From the Collection: Soapbox Derby Car

This Soap Box Derby car is called “Tinker Toy,” and was the winning Soap Box Derby car in 1959. It went on to compete in the All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. The car was built by the Minneapolis Jaycees, which is a youth engagement and leadership organization founded in 1934 and still active today.

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The Minneapolis Jaycees are a group of young people, ages 16-40, committed to becoming stronger leaders by making positive change in their community through social action, personal growth, networking, and fellowship.

Soap Box Derby, which is a racing program involving unpowered, handmade cars, officially began in the United States in 1934.  At first a boys-only sport, girls were allowed to compete starting in 1971.  Historically, derby cars were made of a variety of materials, including soap or orange crates, sheet tin, and baby-buggy wheels.  Today, they are made of streamlined materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, and can reach speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour!

The first record of a soap box derby competition in the Twin Cities is in 1936 in St. Paul’s Highland Park. The prizes for first place a few years later included a $50 wristwatch, suit of clothes, gold medal, and an all-expenses paid trip to Akron, Ohio to compete in the national finals.

Bust of Thomas Chan by Helen Zesbaugh

Written by current HHM volunteer Mara Taft. Original research and article by Bruce N. Wright, and published in Hennepin History, Fall 2000.

Helen A. Zesbaugh, an artist and author associated with an art gallery in Minneapolis, created this stainless steel bust of Thomas Chan in 1931. Thomas Chan (pronounced “Kahn”) was a Minneapolis art and antique dealer who eventually opened a gallery on Nicollet Avenue in the 1940s. This bust is especially unusual because it was cast with stainless steel, which only became used commercially in about 1919. Stainless steel is one of the hardest metals to manipulate, and casting this bust would have required use of a sophisticated foundry due to its relatively high melting point (2,550° F).

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Above: Helen Zesbaugh, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society.

Zesbaugh was related to a family-run art gallery and framing shop of the same name on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. She attended the University of Minnesota for Art Education from 1916 to 1920, and authored the study Children’s Drawings of the Human Figure, published in 1934 by the University of Chicago Press as part of her master’s thesis in education.  If she taught art or produced other types of art locally, there is little trace, save this striking bust.

The sculpture’s subject is also notable. Thomas Chan was an art and antique dealer whose influence on the local scene was felt from the 1920s until his death in 1966. Chan was born in 1895 and grew up in Alexandria, Minnesota. He graduated in 1916 from the School of Pharmacy at the University of Minnesota and worked briefly in a Minneapolis drug store while moonlighting for the Beard’s Art Gallery, still in existence downtown.

Chan left pharmacy for good when he began working for Dr. Mabel Ulrich at her bookshop and art gallery on Nicollet Avenue, and was eventually inspired to open his own art gallery, the Little Gallery. In 1947, Chan closed his shop and moved his operations to Lake Minnetonka, where he worked as gardener, antique dealer, and art impresario until his death.

This polished sculpture represents a nexus of personalities brought together by the colorful network of art and antique galleries that formed along Nicollet Avenue in the mid-20th century.

You can see it now at the museum, where it is part of Portraits of the Past: Highlights from the Hennepin History Museum Collection. Hurry, the exhibition’s final day is this Sunday, January 8!

Franklin Steele’s Bentwood Chair

By Mara Taft, collections volunteer

This chair was used by Franklin Steele (1813-1880), a founder of Minneapolis and prominent in the lumber industry.

Stylistically, this a bentwood chair with a cane bottom. Manufactured by the Thonet company in Germany, this chair is signed with the original Thonet company mark. Michael Thonet, founder of the Thonet cabinetry company, was one of the most important innovators of bentwood furniture making. He patented a process of gluing layers of wood together through veneer and lamination, and then bending them under heat to created curved back-rails and legs on chairs, headboards, and sofa arms. By 1900, the popular, inexpensive furniture style was widely produced by furniture manufacturers in the United States.

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Steele was a founder of Minneapolis who became wealthy through the lumber industry and land deals. Born in Pennsylvania, he heard of prosperity in Minnesota and traveled there via the steamboat Burlington in 1838. He went to Fort Snelling, and at the age of 25, became the storekeeper.

In 1837, both sides of the Mississippi River were controlled by the government and was occupied by 150 squatters. In 1838, Fort Snelling commander Joseph Plympton convinced the government to put the east side of the river up for settlement. Steele staked his claim on the best spot of land by arriving to the site before dawn on the first day of settlement, thus securing his claim over St. Anthony Falls and his prominent role in the Minnesota lumber industry. A dam was built in 1848 blocking the east half of the river, allowing him to catch lumber sent downstream from the north. In 1854, squatters were able to purchase the west side of the river, and thus built a dam on the west side. This dam created, along with Steele’s, created an inverted-V shape which can still be seen today.

