This backhoe was manufactured by a company established in Hennepin County whose name is derived from the Dakota word for “big” and inspired by a nearby lake. That company is Tonka, and its birthplace was in Mound. Tonka became well known for creating realistic large metal toy trucks and construction equipment like the one in our collection.
In 1946, Mound Metalcraft was established in an old schoolhouse by Lynn Everett Baker, Avery F. Crounse, and Alvin F. Tesch. The company’s original endeavored to manufacture metal gardening tools. In 1947, they acquired the patents to several metal toys and decided to supplement their product line with these new acquisitions. The patents included a steam shovel and a crane, which were the first toys they manufactured. Mound Metalcraft sold 37,000 of these models in the first year. At this point they embraced the toy business and abandoned producing garden implements all together. By 1955 Mound Metalcraft had changed its name to Tonka Toys Incorporated.
The earliest products manufactured by Tonka were made of 20-gauge automotive steel. After WWII, steel was widely available and cheap, and Tonka took advantage of this surplus. Not only were the original trucks made of steel, but the tires were made of solid rubber which made them heavy, especially for a child’s plaything. Over the years, modifications were made, like replacing the rubber with plastic. The model in our collection has two yellow steel cabs, one of which rotates and is attached to a moveable black steel arm and bucket, situated above four black plastic tires.
In 1982, Tonka Toys left Mound due to production needs. In 1991, the company was acquired by Hasbro. The Tonka Truck was inducted to the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2001, taking its rightful place among other iconic, inventive, and beloved toys. In the past forty years Tonka has also manufactured a variety of other toys including dolls, figurines, stuffed animals, and video games. However, Tonka Trucks remain the company’s most well-known and popular product line, which has expanded to include over thirty different models. Seventy years ago, Tonka innovated the toy industry by creating functional, realistic, and durable trucks. Even now, millions of these trucks are sold each year, which is a testament to the vision shared by three residents of Hennepin County back in 1947.
Written by Alyssa Thiede
Our Tonka Toys collection was inventoried and cataloged as part of our larger collections inventory project. This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.
You are generally more likely to associate women’s history with the 1960’s than 1990’s. However, the 90’s were important for women, especially in the world of Minnesota basketball. The inclusion of more women in basketball on a professional scale was a huge moment for gender equality and female empowerment.
In 1998, the WNBA announced two new teams, the Orlando Miracle and Minnesota Lynx. The WNBA had been founded in 1997 by NBA team owners. Partnerships between women’s and men’s teams were seen as collaborative, with complementary names (Timberwolves and Lynx) and alternate seasons (NBA-Winter, WNBA-Summer). 1997 was the first time that Minnesota girls outnumbered boys in youth teams. In the class of ‘97, 22 Minnesotans received scholarships to play D-1 women’s basketball across the country. A professional team would provide young Minnesotans with a new level of athletic achievement in women’s basketball. The introduction of the Lynx was exciting because it gave young girls role models to look up to and positions to aspire to occupy close to home.
Since its first season in 1999, the Lynx have won 4 WNBA titles (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017). Currently ranked third in the league, hopefully it won’t be long until Target Center will be filled with fans, cheering the Minnesota Lynx to the finals this October. These tickets and other sports history artifacts can be found in the Hennepin History Museum Archives.
Millea, John. “Twin Cities to Get Women’s Pro Basketball Team in 1999” The Star Tribune, April 23, 1998.
Zgoda, Jerry. “WNBA:Time is Right for Minnesota Franchise” The Star Tribune, April 23, 1998.
Blog post written by Bridget Jensen, Archive Volunteer
This bottle of liquid bluing was once ubiquitous in homes across America. The first sale of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing (MSB) was recorded on July 30, 1883. It is still sold and distributed today and has been manufactured in Hennepin County for the entirety of its long and interesting history.
In the 1870s, Al Stewart was a traveling salesman throughout the Midwest. One of the products he sold was a bottle of liquid bluing that his family made at home using his proprietary formula. At this time, Minneapolis resident Luther Ford had opened the first five and dime store west of Pittsburgh. These two gentlemen met while Stuart was looking for someone to manufacture his bluing. Stewart sold the rights to MSB to Ford, who immediately made plans to distribute the product more widely.
In 1910, Ford’s son Allyn joined the business. Not long after that, Robert Ford also began working for his father, and the two brothers devoted all their efforts to distributing MSB. At that time, profits were generated by salesmen who worked out of Minneapolis. In 1918, the salesmen were replaced by food and grocery brokers. By 1925, business had grown so rapidly and steadily they added five additional factories across the United States and Canada. Sales reached their highest point in 1946. In the 1950’s, Luther Ford’s grandson, also named Luther, took over the family business from his father and uncle. He ran the business through the seventies. MSB has had a few more owners since that time, but they still consider themselves to be an “old-fashioned family business.”
All MSB production has returned to Hennepin County, moving from their original factory location in Minneapolis, to their current location in Bloomington in 1986. Sales have decreased over the past fifty years due to bluing being replaced by bleach for laundry purposes. However, bluing serves a variety of other purposes including hair care, textile dyeing, window cleaning, and as an essential ingredient in a “Salt Crystal Garden.” Today MSB still has a loyal following. In fact, that’s why the bottles that are sold today are essentially the same bluing that was sold in the 1880s.
