The 1959 Minneapolis Soap Box Derby Champion, Jerry Houk, built this car called “Tinker Toy.” It went on to compete in the All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio, where it was sponsored by the Minneapolis Jaycees.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Above: Michael Dowling