For details, view this photograph in our collections database.
Come see the new exhibit in the Library Lobby on the Golden Age of Rail Travel, 1880 – 1950. The exhibit highlights a fabulous new donation to the collection from Steve Pattison and family of Great Northern Railway china and silver. It also includes menus and tourism promotion materials from our wonderful railroad archival collections. Visit a time when transportation was so much more civilized!
- View Trains! podcast
- New online inventories for Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads
Together, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern manuscript collections make the Minnesota Historical Society one of the great centers for railroad research in the entire nation. Acquisitioned in December 1968 and October 1972, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads, respectively, became two of the largest collections that the Society houses. An astounding number of records have been processed and conserved in the intervening time, leading to thousands of boxes, volumes, and drawings being made accessible for research purposes.
The availability of inventories for these collections has, until recently, only been available in the Society’s reading room, but now you can explore the multitude of records on line! Documenting all facets of the railroads’ development and the communities they served, these finding aids allow for more convenient browsing, faster searching, and the discovery of related materials that may have been overlooked before.
That’s right! Minneapolis to Minot, Grand Forks to Great Falls, and Sand Point to Seattle, all stops along the railroad to research are now available on line. Travel the rails to Glacier and Yellowstone national parks, finagle your way through financial records, peruse photographs, consider correspondence, muse over maps, delve into drawings, bring blueprints to bear, and inspect indexes. We’re not just blowing steam here, take a look for yourself, and come explore the history of the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads:
Great Northern: http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00901.xml
Northern Pacific: http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/01010.xml
[Click above to enlarge cartoon]
One of my favorite things in the Collection is this political cartoon from 1858. I’m sure I don’t get all the points (155 years is a long time and well, one probably just had to be there) but it is a beautiful, large drawing containing many funny details, such as the devil as pied piper, the gin barrel, and the small figure reminding people that they “develop the resources of the state.” This cartoon answers the age-old (okay, actually 155 year old) question – why are we the Gopher state? This very cartoon started it all.
One of the first acts of the first legislature of the new state was to amend the brand new constitution, enabling them to issue credit and loan $5 million (or $ 137,000,000 in today’s dollars) to railroad interests. While some were against this, most people supported the amendment: it passed with 25,023 votes in favor and 6,733 against.
This cartoon is clearly in the nay column. It shows a railroad car full of bond holders being pulled by nine striped rodents with human heads, representing the legislators (many of whom also had a stake in the railroads). The issue of business looking for money never gets old, does it?
The artist is R. O. Sweeny from Saint Paul, and it was originally published as a broadside when the issue was being debated. So, from the messy ordeal of state development we got both the railroads and our nickname. The original drawing of this cartoon is currently on display in the Library Lobby during Library open hours.
Lori Williamson, Acquisitions and Outreach Coordinator
Candlestick-style telephone used by Milwaukee Road railway agents. The Milwaukee Road (also known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) operated for almost 150 years from its founding in 1847 until its merger with the Soo Line in 1986. The telephone was manufactured by the Western Electric Company circa 1904.
For more details, view the telephone in our collections catalog.
Some Fun: And Some Sober Earnest.
Chicago: Chicago and North Western Railway Company, before 1889.
This booklet is an alphabet rhyme for children on one side, with facing text describing the benefits of moving to Dakota, Minnesota, and other places served by the Chicago and North Western Railroad. It is basically an ad for farm land encouraging settlement.
Into the 1960s, much of the nation’s mail moved on railroads. Passenger trains carried Railway Post Office (RPO) cars equipped with sacks and slots that allowed clerks to sort mail en route. Sorted mail was delivered, and new letters were picked up, as the train passed through each town. It was complex work, and required a high degree of speed and accuracy. Clerks took regular examinations to keep their skills well-honed.
Sharp clerks practiced for their exams with kits like this one. It belonged to Richard Loida, a St. Paul-based postal clerk who made frequent RPO runs to Duluth and the Dakotas in the years after World War II. The kit consists of a wooden box, about the size of a briefcase, which opens to reveal slots labeled with primary railroad junctions; and a box of cards for each post office in Minnesota. Mr. Loida would practice placing the cards into the appropriate slots as quickly and correctly as he could. RPO clerks were required to sort as many as 600 pieces of mail per hour, and needed to score 97% to pass their exams. Needless to say, a little practice wasn’t a bad idea.
Early in 2008 the papers of legendary Minnesota businessman James J. Hill and several of his family members were transferred from the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul to the Minnesota History Center, just a few blocks away. In this podcast, learn about the history and contents of the collection and the reasons for the move, and catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the incredible process of relocating almost 2500 boxes of valuable historical documents, photographs, books and artifacts.
Podcast Video [4:47m]: Download (1434)
Transcript: Download (831)
You know his mansion on Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, and you know that he’s the railroad magnate, but did you know about how diverse his ventures were or the kind of family man he was? The answers can be found in his papers!
The James J. Hill/Louis W. Hill manuscript collections provide a wealth of documentation on topics as varied as mining interests, agricultural enterprises, national and international commerce and finance, and the expansion of the Pacific Northwest. These business papers complement our massive collection of railroad records. The papers contain details about the Hills’ interests in Canadian fishing, oil exploration, Glacier National Park, and philanthropy throughout the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Complementing these business topics are the Maude Hill papers, a rich resource on the domestic side of the Hill family.
The papers were transferred from the James J. Hill Reference Library to the Minnesota Historical Society in May 2008. They are currently in the process of being recataloged, and so will not be available for public use for several months. In the meantime, come see materials from this outstanding collection on display in the Lobby of the Minnesota Historical Society Library through August 25, 2008.