Category Archives: From the Collection

The Cat Fight Over Kittenball: The contested origins of softball in the Upper Midwest

2017.0620.004a-b A

An early kittenball, or softball, mold from the collections of Hennepin History Museum.

Minnesotans are generally nice, polite people. We don’t always like stirring up trouble by offering a contrary opinion and we’re usually happy to share our hot dish with others. However, there are some points of pride that Minnesotans take quite seriously, one of which was brought to the fore in 1938 when a math teacher at Cretin High School refuted the commonly held belief that softball originated in a Minneapolis fire station.  

 According to popular lore, a firefighter named Lewis Rober organized the first game of softball in 1895, hoping to develop a sport that would keep firefighters occupied and fit in-between calls but that did not require excessive time, space, or equipment to play. The game took off quickly and soon the firefighters at Station 19—currently the site of a Buffalo Wild Wings in Stadium Village—were regularly playing with the “Whales” of Engine 4, the “Rats” of Engine 9, the “Salisburys” of a nearby mattress factory, the “Pillsburys” from the flour mills, and the “Central Avenues.” Rober called the sport kittenball, named after his own team: the “Kittens.”   

 After nearly forty years of letting Rober bask in the spotlight, Brother Lewis Sixtus came forward with a different story. An article published in the Sunday Minneapolis Tribune on March 20, 1938 stated that Sixtus had played the game indoors at school in Chicago three years before its supposed birth. Sixtus went on to reveal that he had coached a well-established kittenball team at Cretin that had played against St. Paul Athletic club members, national guardsmen, and even professional baseball players—all prior to Rober’s publication of the game’s official rules in 1906.  

Unfortunately for Minnesotan pride, Sixtus’s story checks out. A version of softball was invented in Chicago in 1887 at the Farragut Boat Club when a Yale alum learned that his team had won the annual Yale-Harvard football game and chucked a boxing glove at a Harvard fan who tried to hit it with a bat.  

Since the 1938 article, Minnesotans have tried recovering their claim to fame. Late in the 1970s, the old Station 19 firehouse was repurposed and turned into office and retail space. The architects in charge of the project hired historians to research the building and the kittenball story was unearthed. Soon after, Barbara Flanagan published an article in Minneapolis Star about the birth of kittenball, completely omitting Sixtus and the Chicago boathouse. A year later, Joe Hennessy followed suit, writing about the station, “that was the year and the place softball—then called kittenball—was invented.”  

 How do we reconcile these two stories? Typical Minnesotans, we have found a way to compromise. While most softball historians around the country and Wikipedia agree that Chicago invented softball, today Lewis Rober is widely known as the father of the outdoor version.  

 So the next time you’re scarfing down some Bdubs before heading over to the football game, remember that another great sport was born practically at your feet—and that superior to Chicago as always, we played it outside first.  

 Author Bio 

Carson Backhus is a Collections Intern at the Hennepin History Museum. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and French from Grinnell College in Iowa. Her primary historical interests are in the French Revolution and sensory history.  

 Resources 

http://www.startribune.com/softball-started-in-minnesota-or-did-it/429130543/ 

http://www.extraalarm.org/ltrober.htm 

http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/58/v58i04p210-223.pdf 

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/191090272/?terms=kittenball 

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/191100154/?terms=kittenball 

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/182979792/ 

https://www.athleticscholarships.net/history-of-softball.htm 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Softball 

Advertisements

“Buy Your Shoes from Heffelfinger”: The History of Heffelfinger Shoes

2017.0711.160a-b A

The Heffelfinger family boasts military and football achievements galore, but if you were a young woman living in Minneapolis during the second half of the nineteenth century, chances were you knew the Heffelfinger name from your weekend shopping trips or the sole of your shoe.

Brothers Christopher and Charles Heffelfinger were born in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania in 1835 and 1850, respectively. Christopher first came to Minneapolis in 1857 where he occupied himself through various pursuits until the outbreak of the Civil War. He was one of the first to enlist and joined he First Minnesota Infantry. Christopher nearly lost his life in the battle of Gettysburg, but was saved when a book he was carrying in his breast pocket cushioned the blow of a bullet. After the war, he returned to Minneapolis, accompanied by his new wife Mary Ellen. Tired of military life, Christopher entered into the shoe business with a man named Walker in 1866. Christopher’s brother Charles, having just moved to Minneapolis that year, joined the pair and together they sold their shoes in the bustling Bridge Square neighborhood at the southern end of the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

2017.0711.014a-b A

In the spring of 1870, Christopher bought out Walker’s shares in Walker and Heffelfinger’s and continued to run the business with Charles in the same location. Three years later, however, Christopher left his younger brother to found the North Star Boot and Shoe Company. Left on his own, Charles partnered up with his former employee Joseph F. Hause and the two ran the store together until 1875 under the name Heffelfinger & Hause’s.