Apart from logging, Steele was known for many other building projects in what is now Minneapolis. In 1849 he plotted the town of St. Anthony, which was incorporated with Minneapolis in 1872. In 1852, he built a suspension bridge linking Minneapolis and Nicollet Island. Being an entrepreneur, he charged a toll of 5 cents per pedestrian, 25 cents per wagon, and 2 cents per pig and sheep to cross the bridge. Additionally, in 1851, he donated 4 acres in St. Anthony which was used to build the beginnings of the University of Minnesota.

Through his prominent roles in the lumber industry and land deals, Franklin Steele was undoubtedly an important figure in the emergence of Minneapolis as a prominent city. He helped to build Minneapolis and Hennepin County sitting on this very chair!

To volunteer at HHM, contact James Bacigalupo at history@hennepinhistory.org or 612.870.1329.

 

Bob Dylan Sat Here

 

By Heather Hoagland, HHM Collections Manager

Bob Dylan’s Chair

In 1959, a 19-year-old University of Minnesota student finally got his first gigs playing his guitar and singing the tunes he wrote himself—and for which he would later win a Nobel Prize for Poetry.

Bob Dylan sat in this simple chair at The Ten O’Clock Scholar coffeehouse during those gigs. Though he was only at the U of M from 1959 to 1961, Dylan and local legend John Koerner played together there, nurturing each other’s love of folk and blues.

The Scholar was located at the corner of Fifth Street and Fourteeth Avenue in Dinkytown, a historic student neighborhood adjacent to the University of Minnesota. The décor at the Scholar was simple: small chairs and tables where people gathered to talk, listen to music, or read. The building was burned to the ground in the late 1960s.

The chair was a gift of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Miss Teria’s Night of the Unknown (Black Friday)

My dear nocturnal seekers of mystification. It’s me — Miss Teria, your one and only host of the Hennepin History Museum’s After-Hours events. This time our Night of the Unknown celebrated the start of the holiday season with playfully references to consumerism.

Our mystery object this time was a cookie display glass that we believe was from the 1920’s. It was one of many that wrapped around the top of the plate glass windows at the Burch Drug Store on Hennepin and Franklin Avenue. They were intended to be almost indistinguishable from stained glass windows.

YogaQuest narrator and a certified yoga instructor led us through a cautionary tale based on the cult film ‘Gremlins.’ We were delighted to offer cold cuts of vegan meat and cheese from The Herbivorous Butcher and beer from our sponsor Indeed Brewing Company.

Until next time,
Miss Teria

Object of the Week: Dowling School Chair

By Heather Hoagland, HHM Collections Manager

This chair was made to suit the special needs of a disabled child who attended the Dowling School in Minneapolis. While we don’t know what those needs were, the desk lifts on a hinge and the high back raises. It likely dates from the 1940s or 1950s.

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Above: child using similar chair

The Dowling School, established in 1920, was the first school for the disabled in Minnesota and one of the longest continuously operating schools in the area. Today it is an urban environmental learning center, serving students of all ability levels.

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Above: Dowling students outside the school

The school opened with just 17 students in January, 1921, but quickly grew to fill a needed gap in the Minneapolis educational system, serving handicapped children throughout the region. In 1923, the school moved to its current location on 21 wooded acres overlooking the Mississippi, which was a gift from Minneapolis mayor William Eustis. In the 1930s, Dowling was the recipient of WPA funding to build an aqua therapy school. President and First Lady Roosevelt visited the school to dedicate the pool, which is still in use today.

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Dowling pool

The school’s founder, Michael Dowling, lost three limbs in a blizzard at the age of fourteen but went on to graduate from Carleton College—my alma mater!—and have a successful career as a businessman and speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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Above: Michael Dowling

Object of the Week: Zuhrah Temple Fez

This fez belonged to Henry Sparby, who was a member of the Zuhrah Temple and the Minnesota Consistory No. 2 as early as 1920. The model for Mr. Sparby’s fez is our own George H. Christian—first owner and overseer of construction of the Christian mansion where Hennepin History Museum is now located.

The Zuhrah Temple is the local chapter of the fraternal system known as Shriners International. With over 2,000 members, the Zuhrah Temple is the largest shrine in the Midwest region.

Today, the order is based in Minnetonka, but it has a long history. It was one of the first centers in the Midwest, obtaining a charter in 1886 along with St. Paul, Chicago, St. Louis, Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee and Grand Rapids.

The Zuhrah Temple is proud that the first uniformed marching unit was the Zuhrah Patrol, meaning the long tradition of Shriners marching in parades began here in Hennepin County. There have also been three leaders (“Potentates”) in Zuhrah history to become national leaders (“Imperial Potentates”).

Shriner fraternities, like the Zuhrah Temple, are dedicated to fellowship and philanthropy. They work to improve their communities by giving back through service and financial support. Across the country, Shriners are particularly known for establishing hospitals in their communities. The Zuhrah Temple completed the Twin Cities Shrine Hospital in 1923.

The fez was donated by the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.