MINNESOTA: A STATE GUIDE
Roadways of iron and cement are now commonplace; yet a hundred years ago Minnesota's means of travel were its rivers and its lakes. It was along the waterways that the region was first settled, and the first towns sprouted at landings on the Mississippi and its tributaries. Important as its rivers were destined to be in the development of Minnesota, it was by the Great Lakes that the first white men came into the region--some, like Hennepin, overland and by river routes from Lake Michigan, others (Du Luth, La Verendrye, Radisson, and Allouez) in Indian canoes on Lake Superior. These fragile shells of cedar wood and birchbark were the first craft known to travel Lake Superior's waters. They were found to be so admirably adapted to the purpose of explorers and traders that more than a century was to pass before more substantial vessels took their place, even on the Great Lakes. Designed for speed and easy portaging, they were equally able to navigate shallows and weedy sloughs, to shoot whirling rapids, or to ride through driving storms. In them trappers, explorers, traders, and missionaries paddled their way down the streams, and across the lakes from the tip of Lake Superior through the wilderness. Then up the Mississippi, following the Fox River route, came Colonel Leavenworth and his troops to establish Fort Snelling. They came in keelboats, a name given to anomalous craft that could be sailed, rowed, poled, or dragged, as occasion demanded. The American Fur Company established headquarters near the fort at Mendota and gradually the main stream of commerce shifted from the north to the Mississippi.
The first British license to trade in the upper lake region was granted in 1765 to Alexander Henry. In 1770-71 Henry built "a barge fit for navigation on the lake, and in 1772 a sloop of forty tons burden." Both were fitted with sails and are the earliest known sailing craft on Lake Superior, although a persistent but unsubstantiated legend credits a trader, La Ronde or Laland, with the operation of a sloop as early as 1731. By 1800 the Northwest Company had a vessel that made several trips each year from Grand Portage to Pine Point. That same year a resident of Grand Portage noted in his diary the arrival on July 3 of 35 great canoes, each of which carried 3 to 5 tons of goods from Mackinac. With the decline of the fur trade on the lakes, most of the furs were routed by way of Hudson Bay or the Mississippi, and there was little lake traffic. By 1840, however, there were enough prospectors, traders, and settlers in the region to make shipping again profitable, even though the boats had to be moved on sledges over the portage at Sault Ste. Marie. In 1855 the Michigan locks were finally completed and it was then possible for boats of fair size to pass into Lake Superior from the other Great Lakes.
The next 75 years brought into being a tremendous fleet of vessels of all sizes to carry eastward Minnesota's wheat and flour and her raw iron from the ranges. Duluth in that period was one of the leading freight ports of the world. In 1929, the peak year in Lake Superior's shipping history, the total volume handled at the Duluth-Superior harbor was 138,574,441 net tons, of which 50 percent was iron ore, 28 percent coal, 12 percent limestone, 7 percent grain, and the remaining 3 percent a miscellany of lumber, fish, dairy products, etc.
In 1935 the number of vessels that entered and departed from the Duluth-Superior harbor was 11,050. The average navigation season is only 8 months, and the period is governed more by local weather conditions than by the amount of business.
The advent of steamboats in 1823 inaugurated the modern era in river transportation. The first steamer to navigate the rapids at Rock Island and plow up the river to Fort Snelling was the Virginia, a substantial vessel, 118 feet long, 22 feet wide. It reached the levee below the fort on May 10, 1823, amid the consternation and frantic excitement of the Indians. The Virginia's journey was followed by the gradual establishment of a regular steamboat traffic on the upper river. For several years, however, steamer arrivals remained novel and exciting events in that sparsely settled country. The opening of the area between the Mississippi and the St. Croix in 1837 led to a sudden influx of settlers, and in order to transport them steamboat service was forced into rapid expansion. Hundreds of boats were built for this traffic, many of them of elaborate design and substantial proportions. Lumbering started on the St. Croix that same year and soon the river was crowded with barges, rafts, and steamboats. Many of the captains, wary of the turbulent waters below St. Anthony Falls, refused to go farther north and only the offer of a reward could persuade them occasionally to continue to the St. Anthony Falls levees. Eventually several steamers ran between Minneapolis and Sauk Rapids.
Steamboat traffic continued to thrive in the early days of the railroads. Each summer, wealthy planters of the South, with their families and personal slaves, traveled up to Minnesota lakes in the palatial passenger packets. Downstream the produce and lumber of the new Territory were shipped. But as early as the close of the Civil War, public attention had been captured by the prospect of railroads, and for years to come they and their builders were to hold the spotlight on the transportation stage. The riverboat traffic, which reached its peak in 1880, had by 1910 dwindled to a negligible factor in transportation.
Agitation for railroads began in the early 1850's. The first land grant was asked of Congress in 1854 but, although authorized, it was later rescinded because of the resulting controversy between the rival railroads and Territorial interests. By 1857 the Territory had granted 27 charters, but when the land grant enactment was finally obtained from Washington only 4 roads actually benefited.