Throughout the next decade, Christopher’s shoe empire flourished, entire pages of the Minneapolis Tribune dedicated to its growth and successes as it hopped from one building to another one, far larger. Slightly in the shadow of his older brother’s triumphs, Charles sold shoes independently, calling his store C. A. Heffelfinger’s.

2017.0711.171 A

In 1896, Charles, then a man of forty-six, hoped to give his business a facelift. He released his remodeling plans to the Minneapolis Tribune in February and the newspaper predicted that C. A. Heffelfinger’s would become “by far the most imposing and attractive show store in the Northwest.” As part of the remodeling process, Charles enlisted the partnership of his nephews William and Frank Heffelfinger. William, nicknamed “Pudge”, is known today as the first ever professional American football player.

The shoe empire created by the Heffelfinger brothers no longer exists—the spaces dominated by the massive stores now house condo buildings and the retail industry operates primarily online. These pairs of shoes located in the Hennepin History Museum collection conjure up nostalgic images of an early Minneapolis, and remind the historian of the days when “If in the flames of Hell you’d linger, buy your shoes from Heffelfinger” constituted an appropriate negative ad campaign.

Author Bio

Carson Backhus is a Collections Intern at the Hennepin History Museum. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and French from Grinnell College in Iowa. Her primary historical interests are in the French Revolution and sensory history.

Resources:

https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=umn.319510019618792;view=1up;seq=568

http://files.usgwarchives.net/mn/hennepin/bios/1923/heffelft.txt

http://sites.mnhs.org/civil-war/mn-remembers-battle-gettysburg

https://books.google.com/books?id=-nQ_AQAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

https://reflections.mndigital.org/catalog/mpls:22274?pn=false#/image/0?searchText=&redirect=true

http://www.startribune.com/iconic-minnesotan-football-s-first-pro/471782603/

http://www.usgenwebsites.org/TXMatagorda/family_heffelfinger.htm

https://www.genealogy.com/ftm/d/r/a/Gordon-Drake-/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0351.html

http://www.placeography.org/index.php/Bridge_Square

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/179058150/?terms=north%2Bstar%2Bshoes%2Band%2Bboot%2Bcompany

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/180076349/?terms=c.%2Ba.%2Bheffelfinger

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/179010292/?terms=c.%2Ba.%2Bheffelfinger

https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/178941497/?terms=heffelfinger

The Invention of the Damper Flapper and the Birth of Honeywell

This thermostat and motor belonged to a device called a thermo-electric damper-regulator and alarm, otherwise known as a “damper flapper.” It was the predecessor of the modern thermostat and established the technology that laid the foundation for the automated control industry. Honeywell, a company with well-known ties to Hennepin County, also traces its roots back to the invention of this device that was invented by Albert M. Butz (1849-1905).

Butz immigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1857 and was living in Minneapolis when he was awarded a patent for the damper flapper in 1886. That same year he formed the Butz Thermoelectric Regulator Company. After a series of name changes, mergers, and acquisitions, it eventually became the company we know today as Honeywell International Inc.

The damper flapper was a system that controlled coal fire furnaces. When the temperature inside a home became too cold, Butz’s invention would lift the damper on the furnace, allowing air to fan the flames, thus automatically increasing the temperature of the residence. The device was composed of three components, a thermostat, a battery, and a motor.

The brass oblong thermostat in our collection displays the words, “Electric Heat Regulator Co. Minneapolis, Minn.,” engraved in the upper portion. In 1900, this was the name of the company that would later become Honeywell.

2018.0520.095

The motor encased in black metal came from a damper flapper produced in 1912. At this point in Honeywell’s history, the company’s name was The Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company, which is displayed at the front of the motor. In 1927 The Minneapolis Heat Regulator Company merged with Honeywell Heating Specialties Company of Wabash, Indiana. At that point the company name became Minneapolis-Honeywell Regulator Co. The corporate name would finally be changed to Honeywell Inc. in 1964.

2018.0520.096 front.jpg

The inventor of the damper flapper would not stay in Minnesota long, nor with the company he started. After transferring the patent to his investors in Minneapolis, Butz moved to Chicago. He would later patent eleven more inventions, but this damper Flapper remains his most groundbreaking and significant contribution in the field of automated temperature control. Accordingly, he was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1992. Butz’s invention was not only innovative but became the cornerstone of the most iconic thermostat company in the world.

