Tag Archives: Downtown

Blood in the Streets: Governor Floyd B. Olson and the Teamsters’ Strike of 1934 

In 1934, the streets of Minneapolis were a battleground. Teamsters had declared a city-wide strike to end discrimination against union workers, and their cars of strikers chased heavily-guarded trucks to keep them from crossing picket lines. Roving battles were waged between convoys of police with riot guns and trucks of strikers. Crowds of club-wielding picketers and strikebreakers clashed in the market center over the unloading of goods onto non-union trucks. The three-month strike would be one of the deadliest in the state’s history.  

Truckers Strike 7.21.34

 

Standing between the two sides of this violent struggle was Governor Floyd B. Olson. A former prosecutor, Olson had clashed in the past with the anti-union organization the Citizens’ Alliance that had formed the backbone of strikebreaking in Minneapolis since the turn of the century. These efforts, along with prosecution of corrupt businessmen and the Ku Klux Klan had won him the support of working-class Minnesotans, who would elect him governor in 1930 — the first governor elected on a Farmer-Labor ticket. As the strike began in May of 1934, he would be torn between his ties to the workers who supported his candidacy and his need as governor to keep the peace and maintain order in the city.  

 Olson carried this personalized portfolio with him that summer as he worked tirelessly to facilitate negotiations between unions and employers. After the first major episode of violence just days into the strike, when twenty thousand strikers and onlookers crowded the market district and special deputies were driven back from their attempts to unload non-union trucks, Olson secured a short-term truce between strike organizers and business owners, and days later a broader settlement between the two sides. 

 Olson’s settlement unraveled by July, and the threat of more violence hung over Minneapolis. On July 20th it came to a head as a heavily-armed police escort moved trucks labeled “hospital supplies” to deliveries around the city. The trucks were met by cars of unarmed strikers that attempted to block their deliveries. Police, armed with shotguns, responded by firing upon the cars and strikers, injuring more than sixty and killing two. The governor’s worst fears had come true.  

 “Bloody Friday,” as the event became known, threatened to tear the city apart as the organizations of the wealthy rallied behind the police and the working class renewed efforts to support the strike. One-hundred thousand lined the route of the funeral procession for the slain union activist Henry Ness. Unions rejected new settlement offers. Employers continued to move trucks despite union blockades. Olson was forced to act.  

Truckers Strike 1934

 The governor declared martial law and raided the headquarters of both unions, arresting organizers and members of the Citizens’ Alliance.  

 This time, Olson’s decisive action successfully brought an end to the violence and forced the two sides to a lasting settlement. With the support of President Roosevelt and pressure from the federal Reconstruction Finance Agency, negotiations succeeded. Employers conceded to workers’ demands of union recognition, non-discrimination, and seniority in hiring and firing. The back of the anti-union Citizens’ Alliance in Minneapolis was broken and unions gained a foothold in the once fiercely anti-union city.  

Olson went on to win a third term as governor in November on the back of his success and then ran for Senate in 1936 but he died of stomach cancer in August, just three months before the election. Although his efforts were cut short, Olson is remembered as a fierce advocate of Minnesota’s working class. And eventually this portfolio made its way to Hennepin History Museum, preserved for all these years as a physical connection to the summer of 1934 and a reminder of Olson’s role as an intermediary.  

 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 

See also: 

An interview  with strike organizer Vincent Raymond Dunne  

Bryan D. Palmer. Revolutionary Teamsters: The Minneapolis Truckers’ Strikes of 1934. Haymarket Books, 2014. 

 Charles Walker. American City: A Rank-and-File History of Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press, 2005. 

 Dennis Harrington. Floyd B. Olson and the Teamster Strikes of 1934. 1977. 

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Please Pass the Mustard

This unmarked pressed glass cruet set was used at the Russell Hotel and Coffee Shop, located at 14-18 South Fourth Street in downtown Minneapolis. The set consists of a glass caddy with stainless steel handle and four glass condiment containers.

For its time, this is a comparatively simple cruet set, practical, and appropriate for use in a busy hotel restaurant/coffee shop. By 1913, when this one was used, cruet sets, along with tableware, and table settings in general, had reached extremes in design and embellishment totally eclipsing any suggestion of practicality. “More is More” was the ideal. Many sets consisted of ten, even twenty condiment containers created in elaborately cut crystal and sterling silver, as well as a dizzying array of miniature serving implements for transporting the condiment from the bottle to the plate.