By 1854 the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad had reached the Mississippi, and when a few months later a line to Galena was completed, Chicago replaced St. Louis as the metropolis of the Northwest, and the flow of traffic began to change from north and south to east and west.
The Rock Island Railroad became an active promoter of the Minnesota Territory. In June 1854 the railroad management sponsored a "grand excursion" with Minnesota as its destination. Men of national prominence-- magnates, savants, historians, editors, and politicians--were invited to make the trip over the new railroad to the Mississippi. Former President Fillmore was in the party and gave it official approval. At Rock Island the excursionists boarded five large river steamers and sailed up the Mississippi to St. Paul, there to be received with open arms. Business was suspended and western hospitality reached new heights. Indeed the excursion received so much publicity that Congress began to regard with more prejudiced eyes the aspiring Territory at the head of the Mississippi.
The land Grant Act of 1857 gave to the prospective State alternate sections of public lands six miles in width on each side of five contemplated railroad routes, with the expectation that the sale of these lands would finance construction. But before a start could be made the panic of 1857 occurred. Land could not be sold and all the ambitious plans had to be abandoned.
Minnesota became a State the following year and the new State government was importuned immediately to clear up the railroad situation. It was not until the spring of 1862, however, that the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad connected St. Paul and its sister city of St. Anthony (now part of Minneapolis) with the first section of the system which eventually became the Great Northern. On July 2, 1862, the first train puffed into St. Anthony, drawn by a wood-burning locomotive named the William Crooks, still preserved by the Great Northern Railway Company in its St. Paul shops. This, the first locomotive in the Northwest, was brought to St. Paul by steamboat from La Cross, Wisconsin.
By 1865 there were 22 miles of railroad in the State, and with the close of the Civil War construction began in earnest. Settlers from the eastern States and from Europe were arriving in a great tide, and new areas of Minnesota were rapidly opened to receive them.
The Minnesota Central was completed from St. Paul to Austin in 1867 and soon thereafter, by a merger with the Milwaukee, provided Minnesota with its first through route to Chicago. The Lake Superior and Mississippi in 1870 connected St. Paul with the head of the lakes. The St. Paul and Pacific reached Anoka in 1864, and extended a line in 1871 to Breckenridge, thus giving the Twin Cities their first rail connection with the Red River Valley. The Chicago and St. Paul was opened from St. Paul to Winona in 1871, and by crossing the Mississippi provided another through route to Chicago.
Another road, the St. Paul and Sioux City, completed its line in 1872. In the succeeding 10 years a number of lines in southern Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska territory merged into a single system under the name of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railroad, now a part of the North Western system.
The Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad entered the field in 1870, and the next year certain of its stockholders organized the Minneapolis and Duluth. The latter road built a line from Minneapolis to White Bear, thus giving each of the Twin Cities a direct route to Duluth. The line was later sold to the Great Northern.
In 1870 work began on the project that for years stimulated the imaginations of many people, a railroad to the Pacific Coast by way of the northwest border States. In 1883 the Northern Pacific completed its road to the Pacific, thus establishing the Twin Cities as the gateway to that Northwest which embraced all the territory from the Mississippi to the West Coast.
The Soo Line, now the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, was encouraged by the Canadian Pacific to divert to its own lines a share of the traffic between the Twin Cities and the Atlantic seaboard. The line to Sault Ste. Marie was completed in 1887.
The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad entered the Twin Cities in the late 1880's by extending a branch up the east bank of the Mississippi from La Crosse. The Chicago and Great Western arrived in 1887, and in 1902 the Rock Island laid its own tracks from Albert Lea, where it had been connected with the Minneapolis and St. Louis.
During the early years of railroad promotion in Minnesota, a young Canadian, James J. Hill, had been employed as a shipping clerk on the St. Paul wharves. One version of his story has Hill leaving home at 18 and planning to sail for China or India. He postponed his trip to visit a friend at Fort Gary (near Winnipeg). On his arrival in St. Paul, he hoped to continue from the Twin Cities to Pembina in a Red River cart train. When he found it too late for the last trip of the year, he was forced to remain over until the following season. This incident helped to shape his career and the history of Minnesota, for as a result Hill made St. Paul his home for the remainder of his life.
On the docks Jim Hill held many jobs--warehouseman, steamer agent, shipping agent for the Canadian trappers and traders, coal dealer, railroad agent, steamer owner--and in a short time he became not only thoroughly grounded in the transportation business but enthusiastically alive to the potentialities of the country. In 1878 Hill gained control of the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad with his three partners, Norman Kittson, George Stephen, and Donald A. Smith. After Hill became president of the St. Paul and Pacific, he combined it in 1883 with various other railroad properties and formed a new road called the Great Northern. His principal extension of the Great Northern followed the route north of the Northern Pacific to Puget Sound, chosen by him for a western terminus.
