  guest curated by students in the University of Minnesota’s Heritage Studies and Public History (HSPH) program, demonstrates the lasting effects of structural discrimination and aims to counter the enduring idea of Minneapolis as a model metropolis. It is part of the Racism, Rent, and Real Estate series commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. The Act sought to eliminate barriers to home and property ownership by non-whites. The exhibit draws on research from Mapping Prejudice.

How does an exhibition like this come together? Owning Up represents the work of many community partners. It was curated by Denise Pike and Kacie Lucchini Butcher, University of Minnesota HSPH graduate students. Denise and Kacie worked closely with Augsburg University students through Augsburg’s Design & Agency program. Their work has also been heavily informed by conversations with community members, including Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis.

Augsburg 1

Conversation about Owning Up; curators Denise and Kacie are in the center, rear. Members of the Augsburg design team are in the foreground.

Creating a museum exhibition takes a tremendous amount of work. Every element requires thought and decisions. All exhibitions – including this one – have limitations. Space, time, and money are big ones, but there are a million other things to consider. How to arrange the information? What to highlight and what to leave out (recognizing that there will always be more to say)? How to distill large, complex ideas into an exhibition panel with a tight word limit? How to encourage conversation and reflection on topics like race and racism past and present? On the design side, what is the color scheme, and why does it matter? How can the layout and design further the exhibit’s message? And on a practical side, can visitors move around freely? Is the font readable? The curatorial team and their partners have spent their summer working through these types of questions.

Augsburg 3

Greg Denofrio (U of MN) and Kirsten Delegard (Mapping Prejudice) review sample panels


In July, Denise, Kacie, and the Augsburg design team invited stakeholders to a design workshop. Representatives from Hennepin History Museum, multiple departments from both Augsburg University and the University of Minnesota, Sabathani Community Center, and other community partners were there to preview mock ups of the exhibition design and to provide feedback.

Augsburg 5

Reviewing layout with Augsburg University’s Design & Agency student design team

The curatorial and design team then took the questions, comments, and suggestions, and further refined their work. Visitors will see the results — and be able to provide your own thoughts and opinions — when the exhibition opens to the public on August 22. We look forward to sharing this exhibition with you later this month.

Owning Up will be open from August 22, 2018 through January 20, 2019. We expect large crowds for the first week; you can reserve advanced tickets here

World War I and the Influenza Pandemic



A deadly moment in American history, the Spanish Influenza pandemic reached numbers of Minnesotans during the early 1900’s. Ignatius Hannon of Minneapolis encountered it during its peak in 1918. The Hannon family owned and operated the John Hannon Detective Agency and Patrol Service beginning in 1901. Despite the success of this agency, Ignatius Hannon left Minnesota to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War I.

On his way to South Carolina and the Naval Shipyard, Hannon described the journey in a letter to his mother on October 12th, 1918. At each large city between Chicago and Charleston, Hannon noted 10-15 coffins of servicemen being unloaded, presumably deceased due to the disease. Some men were transported without coffins as Hannon points out “so many are dying they can’t make coffins fast enough”. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune reported the main way the disease spread was through coughing, sneezing and spitting. Quarantine was used as a major preventative measure against the disease, even on Hannon’s ship where 15 cases had been reported.

This letter and other artifacts from the Hannon family are from the Lenore Hannon Collection which can be found at the Hennepin History Museum Archives.

Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 3, 1918, pg 7

Haskin, Frederic J. “Coughing, Talking, Sneezing, Deadly Projectors of Human Poison Gas, Say U.S. Doctors.” The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, April 3, 1918.

Written by Bridget Jensen, Archive Volunteer

Flour Power: Party Edition

At 7:30 in the morning, more than 1700 milling employees and their family, friends, and supporters, gathered in Minneapolis, picnics in hand, to board special trains that would carry them to Lake Minnetonka for the fourth annual Head Millers’ Association picnic.

The city’s flour mills were shut down for the day so that all employees had an opportunity to join in the festivities. It was an opportunity to celebrate the growth of milling in Minneapolis. Like any such celebratory event, it included plenty of speeches, as well as a baseball game, music and dancing, a banquet at the Hotel Lafayette, boat rides, and – what else? — flour sack races.

The picnic was covered extensively in the local newspapers, where it was proclaimed “the most successful picnic ever given at Lake Minnetonka.” In the words of a particularly enthusiastic journalist at the Sunday Tribune:

“Whether it was the efficient management, the absence of dissipation and the real pleasure unmixed with dissipation at these gatherings, or because the custom was inaugurated by a class of men to whom Minneapolis feels she owes her marvelous prosperity and rapid advancement, or whether both combined at once,the occurrence of the millers’ picnic was a season for a general turning out on a grand gala day, and each year the number participating has increased, and yesterday occurred the greatest and the best of them all.”

-Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, June 22, 1884

This miniature flour sack invitation now resides in the permanent collection at Hennepin History Museum, a reminder a fantastic summer day at the lake many years ago.

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A Royal Portrait Gallery

(Above: 1941 Queen of the Lakes Evan Brunson)

Hennepin History Museum is home to the Historic Aquatennial Collection. Included in this collection is a photographic record of the legendary Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes. The Queen of the Lakes played an important role in the Aquatennial festival, providing a dose of pageantry that enthralled audiences across the state… and the world. During the 1950s, the Queen of the Lakes traveled more than 100,000 miles annually! Early Queens were typically sponsored by businesses; in 1970, the switch was made to candidates representing communities. Shown here are a representative sampling of some of the reigning Queen of the Lakes from years gone by.

1951 Helen Stoeffer Aqua Queen

Helen Stoffer, 1951

1951’s Queen of the Lakes Helen Stoffer originally competed as Golden Valley’s 1950 Lilac Queen. She was at the time an 18 year old nursing student from Robbinsdale. She was no stranger to royalty; she was Robbinsdale’s high school homecoming queen.

1960 Gail Nygaard

Gail Nygaard, 1960

1960 Queen of the Lakes Gail Nygaard originally served as Miss Willmar — although at the time of her coronation her family had relocated to Minneapolis, where her father was minister of Simpson Methodist Church. A student at Hamline University, Gail was also Hamline Snow Queen.

1973 Patricia Kelzer skipper pins with Stenvig

Patricia Kelzer, 1972 (with Minneapolis Mayor Charles Stenvig)

Queen Patricia Kelzer represented the Shakopee Jaycees.

That’s just a handful of photographs from our extensive collection of materials related to all aspects of the Aquatennial, including its Queen of the Lakes program. Please stop by the Museum to learn more. Our Library & Archives are open to the public (for best research assistance contact us in advance so that we can prepare for your visit).

Preserving and maintaining the Historic Aquatennial Collection takes resources and money. Please consider making a gift to support the preservation of local history for current and future generations. Click here to donate today


Aquatennial Ambassadors Program

Hennepin History Museum