Our Honeywell 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.

Print

Tonka: The Toy Truck from Mound

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.

2018.0520.046 side

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.

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.

Print

If it Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix it: 135 Years of Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing

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.

2018.0520.063 back.jpg

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.

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.

Print

The Demise of Burnt Toast: The Invention of the Pop-up Toaster

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.

2018.0520.022 side.jpg

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.

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.

Print

The History of Handicrafts in the Great Minnesota Get-Together and How Changing Attitudes Have Shaped the Fair 

This intricate model stage coach made of metal and fabric was entered into the State Fair Craft Show in 1971. According to the ribbon still attached to one side, it won 4th place. An adhesive label on the same side indicates this is a model of a Concord Stage Coach “first manufactured in Concord New Hampshire in 1827.” 

 The model was donated by Carl G. Anderson just after it showed in the State Fair, in 1971. Anderson noted on his HHM donation form that “Concord Stage Coaches were first manufactured in Concord, New Hampshire in 1827 and shipped to the west by sailing vessels from Portsmouth, New Hampshire down the south Atlantic, around the tip of South America, up the Pacific Ocean to San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle.  These were the finest coaches made in America.  They are still in use in western movies and the drivers today are as good as the drivers in the early days of the west.” 

 The Minnesota State Fair traces its roots to before the state itself. Territorial Fairs were held in Minnesota as early as 1854, and crafts have been a mainstay ever since then. The ancestor to the modern Creative Activities Department was the Women’s Work and Welfare Department. The early fair was largely targeted towards men, and this department arose as a place for women to congregate, socialize, and keep an eye on their children. Competitions in this department were dominated by quilts and other needlecraft, but baking and canning also became popular in the lead-up to the twentieth century. 

 The Women’s Work and Welfare Department (sometimes shortened to “Women’s Department”), as well as most of the fair, maintained a rural character before the twentieth century. The list of competitions was populated by practices like “darning and repair of napkins” and the making of log-cabin quilts, which by the 1890s were old and outdated. In 1902, Clara M. Luther was appointed superintendent of the department. She revised the competitions to introduce art forms popular in the growing urban landscape but were still absent from the state fair. These included things like basketry and miniature models, crafts more associated with professional arts and art schools. 

 With the modernization of the competitions at the turn of the century, another change was brought to the state fair. The shift away from the crafts of older generations meant that the individuals competing were now simply hobbyists in their craft. In the nineteenth century fairs, women submitting their artwork were often making quilts and clothing for their family already, as home-made objects were more of a necessity before the industrialization of the 1900s and 1910s. Creations on display were no longer fancified items of necessity, but pieces of art made by hobbyists in leisure-time. 

 These changes greatly impacted the overall “crafts show” of the state fair. By the 1920s, the State Fair Arts and Crafts Show was displaying very professional works of art. Paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewelry, metal and wood works were becoming more refined as the fair became urbanized and the organizers borrowed artwork from major museums like the Walker Art Center. 

 The 1910s through 1930s saw a dramatic increase in the number of men participating in Women’s Department competitions. Men submitting items were often those with a lot of free time on their hands: firemen, prison inmates, and the injured of WWI. The presence of men in this department increased over the decades and it became clear that this department was far from exclusively for women. The name of the department officially changed to the Home Activities Department in 1952. 

 The name of the department changed once again in 1971 to the Creative Activities Department, which remains the name today. While many things have changed about the nature of creative activities, some things have stayed the same. Canning, for example, is a time-honored tradition that you can still see at the fair this year. Other entries—a pocket watch chain made of hair, for example—have seen a sharp decline in popularity.  

 Why some practices still endure has everything to do with tradition. To this day, some of the most popular items on display have been with the fair from the very beginning. Attitudes on hobbies have changed creative activities too, and many trends and ideas have come and gone. The Creative Activities Department represents a microcosm of the State Fair itself. Both are monuments to traditions that connect us to our past while at the same time continually changing to reflect our present.  

 Author Bio: 

Paul Schneider-Krumpus is a recent high school graduate and will be studying history at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities this fall. He does research and photography for Hennepin History Museum. 

Sources and Further Reading: 

https://www.mnstatefair.org/about-the-fair/history/ 

Blue Ribbon: A Social and Pictorial History of the Minnesota State Fair by Karal Ann Marling 

Minnesota State Fair: An Illustrated History by Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky 

Minnesota State Fair, The History and Heritage of 100 Years by Ray P. Speer and Harry J. Frost