Monthly Archives: June 2019

A Long Tradition of Medical Innovation: The Artificial Limb Industry in Hennepin County

 

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Image from HHM Collections

Minnesota’s booming medical device industry can trace its roots to artificial limbs. Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, the Twin Cities became a hub of prosthetics companies. The industry in Hennepin County initially sprang up to accommodate local patrons but eventually became the leading artificial limb manufacturer in the United States.  

The need for prosthesis manufacturing companies in Minneapolis arose as it grew into the flour milling capital of the world. Injuries caused by machinery, falling debris, and even the occasional fire, often resulted in limb amputation of flour mill employees. The rising number of amputations necessitated an industry where prostheses could be designed, manufactured, and improved. Northwestern Artificial Limb Company was founded in 1860, making it one of the first prosthetics firms in Minneapolis. Northwestern manufactured the limb seen above, which is held in the collection at Hennepin History Museum. 

It was not long before several other companies sprang up and created an entire industry. With the field of prosthetics wellestablished in Minneapolis, it is not surprising that when the nation began to see an increase in traumatic injuries, it turned to the Twin Cities. The years after the Civil War saw a large demand for artificial limbs from veterans. Then the expansion of the rail system and railroad workers’ injuries created the next major demand for prostheses. This was followed by World War I, which yet again sent soldiers home missing limbs. When automobiles and the inevitable rise in automobile accidents created another increase in severe injuries, Minneapolis was already a leader in the field and was producing artificial limbs for the whole country.  

Hennepin County remains one of the largest producers of artificial limbs in the United States. Some of the original companies still exist today. The Winkley Artificial Limb Company (pictured below) was incorporated in 1889, and five generations later the company is still family owned and operated as Winkley Orthotics and Prosthetics. Boasting a long history that spans nearly 160 years, the local prosthetics industry continues to innovate the field to this day.  

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Image from HHM Archives

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Sources: 

“Around the City,” Minneapolis Tribune, March 15, 1889. Star Tribune Archive.  

“Minneapolis Supplies World with Artificial Limbs,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 29, 1902. Star Tribune Archive. 

Fuller, Jim. “Replacing the Irreplaceable: Twin Cities is a Center for Artificial Arms and Legs,” Star Tribune, April 4, 1991. Star Tribune Archive. 

 

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.

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Jerry Sears: A Story of Slavery in Minnesota

Usually the first location that comes to mind when thinking about topic of slavery is the southern United States. However, Minnesota, “the Star of the North,” has a long and dark history as part of the nation’s greatest shame. The most infamous case of slavery in the Minnesota Territory came with the landmark Supreme Court case Dred Scott vs. Sandford, in 1857. Dred and Harriet Scott sued for their freedom as they had been brought as slaves to the Minnesota Territory which had been designated as “free” under the Missouri Compromise in 1820. The Scotts’ lost their case on the basis that the Court claimed that Scott was not a “citizen,” as African Americans could not be “citizens” as defined by the Constitution, thus ruling the case itself was invalid. Despite the loss, Dred Scott’s case acted as a catalyst for the recognition of the presence of enslaved people in Minnesota. 

Fort Snelling, where the Scott’s lived for several years, was built and operated by the hands of over a hundred enslaved people between the late 1820s and the early 1850s. Black history at Fort Snelling did not end with the Civil War, rather it continued with the 25th Infantry, which was one of the first segregated military regiments in the country. Despite these landmarks in African-American history in Minnesota some stories remain lesser known. 

In 1858, Richard Junius Mendenhall, a member of a North Carolina planter elite family, relocated his new wife, Abby and himself to Hennepin County on April 25, 1858, just two weeks before Minnesota achieved statehood and entered the Union as a free state. Mendenhall. Mendenhall and his wife Abby were prominent members of the Quaker, Society of Friends, in Minneapolis. Abby pursued her own endeavors helping unmarried women through the Bethany HomeMeanwhile, Mr. Mendenhall began a land agency with associate Cyrus Beede. Just weeks after the Dred Scott decision, Mendenhall began promoting his business to his Southern friends. In these advertisements he listed some of the most prominent North Carolinian slave holders who had purchased land in Minnesota. He used their ownership of human capital, as well as his own family history, as a selling point for his business enterprise.  

As it turns out, Richard and Abby Mendenhall had not arrived in Minnesota alone. With them, Richard had brought a young African American boy, about seven years old, named Jeremiah “Jerry” Sears. Jerry was reportedly the son of Patsey Sears, a freedwoman who had once been enslaved by Mendenhall’s uncleIn Mendenhall’s own journal he refers briefly to Jerry and his arrival in Minnesota, describing Jerry as “a child or boy, Jerry Mendenhall, who formerly belonged to Elisha Mendenhall.” As Jerry had been born before his mother’s emancipation he remained enslaved and acted as a de facto slave once in the “free” state of Minnesota. 

