Tag Archives: businesses

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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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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Nordic Ware’s Bundt Pan

Nordic Ware boasts a long history of innovative engineering and manufacturing of cookware. Their most famous product is undoubtably the Bundt pan. Today more than 70 million American households have one of these iconic pans in their kitchens. Despite producing a wide variety of products, the Bundt pan remains the most recognizable and has maintained the most longevity. Bundt pans, like those in our collection, are a broadly fluted circular mold made of aluminum. While there are many different recipes for Bundt cakes, they all have one thing in common, the unique shape created by the Bundt pan that forms grooved sides and a cylindrical hole through the middle the cake. While many people are familiar with the Bundt pan, most are not familiar with the history of hard work, innovation, and local connections that led to its creation.

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Dave Dalquist and his wife Dotty started their business, originally named Plastics for Industry, in the basement of their Minneapolis home in 1946. The company made parts for General Mill’s home appliances. Shortly thereafter they began to manufacture Scandinavian kitchenware. In 1950 they acquired Northland Aluminum Products and thus inherited a line known as Nordic Ware. That same year, Dalquist was approached by two members of the local chapter of Hadassah, a Jewish women’s volunteer organization, about recreating a mold from the Old World that was known as a bund pan in Germany. Bund cakes, or bundkuchen, were served for various celebrations in which people gathered together. The Hadassah women gave Dalquist a cast iron model of the mold from which he created a cast aluminum pan. They then sold the pans to fellow members of their organization locally and nationally, and the money earned was sent to Israel to help pay for schools and hospitals.

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Due to the popularity of the pans, Dalquist started to market the bund pans to the public. He added the “t” to the end of the word so that he could trademark it and avoid any association with a German-American pro-Nazi group that existed in the thirties and forties with the same name. Despite being sold in major department stores for several years, the Bundt pan didn’t become famous until 1966 when a woman used a Bundt pan to win second place in the Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. After this, Pillsbury was inundated with inquiries from women who wanted to know where they could purchase a Bundt pan. Both Nordic Ware and Pillsbury recognized the potential for partnership and soon after Pillsbury began creating a new kind of cake mix that was developed especially to be used with Bundt pans. When three versions of cake mix had been developed, Pillsbury began to offer them along with a Bundt pan at a discounted price. Bundt pans began flying off the shelves, outperforming all expectations and achieving international fame.

Today, two out of three Americans have a Nordic Ware product in their kitchen. After over seven decades Nordic Ware is still family owned and operated, and one of only a few companies that continues to manufacture their products in the United States, doing so at their factory in Minneapolis. By striving to innovate kitchenware characterized by quality and value, the company has grown to employ over 350 people and produce hundreds of products sold globally. If all this was not enough evidence of Nordic Ware’s success, the nostalgic feelings and fond memories of family gatherings inspired by Bundt cakes certainly are.

Our Nordic Ware 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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Minneapolis-Moline Goes to Washington

While Hennepin History Museum doesn’t have the space to collect tractors, that doesn’t stop us from collecting tractor history. And even the briefest survey of tractor history will unearth the name Minneapolis-Moline.

The 1918 tractor shown here was originally used on a farm in Nebraska. A Model “D” Universal tractor, it featured electric ignition, speed control, and electric lights. In 1953, Minneapolis-Moline’s marketing department purchased the tractor and brought it home to Minnesota and sent it on tour to the state and county fairs. In 1957, the company exhibited it at their headquarters in Hopkins.

In 1962, the tractor moved yet again — this time to Washington, DC. The Smithsonian Institution recognized the significance of Minneapolis-Moline and their role in American innovation and agriculture and installed it in one of their history and technology galleries.

The following year, Minnesota business leaders gathered at the Smithsonian during the 1963 Convention of the Chamber of Commerce. Shown here are representatives from the Minneapolis Area Chamber of Commerce, the Pillsbury Company, the United States Navy, the Smithsonian, and, of course, Minneapolis-Moline.

Learn more about the history of Minneapolis Moline and other Hennepin County companies in our library and archives. 