These elaborate affairs were most often relegated to a sideboard or buffet. Every truly well-dressed table or sideboard, though, was incomplete without a generous selection of condiments, preferably served from a fine cruet set.

This caddy was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Harriet Lycken of Minneapolis.

About the author

Jack Kabrud is curator at Hennepin History Museum.

From Luxury to Lot: The West Hotel

The history and demise of the West Hotel and the Tiffany urn that was created to honor the founders

The West Hotel was known to be a destination of luxury in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was built with funds of Charles W. West, and subsequently, he gave the new world-class hotel to his nephew and then manager of the Nicollet House, John T. West. Charles West spent an exorbitant amount of money building the hotel with ornate detail and making it particularly extravagant for visitors. As a result, the building became well known, and was the perfect addition to the then new state’s aspirations for success. The opening night banquet and celebration in November of 1884 was highly anticipated, although sadly approximately two months before the evening, Charles West died.

Silver urn

This large urn stood in the West Hotel’s lobby before coming to Hennepin HIstory Museum. 

Even after the death of Charles West, the building of the hotel continued and opening night was still a major success. It was a night of recognition and appreciation to the two people who made the building possible, Charles and John West. Around 500 guests attended the ten dollar a plate banquet, and many famous Minnesota leaders were among them. This large silver ceremonial urn, believed to be by Tiffany & Co. Silver,  was given to John West who accepted it in honor of Charles West. The 5,000 dollar urn was made in New York specifically for Charles West as a thank you gift from the city of Minneapolis.

Following the opening night banquet, the hotel started off with success as many wanted to experience the extravagance of the West Hotel. In fact, the West Hotel hosted the 1892 Republican National Convention, and famous people such as Winston Churchill and Mark Twain were among the hotel’s visitors. However, after the hotel caught fire in 1910 and more competitors popped up in the area, the hotel lost its luster. In 1940, its owners  decided to raze the building to make way for a parking lot.

West Hotel selling off goods in 1940s

Auctioning West Hotel items before the building was razed. 

The West Hotel ceremonial urn features an image of Charles W. West and the West Hotel as it looked in 1884. The cup sat in the West Hotel for guests to view. It was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Nathaniel DeLue Jr., who acquired the urn after the hotel closed.

Author Bio

Lindsay Simmons is an art history and museum studies graduate student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She is currently an intern at Hennepin History Museum working on the museum inventory project. She spent the summer assisting in rehousing and cataloging some of the museum’s 15,000 objects. This urn was one of the first objects she cataloged for the collection. She enjoyed researching this object as it is an important piece in HHM’s collection, and as a resident of Minneapolis, she finds learning about the history of the city fascinating.

Resources

West Hotel, Minneapolis

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part One.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 3 (Fall 1978): 3–9.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Two.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 4 (Winter 1978-79): 13–21.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Three.” Hennepin County History 38, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 3–11.

Photo of the Week: Street Scene, c. 1925

This street scene, photographed circa 1925, was taken on 6th Street looking towards Nicollet Avenue (now Nicollet Mall) in downtown Minneapolis. Visible at the intersection is the corner of the Donaldson’s Department Store’s famous Glass Block building.

One of the things that struck our eye are the modes of transportation visible in this photograph. We have a new exhibition opening at Hennepin History Museum this week: the Cycling Museum of Minnesota has curated the ever-fascinating High Wheels! exhibition looking at biking in 19th century Minneapolis. This photograph post-dates the high wheels, but if you look closely you’ll see there’s foot, car, streetcar, and yes, bicycle traffic.

Photo of the Week: Greyhound Station

If you’ve been in downtown Minneapolis recently, say anytime after 1970, you likely recognize this iconic building as the music club First Avenue. From its opening in 1937 until 1968, however, this art deco building, located on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street, was home to the Northland-Greyhound bus station. The station relocated in 1968, and a year later the building was converted into a music venue. First called the Depot, then Sam’s, the building became First Avenue in 1981, a name it has retained ever since.