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Streetcars in St. Paul and Minneapolis

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator, looks at the history of streetcars in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Trolley-related artifacts, photos and film footage in the Society’s collection are featured. (4 min. 41 sec. / 12.2 MB)

Learn more about the Minnesota Historical Society’s trolley resources at the streetcars History Topics page. Read about streetcars in the Minnesota’s Greatest Generation Share Your Story page. See trolley photos in the Visual Resources Database. Learn about streetcars on the Selby-Lake line at the Right on Lake Street exhibit page. Purchase a copy of Twin Cities by Trolley in the online store.

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Friday, April 25th, 2008


More than an exhibit…more than a party…it’s


Join us!

And be sure not to miss our guide to 1950s fashion.

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Numbers 3, 4, and 5

Thursday, April 24th, 2008


Many years ago I thought I had invented a wonderful little icebreaker. I asked friends, colleagues, and strangers at cocktail parties (ok, they were keggers) this question; “if you were banished forever from Minnesota but had time to grab a book or two, which ones would you take to help you remember the place you love?” (When you come from Irish rebels it is easier to imagine banishment than the more traditional “stranded on a desert island” scenario.) Thinking this would be a good way to begin a discussion of not only books but of what one loves about Minnesota, I was appalled that few people had an answer.

Well, folks, this blog is the place to remedy that. Plus it is always nice to have some time to think about the question rather than being blindsided by some know-it-all snot at a party. Let us know what your favorites are, and if you want to pair them with an alcoholic beverage and a piece of music, knock yourself out.

Three more of Minnesota’s 150 best books are:

Edward D. Neil The History of Minnesota; From the Earliest French Explorations to the Present Time. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott and Co., 1858

William Watts Folwell History of Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 1921 – 1930.

Theodore C. Blegen Minnesota: A History of the State. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1963.

It almost seems like a joke that there was a history of the state the year it was born, but it is really not that unusual for contemporaries to write history. Neil, serious about the subtitle’s statement “present time,” updated the book through five editions adding 338 pages of newly discovered stories and information to the growing appendixes. The added vignettes have wonderful titles such as, “An Effeminate Man” and “A Nose Bitten Off.”  Collectors will want to try to acquire the limited, large-paper first edition for their shelves. 

Folwell’s work is monumental. The amount of detail is overwhelming. In fact, Professor Norman Moen once told me that I would know more Minnesota History than almost anyone else if I just read the footnotes in this book. Try that; it is totally true! Collectors will want to have the ¾ leather bound limited edition and the 1950’s reprint.

Professor Blegen’s book seems quite dated now, but it is important for providing a one-volume history that, along with its author, facilitated resurgence in the study of local history. Taken together these three books also provide a case study in historiography.

Exiled? I’ll take Folwell, a cup of Pig’s Eye Parrant’s moonshine, and the fife and drums of Ol’ Fort Snelling. Maybe.

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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First Minnesota Light Artillery Letter from the St. Louis Arsenal

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2008


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Numbers 1 and 2

Friday, April 18th, 2008

leisure-class-spine.jpgOk. The hardest part is just getting started. Do I begin at the beginning, with the earliest indispensable Minnesota book? Father Hennepin’s books will surely make the list. Or do I attempt the impossible; begin with the least important book on the list and end with a drum role and suggest the ultimate state volume?  Since I’m not ready to pronounce The Leaches of Minnesota less important than The Great Gatsby, let’s jump right into the middle of this.

Today is grey and cold. I am in a dark mood so very, very uncharacteristic of the Irish. It does remind me of another ethnic group’s stereotype, however, so we will begin our Best Minnesota Books list with two Norwegian-Minnesotans.   

Thorstein Veblen Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions. New York: Macmillan Company, 1899.

O[le] E[dvart] Rolvaag Giants in the Earth: A Saga of the Prairie. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1927.

Veblen’s provocative and seminal first book is the only one on our list that is also on the Grolier Club’s list of One Hundred Influential American Books Printed before 1900. No one could coin a phrase like Veblen. His term “conspicuous consumption” was perhaps more relevant than ever as McMansions sprung up like dandelions in the suburbs of the Twin Cities. His related concept of “conspicuous waste” plagues us more today than at the time Veblen wrote his treatise. Veblen’s beautiful rhetoric reminds me of the late William F. Buckley. The last line of Theory, for example, is: “The advantage of the accredited locutions lies in their reputability; they are reputable because they are cumbrous and out of date, and therefore argue waste of time and exemption from the use and the need of direct and forcible speech.” The price of a first edition of this book is beyond most collectors’ means. There are nice copies available however; John Kenneth Galbraith wrote the introduction for a 1973 reprint of Theory and several variant editions are currently in print, including one retitled Conspicuous Consumption.

giants-in-the-earth.jpgRolvaag’s book was first published in Norwegian under the inexplicably dull title I de Dage or “In Those Days.” There is no more powerful description of pioneer life in this region than Giants and no better example of how fiction can enhance historical understanding. I love to phone my non-Minnesota friends – who don’t understand the harsh life of the Upper Mid-Westerner – and read the last paragraphs of this beautiful novel. It is worth giving away the ending. Collectors will want to find the beautiful but rare first edition, with the woodcut image of a sod house on the dust jacket. O. E. does the same great job describing the urban immigrant experience in his 1933 The Boat of Longing, which is another “must read.”

Check back to see if Boat eventually makes our list of 150 Best Minnesota Books.   

Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian

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Welcome to the Best Books Blog!