The end of the World War saw the beginnings of a new cycle of transportation. Before the war the automobile was largely a rich man's luxury but after 1918 the ordinary citizen could buy cars for his pleasure and his business, and inevitably he became an advocate of good roads. In 1920 a State highway system of 6,700 miles was authorized. The first modern trunk highway outside the metropolitan area was the Is-mile stretch of concrete between Northfield and Faribault, built in 1921 and still in use.
Today there are more than 11,000 miles of trunk highways. More than half are either paved or bituminous-treated, and the remainder graveled. Of the 115,000 miles of secondary roads maintained by townships, counties, or with State aid, by far the most are graveled or otherwise surfaced. Although the State maintains jurisdiction over only a small part of Minnesota's 126,000 miles of roads, it extends technical advice to all governmental units engaged in road building.
The commissioner in charge of the highway department, under whom there are eight divisional engineers, is appointed by the Governor and is responsible to him alone. Revenue for the system is derived from motor vehicle registration taxes, a gasoline tax, and Federal aid. The Minnesota vehicle registration fee is the second lowest in the country, and of the four cent State gasoline tax, part goes to the highway department and the remainder to county roads.
In 1929 the Minnesota Highway Patrol, under the jurisdiction of the highway commission, was established by legislative action. Today the patrol consists of one hundred men whose training headquarters are at Fort Ripley. The patrol covers all main-traveled roads and is designed less for arrests of traffic violators than for the convenience and protection of motorists.
Since the adoption of the State Highway Act, transportation facilities within the State have been increased by the development of bus routes. Today busses have been the cause of the railroads' reducing materially their number of local trains linking the metropolitan area with suburban and rural sections.
Hibbing was the home of the founder of the present Nation-wide bus system. In 1914 Eric Wickman, a miner, forsook his diamond drill to start a jitney-bus service between Hibbing and the mine. He found one touring car and then two inadequate to handle the growing patronage. With his associates, Wickman thereupon supervised the construction of (2-passenger, side-seat busses in a Hibbing blacksmith shop. (At that time the only other busses manufactured in the United States were built by the Fifth Avenue Coach Lines of New York for its own use. ) Service was soon extended to Nashwauk, 15 miles away, and in 1916 with new capital and a larger staff, the Mesaba Transportation Company was organized. By 1918 the company was operating a fleet of 18 busses throughout northern Minnesota.
In 1922 Wickman, from his headquarters in Duluth, began buying and consolidating small bus lines, extending service from the head of the Lakes to the Twin Cities and other points. More rapid expansion followed in 1925 when the Great Northern Railroad purchased a controlling interest in Wickman's Northland Transportation Company. The company by then included both his Duluth and his original Hibbing operations. The Northland in turn became a part of the great Greyhound system.
The State railroad and warehouse commission report of 1936 lists 12 major bus companies operating as common carriers over the State highways. Transportation of livestock and package goods by truck has developed proportionately.
Two air-transport systems, both equipped for night flying, serve Minnesota and the Twin Cities with their principal terminals at the Wold-Chamberlain field, Minneapolis, and the Holman Municipal Airport, St. Paul. From the Twin Cities, air line routes radiate east to Chicago, south to Oklahoma, and west to the upper Pacific Coast.
Air mail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago dates back to Government experiments begun in 1920. Service was maintained for 9 months and then abandoned. In 1926 the late "Pop" Dickinson, octogenarian pilot, contracted to maintain an air mail service, but at the end of 3 months transferred his contract to the recently organized Northwest Airways Northwest Airways was the corporate predecessor of Northwest Airlines. The first passenger service was offered in 1926 by the Jefferson Transportation Company, which put a Ford trimotor into operation between the Twin Cities and Rochester. Universal Airlines, a Curtiss-Wright subsidiary, inaugurated service to Chicago the same year. Soon all these pioneer services merged with Northwest Airways, and the business interests of the Twin Cities joined to maintain the consolidated system. Service eventually was extended westward along a Government-maintained and lighted route, and in 1933 reached Seattle.
Most recent of transportation developments has been a revival of river traffic, stimulated by an Interstate Commerce Commission ruling in 1922 that deprived the Twin Cities of their favorable railroad rate position. The railroad freight rate structure of the Twin Cities had been built on the potentiality of river transportation. In the controversy known as the Indiana Rate Case, however, the commission held that water transportation must be actual and not potential. Minnesota business interests thus were forced to set about making competition "actual." In co-operation with lower river interests and with the assistance of the Federal Enabling Act, the Federal Barge Lines were organized and service begun in 1927. The lines are operated by the Inland Waterways Corporation under the administration of the War Department. By 1935 they were handling a considerable tonnage in and out of the Twin Cities. A program of dam construction now under way is designed to provide a 9-foot channel and obviate past difficulties caused by low water levels.