The main change to the product over the years has been the packaging. In the beginning, MSB glass bottles were hand-blown. Then in 1907, the bottles began to be manufactured automatically. The bottles were capped with imported Portuguese corks that were specially designed for MSB. Red wood tops were then hand-glued to these corks. By 1962, plastic caps replaced the wood and cork ones. Then in 1970s, MSB began to replace the glass bottles with plastic. The glass bottles with red tops, (like the one we have in our collection from 1957), are now a rare collectors’ item.
With the evolution of the bottle came some changes in the label. However, the image of the stern looking woman has been a constant. Before MSB was sold to Ford, Stuart was attempting to have a commercial label for his product made. The printer advised him to include an image of an older woman on the label to encourage sales. Stuart originally asked his wife for a photo of herself, but she refused. According to their story, Stuart in turn grabbed a photograph of his wife’s mother off their mantle and submitted it to the printer. This means that the famous image on bottles of MSB are not actually the real Mrs. Stewart, but her mother instead.
Since the first official sale of MSB in 1883, the company’s history has been one of innovative business development for a product that has remained mostly unchanged in 135 years. The company even quotes the old saying, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” They also obviously recognized the merit in continuing to keep the manufacturing of their product in Hennepin County, and given the longevity of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing, they must be doing something right.
Written by Alyssa Thiede
Our Mrs. Stewart’s materials were inventoried and cataloged as part of our larger collections inventory project. This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.
Burnt toast doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if you had to eat it on a consistent basis you may feel otherwise. Humans have been eating bread for over 6,000 years and toasting it over a fire for just as long. Electricity was first introduced to American homes in the late 1800s. This generated demand for electric household appliances. The first electric toaster was invented in the 1890s. This device could only toast one side of a slice of bread at a time and needed to be monitored closely so that it didn’t burn the toast. Apparently, this happened frequently enough to inspire an invention that most people in the twenty-first century take for granted: the automatic pop-up toaster.
In 1919, Minneapolis resident Charles P. Strite was working at a manufacturing plant in Stillwater. According to Strite, the cafeteria often served burnt toast. This inspired him to create a toaster that would toast bread automatically with minimal human intervention. Strite’s device was called the Toastmaster and he was awarded a patent for it in 1921. The Toastmaster had heating elements that could toast both sides of a slice of bread at the same time. The device also had a timer that would turn off the heat and a spring that would eject the toast, eliminating the chance of burning. Strite’s invention found its way into restaurants immediately. By 1926, he introduced a consumer version with a variable timer that allowed the user to adjust the desired lightness or darkness of their toast.
The toaster in this photograph, one of three Toastmasters we have in our collection, was manufactured in 1931. It is a model 1A2 in chrome with a sleek art deco design. There are two Bakelite handles on either end of toaster with a fabric covered power cord extending from the back.
By 1930, more than one million toasters were being sold annually and by 1960 they had become ubiquitous in American kitchens. Today, a century since Charles Strite innovated the automated home appliance industry, toasters are still produced utilizing the same basic design. Although we may take perfectly toasted bread for granted, we should not forget that the inventor that allows us to do so was a resident of Hennepin County.
Written by Alyssa Thiede
This toaster was inventoried and cataloged as part of our larger collections inventory project. This publication was made possible in part by the people of Minnesota through a grant funded by an appropriation to the Minnesota Historical Society from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Any views, findings, opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Historical Society, or the Minnesota Historic Resources Advisory Committee.
Archival donations come to the museum through a variety of sources. This past spring the archive received a donation from Walker Methodist Care Center. Dr. Hayward McKerson had passed away in December 2017 and with no known surviving family members, the care center reached out to the archive to see if we had any interest in some of his photos and a few personal papers. The papers and photos of Hayward and his wife, Effie, share the story of an African American family that were active in their community and worked to stand up to discrimination faced by themselves and other African Americans.
Hayward grew up in Oklahoma, graduating from Douglass High School in Ardmore in June 1945. He served in the military for a time and attended Fisk University. He would ultimately become an engineer. Effie Stoker McKerson was born in Henderson, Texas in 1924 and she passed away in 2012. She was trained as a school teacher. Hayward and Effie settled in Edina in 1968, when a job transfer brought them to Minnesota. Eventually, he became the President of his own company, McKerson Chemical Corporation and Effie taught in the Edina Public School system.
The couple were very active in their community. They were both NAACP members and Hayward was active in the Elks and the Masons. Effie was active on the Edina Community Staff Advisory Council, the National Education Association, and Minnesota Education Associations. She also was very active in the Republican political party throughout the 1970s and 1980s. She served as a Minnesota delegate for President Ford to the 1976 National Republican Convention. And during the 1970s served as the Republican chairwoman for Minnesota. In 1975, she represented Minnesota on a trip to China, known as the U.S.-China Friendship Tour.
In 1982, Effie found herself in the middle of an affirmative action plan fight in the Edina public school district. Nine white elementary school teachers claimed they were “being laid off while a black teacher with less seniority” was able to keep her job. The teachers’ objections were with the affirmative action plan, which had been drafted by the school in the 1960s with the goal of recruiting more minority teachers. Eventually the controversy passed when some of the layoff teachers were rehired and other retired or resigned, and Effie continued to teach elementary school. Because of the controversy the school district adopted a new affirmative action plan.
The above photo of Hayward and Effie, in the middle, can be found in the McKerson Family collection in the Hennepin History Museum archives.
“Edina teacher named to the HEW advisory panel.” Minneapolis Tribune. January 22, 1973.
“Margaret Morris Column.” Minneapolis Tribune. September 29, 1975.
“Teacher layoffs test Edina affirmative action plan.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 6, 1982.
“Budget backlash in Edina challenges school district’s affirmative action plan.” Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 13, 1982.