Monday, April 14th, 2008


Anniversaries are always a good excuse for looking back and making lofty pronouncements. The Historical Society, for example, used the occasion of Minnesota’s sesquicentennial to proclaim the 150 people, places, and things that are quintessentially ours in the “MN 150″ exhibit. Not wishing to be left out, Patrick Coleman, the Society’s Acquisition Librarian, will over the course of this sesquicentennial year designate the greatest 150 Minnesota books. He will anoint these books twice a month beginning this month. Coleman is uniquely qualified to pontificate. By our calculations, he has spent 62,400 billable hours thinking about Minnesota books. We will not even mention the countless hours he was unable to leave his work behind and continued to think about Minnesota literature while paddling or skiing through l’étoile du nord. Still, we realize that any such list is subjective and open to other opinions which we strongly encourage. Readers, please feel free to both add to and take issue with Coleman’s growing list! 

All works chosen as the 150 Best Minnesota Books will have been published in some recognizable form, and will either be about some aspect of the state or will have been written by a Minnesota author. We define Minnesota authors the same way we do for inclusion into the MHS library collections: the author will either have been born in Minnesota or will have spent enough time here to have been influenced by the culture or to have influenced the culture. For example, Sinclair Lewis did not stop being a Minnesota author when he took a job in New York and become a Minnesota author again when he moved back here. Not coincidently, all of these books are available for your perusal in the library at the MHS. Our hope is that you will be reminded of some old favorites and that you may discover some new books to enrich your understanding of this wonderful state, Minnesota.

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Pulchritude*: feminine beauty in Minnesota, 1870 – present

Monday, April 14th, 2008


toni1.jpgWhile what is deemed beautiful has changed over time, the search for beauty is an ongoing saga. The new display in the Library Lobby features pieces from the collection that illustrate   that desire for perfect hair and makeup including institutions devoted to promoting beauty products.  Minnesota played a pivotal role in the drive to make beauty possible at home, with thriving early home permanent, hair care, and makeup industries in the Twin Cities.

Entrance to the Library is free and open to the public; follow this link for hours.

Images, clockwise: Permanent wave machine, 1937-1941; Toni Spin Curlers, 1954; human hair rat, ca. 1910.

*Pulchritude: physical beauty, comeliness


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Golfer and Sportsman

Friday, April 11th, 2008


Golfer and Sportsman magazine was a monthly periodical published and edited by Virginia Safford in Minneapolis, primarily covering the social scene in the western suburbs of Minneapolis but including St. Paul and other parts of the state as well. In the mid-1930s the subscription rate was $1.00 per year or 15 cents per issue; it was worth every penny and more. This misnamed periodical is a terrific resource overflowing with material of interest to a wide range of researchers.

Regular columns appear on topics including fashion, arts and culture, product reviews (named “Hello &Good Buys”), a monthly calendar (entitled “What Shall We Do?”), and a variety of sports. Sports included hockey, basketball, polo, fishing, canoeing, and figure skating–most with great close-up photos of local stars and famous visitors. The “Home of the Month” column features residences of the movers and shakers across the state, replete with photographs and descriptions touting interior design innovations and accompanied by tidbits about the designers and architects.

Other topics with regular coverage included card games, business and Wall Street, travel, book reviews, summer camp advertisements, pets and their owners, and where to stay, dine, drink and dance the night away. Frequent articles or biographies appear by Brenda Ueland and Grace Flandrau. nash-ad-res.jpgThe photographs of young debutantes, beaming brides, and men & women engaging in activities of a “sporty” nature are wonderful portraits of an era.

The advertisements illuminate and illustrate activities including home decorating, where to buy furnishings, and where to get the most fashionable clothes-from hats to suits to shoes. In issues from 1935-36 alone we find a full color advertisement for the Minnesota invented Toastmaster “pop-up” toaster (see below) and advertisements featuring Minneapolis dressmaker Agnes Reed’s embroidered suits and dresses. Many ads are personalized like those of local celebs drinking Nash coffee in various settings. Others simply encourage you to eat at the Chinese Restaurant YUEN FALUNG LOW also known as “John’s Place”, to buy furniture at Wm. A. French Studios, Inc., or fly to exotic places via Northwest Airlines.

The Minnesota Historical Society library holds an incomplete run of Golfer and Sportsman magazine ranging in date from January 1933 – February 1943 and another set from October 1946 – October 1949. Resources such as this gem of social history are rich in advertisements, imagery, and monthly essays that enable us to better contextualize the objects, art, and printed materials already held by or sought for the Society’s collections.

Marcia Anderson, Senior Curator


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It’s The Beatles!

Monday, April 7th, 2008


As we approach summer and the start of the outdoor concert season, we recall one of Minnesota’s most memorable outdoor performances. The Beatles staged their second concert tour of the United States in the late summer of 1965. At this peak of Beatlemania, the Beatles played a mixture of outdoor stadiums and indoor arenas and for fans in Minnesota, that date came on August 21, 1965 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.  The images seen here capture the Beatles’ landing and their waiting fans at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, interviews with radio sponsor, WDGY and an ecstatic crowd at the stadium that warm evening.  Taken by newspaper photographers, Sully and Neale, these images are part of the Society’s St. Paul Dispatch & Pioneer Press negative collection. This event was also captured on camera pf1269901.jpgby local teen Bill Carlson, and his photographs were recently published in The Beatles! A One-Night Stand in the Heartland

Diane Adams-Graf, Sound and Visual Curator

 Learn More:


Images, top to bottom:

The Beatles arrive at Twin Cities Metropolitan Airport

Fans at Beatles Concert. Metropolitan Stadium

The Beatles Concert at Metropolitan Stadium

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1950s Fashion in the MHS Collection

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Curator Linda McShannock explores 1950s fashion through dresses, hats, shoes and accessories in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection.

Fashion was the focus of the first in the Society’s popular series of RetroRama programs. The next RetroRama event takes place on May 15, 2008.

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An Ounce of Preservation: A Guide to the Care of Papers and Photographs