The Automobile Club of Minneapolis

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While today’s auto clubs offer roadside assistance, in their heyday these clubs offered much more. In the earliest years of the automobile, they were a place for the small group of well-to-do motorists to socialize and organize on their own behalf as car owners. In so doing, these clubs played an important role in shaping the way Americans get around today.

The Automobile Club of Minneapolis was the first of these clubs founded in Minnesota. The club was chartered in November 1902 amidst a growing movement of such organizations. Owners of the first automobiles recognized a need for an expanded network of the high-quality roads their new vehicles demanded. In response, they banded together to demand such projects. The American Automobile Association (AAA) was the first would prove to be the most influential of these early clubs. This club was formed by the merger of several smaller clubs in Chicago, just a few months prior to the Minneapolis club’s founding. At the time, only 23,000 automobiles were in operation as compared to 17 million horses.

While their numbers may have been small, these early automobile owners were often the wealthiest and most well-connected members of their communities. The auto clubs they formed thus became not only potent political entities, but important social hubs. The earliest members of the Minneapolis club included George C. Christian, whose father built the home that would become the Hennepin History Museum, as well as L.B. Newell, the heir to the company that became SuperValu, and James Ford Bell, the founder of General Mills. Together, these men would lobby for improved roads and highways, better signage and safety practices, and against policies that severely limited their speed and prevented them from driving alongside horses.

In 1911, the auto club built a summer house for its members. Located in Bloomington on the Minnesota River bluffs, the house served as a gathering place and event space where parties and dinners were hosted. The house itself was designed by prominent Minneapolis architect Frederick Kees, and included garage stalls for member’s cars, a restaurant with an in-house chef, and dormitory rooms so members could stay the night before making the trek back into the city.

The clubhouse would remain a popular destination for club members and people from the community alike. Though its first building would be destroyed in a 1918 fire, supposedly set by a German-sympathizing caretaker during the war, it was rebuilt in 1920 and remained a fixture of the area into the 1950’s. The house would remain a destination for dinners and dancing, as well as hosting weddings and high school proms.

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These plates were produced for the clubhouse by Syracuse China in early 1956, in what would be the final years of the clubhouse’s use. They bear the club’s logo, a winged steering wheel upon a red triangle, and were a part of a set that included similarly marked cups and saucers.

Ultimately, the house’s construction for seasonal use left it unable to make money for the club year-round, and it was sold to developers in 1958. Furnishings like these plates were saved, but the building itself would be demolished the next year. Today, the area where the clubhouse stood has been converted to homes.  

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.

Resources

Hennepin History Magazine article celebrating the 60th anniversary of the auto club in Minneapolis.

“Remembering the Club Days of AAA”

Bloomington and St. Louis Park Historical Societies on the AAA Clubhouse.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Witt’s Market House: The Future of Minnesota Grocery

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This photo shows the chaos that once was the second floor of Witt’s Market House. Witt’s Market had previously been a well established family owned meat market before expanding to a new retail space in 1919 at 705-09 Hennepin Ave S. The new store was advertised as a new modern food market, which included produce, meat, dairy, baked goods, new plumbing, electricity and the most exciting technological advancement of the day-cash registers and computing scales.

The Witt’s Market House was a massive building. The store was four stories high and 7,500 square feet. A large refrigerator was housed in the basement along with the store’s personal team of butchers. Meat would be cut to order, and sent up to the main floor in elevators. The main floor was a typical market where groceries were purchased. Pictured is the second floor, where shoppers could buy larger quantities of produce (by the dozen or by the case). The in-house sausage factory was also located on the second floor. The third floor was filled with offices and restroom facilities (including showers and baths for employee use). The fourth floor was dedicated to the bakery. In a time where Minneapolis residents had to visit a butcher for their meat and a baker for their bread, having all the facilities of a modern market in one building was quite the luxury.

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Witt’s Market House closed its doors in 1968 and was replaced with a novelty store called Now and Then. The novelty store struggled to find a use for the massive building where locals had once visited to do their shopping. The building still stands at the corner of 7th St and Hennepin Ave. S in Minneapolis. You can learn more about the Witt’s Market House at the Hennepin History Museum.

Sources:

Upham, Daniel. “Now and Then Caters to Young-at-Heart Taste,” The Minneapolis Star, October 8, 1969. https://startribune.newspapers.com/image/189170432/?terms=%22Witt’s%2BMarket%2BHouse%22

Witt’s Market House. “Witt’s New Market: C. F. Witt, 705-707-709 Hennepin Avenue To Open January 3.” Advertisement. The Minneapolis Morning Tribune, January 2, 1919. https://www.newspapers.com/image/180813112/?terms=%22Witt’s%2BMarket%2BHouse%22

Blog post written by Bridget Jensen, Archive Volunteer

BACK TO SCHOOL WITH STANLEY HALL

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With the school year in full swing, it is a great time to reflect on the history of education in Hennepin County. Stanley Hall was a Boarding and Day School for girls in Minneapolis during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s before closing its doors in 1928. The beautiful campus included buildings for classes and housing for boarding students. The education provided to the young girls of Minneapolis here was unmatched for the period.
 
Stanley Hall was a private school high school located at 2118-2122 Pleasant Ave in Minneapolis. While secondary education was the focus, the junior college program was popular which allowed students to complete their first two years of college at the school. Many students went onto all-female universities with similar rigor and prestige, including Wellesley, Smith, Vassar and Bryn Mawr. The teachers were dedicated to educating these students socially as well as academically. This brochure boasted that “the utmost of congeniality cannot help being a rule of life”. Students took classes in languages, literature, math science, music and physical education. Stanley Hall was famous in the Twin Cities for its emphasis placed on athletics, namely gymnastics. At the turn of the century, it was uncommon for women to receive any kind of post-secondary education, and even more unique to receive rigorous academic instruction. Stanley Hall was a leading institution for Minnesota in this respect.
While the Stanley Hall campus is now home to apartments, the education provided and the goals of the school should continue to be preserved. The Hennepin History Museum Archives has an extensive collection of artifacts from schools in Hennepin County. Come visit to learn more about your school!
Blog written by Bridget Jensen, Archive Volunteer

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.

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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.

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Minnesota Lynx

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A ticket from the third game of the Lynx’s inaugural season.

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.

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A ticket stub from the 2nd game of the 2011 WNBA Finals

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.

Sources:

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

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.

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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.

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