Take the Bitter with the Sweet: Abdallah’s Banana Split Dish

This banana split dish is from the 4th generation family owned business established by Lebanese immigrant Albert Abdallah. Albert opened Calhoun Candy Depot in 1909 on the corner of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. In 1916 it was renamed Abdallah Candy Company. Abdallah’s served chocolate, caramels, toffee, truffles and ice cream.

Over the years Abdallah’s persevered in the face of adversity. After the Great Depression, Abdallah’s was forced to close due to bankruptcy. However, Albert was able to pay off his debt and reopened a smaller store a few blocks from its original location just a few years later. Abdallah’s later struggled through the Food Rationing Program enacted during World War II. Finally, in 1965 the business was destroyed in a fire caused by a gas explosion, forcing them to completely rebuild.

Through hard work and dedication, Albert Abdallah was able to establish a successful chocolatier and confectionery that is still in operation today, over a century later. His great-grandson carries on the family tradition in their current location in Burnsville, using some of the original recipes perfected by Albert.

Author Bio

Alyssa Thiede in the Assistant Collections Manager at Hennepin History Museum.

A Large Coffee, Please

This monumental coffee pot shaped coffee grinder is crafted of cast iron and aluminum. It was manufactured by the American Duplex Company of Louisville Kentucky. The grinder offers several features or settings for achieving the desired grind, and ultimately, the perfect cup of coffee.

This grinder was used at Hawkinson’s Red and White grocery store, located at 4306 Upton Avenue in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Hawkinson family had owned, and operated, grocery stores at 2716 W. 45th St. and at 4429 York Avenue, in Minneapolis, as early as 1910. In 1925 they moved to the 4306 Upton Avenue location. By 1950, Roy and Stella Hawkinson had become a part of the Red and White food store chain, which was established in Chicago in 1925, and quickly spread across the country. The chain was formed to allow small independent grocery stores to carry the Red and White brand, and compete with the large chains, which were already beginning to overtake the neighborhood corner store. The Red Dot logo was instantly recognizable on signs and awnings of small stores everywhere. By 1957 there were seven Red and Whites in Minneapolis.

The chain is still in business, and although most of the stores have been replaced by large supermarket chains, you can still see the famous red dot logo on small stores across the United States. Hawkinson’s closed their doors in 1980.

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Sweet Treats and Baklava: A Brief History of the J.G. Villas Confectionary Shop

By Jack Kabrud, Hennepin History Museum curator

Demetrios Giorgos Villas was born in Niata Greece in 1883. He immigrated to the United States, alone, at the age of twelve, arriving at Ellis Island in the winter of 1895. During the cold of his first winter in America he slept in doorways, sometimes waking to find his hair frozen to the pavement. In the spring he began to sell fruit on the streets, saving what he could, until he earned enough for passage to Minneapolis. He spoke no English and travelled on the train with his destination and name pinned to his jacket.

Upon his arrival in Minneapolis he began working for, and learned his trade, at the Boosalis fruit brokerage firm. By 1910 he, along with his wife Caroline, had established their own business, the J.G Villas confectionary store, at 135 South 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis.

The store became a destination point for downtown shoppers, including future Minneapolis Star columnist Cedric Adams. Adams was so impressed by the store that nearly half a century later, in 1958, he wrote in his regular column

“On the site of the present Baker Building there was a Greek candy store and ice cream parlor with its huge electric fans hanging from the ceiling, its windows filled with fresh chocolates and bon bons, and its white-aproned Greek proprietor behind the soda fountain. Grandpa Adams and I made it over there two or three times during my visits for a chocolate soda. I haven’t tasted chocolate like that since.”

The stock market crash in 1929 hit the business hard. By the mid-1930s J.G Villas was forced out of business. Villas then went to work for the Phil Malay company as a produce broker.

These four confectionary jars were used in the J.G Villas confectionary store from 1910 to the mid-1930s. The jars were made purely for function and not decoration. They are made of thick, clear, unfrosted, and un-embellished glass, with the intention of showing off their tasty, and often beautiful, contents.

The jars were given to Villas’ daughter, Jeanne Villas Dorsey, (incidentally, the best Spanakopita maker I ever knew) and from her, to his three granddaughters, Caroline Dorsey Truth, Patricia Dorsey Nanoff, and Mary Jeanne Dorsey, who gave them to Hennepin History Museum in 2008