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Jeremiah Sears. Image from HHM Archives

 Jerry was documented as living in with the Mendenhall family in the 1860 United States Census. He is listed simply as “Jerry” and is given no surname. This innately dehumanizes him and restricts his identity. One must also take into account that he had been forcibly removed from his mother and taken half-way across the country against his will. Also, at the age of ten, he was not enrolled in school further highlighting his continued treatment as a slave under Mendenhall’s authority. Upon his arrival, Jerry was photographed, and an article was run in the local newspaper calling him the “first negro in Minnesota.” This claim is clearly undermined by the multiple well-documented cases of people of African descent in the area, including a landmark Supreme Court case which had occurred only a year earlier. Regardless, Mendenhall utilized his connections to wealthy southern slaveholders and his own position as a de facto slaveholder to promote his business and personal reputation. Following the conclusion of the Civil War, Mendenhall continued to profit from his business endeavors and was rewarded for his position as an esteemed member of the community by being appointed president of the first state bank.  

Jerry Sears, on the other hand, disappears from the records after the Civil War. We may never know his fate. It is possible that he took advantage of growing opportunities in the post-war era and set off to start his own life changed his name. Alternatively, he may have succumbed to illness at a young age, as mortality rates for children at the time were exceptionally high compared to today. Despite the uncertainty about Jerry’s life, his story stands as a testament to Minnesota’s long and complicated relationship with slavery. A history which we continue to reckon with today. 

 

Author: Ashley Fischer is the Undertold Stories Intern at Hennepin History Museum. She recently earned a bachelor’s degree in English and History from the University of Minnesota, with a focus on literary criticism and 19th century American history. 

Sources: 

Lehman, Christopher P. “Slaveholder Investment in Territorial Minnesota.” Minnesota History, 2017, 264-74. Accessed May 9, 2019. http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/65/v65i07p264-274.pdf. 

Prather, Shannon. “Fort Snelling Story Widens with Stories of Slavery.” Star Tribune. August 1, 2018. Accessed May 9, 2019. http://www.startribune.com/fort-snelling-story-widens-with-slave-dwelling-project-african-american-cooking-events/489791301/. 

Midwest Business Turned Global Conglomerate: The Local Roots of Cargill

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Image from HHM Collections

This simple Cargill feed sack in the collection at Hennepin History Museum represents the success story of a local business. Today, Cargill is the largest privately held corporation in the United States, but the conglomerate traces its roots to the Midwest. The Minnetonka-based corporation still buys, sells, and distributes grain just as they did in the beginning. However, in the second half of the twentieth century, Cargill became heavily diversified and expanded into the global market. Given Cargill’s long history, which now spans over 150 years, it is important to remember the company’s origins. 

In 1865, William W. Cargill founded his company when he purchased a grain warehouse in Iowa. In 1870, after Cargill’s brothers had joined the business, he moved his headquarters to Albert Lea, Minnesota. Just five years later, Cargill moved again to La Crosse, Wisconsin. By 1885, Cargill operated over 100 grain elevators around the Midwest. In 1890, Cargill Elevator Company was incorporated in Minneapolis, and by 1912 all of Cargill’s enterprises would be consolidated under that name. 

The Cargill family was one of the earliest to recognize the potential for a wheat economy in the region. They also saw the importance of international export very early on. In 1878, they exported 80,000 bushels of wheat to England. This transaction was considered the first significant export of grain from Minnesota. 

Today, Cargill operates in over seventy countries worldwide. Their portfolio has expanded to include a wide array of products and services, although their focus remains in agricultural commodities. Despite continuous growth and transformation, Cargill it is still a family business. For 115 of their 150-year history, a Cargill descendant has been in charge, and today the family owns 90% of the business. The company remains proud of its modest beginnings in the Midwest which created the foundation for immense success.  

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Sources: 

Brown, Curt. “Digging Up Food Giant’s Humble Roots,” Star Tribune, February 22, 2015. Star Tribune Archive. 

Larson, Don. Land of the Giants: A History of Minnesota Business. Minneapolis: Dorn Books, 1979. 

Work, John L. Cargill Beginnings…an Account of Early Years. Minneapolis: Cargill, Inc., 1965. 

 

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.

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Knock on Weavewood

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Image from HHM Collections

Hennepin County resident Howard H. Thompson innovated wooden dishware. After founding Weavewood Inc. in 1947, he worked with chemists to develop a manufacturing process that applied a resin to his first prototype, a wooden bowl. This new process made the wood non-absorbent. This development enabled Weavewood products could be used in restaurants. At the time, wooden dishware had been banned for commercial use because the material did not meet local sanitation guidelines. Thompson’s products did meet those guidelines and could soon be found in numerous restaurants and retail stores. 

The platter that can be seen above, from the collection at Hennepin History Museum, is one of the products that was introduced after the initial bowl. The company would go on to develop an entire line of products in a variety of styles and woods. The platter above is made from walnut and came with a plastic lid. The original label is still attached to the product which boasts that in addition to being dishwasher-safe, it is also “virtually unbreakable.”  

Thompson’s patent on his manufacturing process eventually expired, which meant that anyone could mass-produce similar products. Unfortunately, the company ultimately went out of business and closed its factory in Golden Valley. However, if you’re interested in getting your hands on an original, you can still purchase vintage woven-wood bowls, dishes, and plates that bear the Weavewood name online. 

 

Written by Alyssa Thiede 

Sources: 

“Howard H. Thompson, Weavewood Founder, Dies,” Star Tribune, April 15, 1991. Star Tribune Archive. 

Thompson, Howard H. Method of Molding Dishlike Articles. U.S. Patent 2,592,080 filed June 6, 1947, and issued April 8, 1952. 

 

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.

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