Railroad Collections at the Minnesota Historical Society


[ Sounds of a Railroad Steam Engine ]
I’m Hampton Smith and I’m Matt Anderson. [ Hampton Smith ] Today we’re in the
Minnehaha Depot in Minneapolis. [ Matt Anderson ] Minnesota has a
rich railroad history. In addition to shipping its own agricultural,
mineral and manufactured products, the state was a rail gateway
to the Pacific Northwest. [ Hampton Smith ] Yes, the Great
Northern, the Northern Pacific, and the Soo Line all maintained their
headquarters here; in addition there were many trunk lines, regional lines,
and short lines that operated in the state. These are all well documented
in the Society’s collections. [ Matt Anderson ] Most prominent
among the three-dimensional artifacts is the “William Crooks.” The “Crooks”
was the first locomotive to operate in Minnesota when it made its
inaugural ten-mile run between St. Paul and St. Anthony in 1862.
Today, the �Crooks,� together with an early baggage car and coach,
is on display at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth. Smaller
artifacts represent both the worker’s and the passenger’s experience on the
railroad. This Soo Line flagman’s kit dates to the mid 1960s. In the event
of an emergency, the kit’s flares and, of course, flag provided the flagman
with visual warning signals signaling the following train to stop to avoid
a collision. This padlock, stamped with a patent date of 1936 and the initials
of the Chicago, St. Paul, Milwaukee and Pacific, was used to a secure
track switch,to prevent vandals from tampering with it and possibly causing
a derailment. The lantern, like this early 20th Century example issued by
the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, might be the railroader’s most iconic
tool. Its purpose isn’t so much to see, but to be seen. The lantern improves
the nighttime visibility of hand signals used to communicate train movements
between a crew member and the engineer, for example, when coupling or uncoupling
cars. When hand signals are impossible, crews communicate with walkie-talkies,
like this 1970s example used on the Soo Line. Few jobs were as desirable as that of
conductor on a premier passenger train. Not only was it prestigious, it came with a regular schedule, something particularly
prized among employees used to being called to work at all hours. This uniform,
dating to the middle of the 20th Century, belonged to a conductor on the Chicago,
St. Paul, Milwaukee and Pacific. Perhaps he wore it on one of the
Milwaukee Road’s famed Hiawatha trains between Chicago and the Twin Cities.
Many railroads were acclaimed for the quality of their dining service.
This graceful plate, with flowers and a peacock at center, was used aboard
the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha trains in the 1930s. This elegant mustard pot
also has a Milwaukee Road lineage, as evidenced by its engraved initials.
This box of Soo Line coasters dates to 1958. The Northern Pacific’s dining cars
were best known for their oversized baked potatoes, as proudly advertised on this
spoon. Railroads often promoted their proximity to National Parks to entice
vacationers. The Northern Pacific dubbed itself the “Yellowstone Park Line” in this
employee’s badge, while the Great Northern tied itself to Glacier National Park
in this decal. This piece of the past may, in fact, be prologue. The sign was used
on the Milwaukee Road’s main line between the Twin Cities and Chicago,
the very same track currently under study for high-speed passenger
service in the coming years. [ Hampton Smith ] In addition to 3D objects
the Minnesota Historical Society has impressive holdings of records from the
major railroads headquartered in the state. The Great Northern and Northern Pacific
were primary lines connecting the Upper Midwest and through it the rest of
the nation, to the Pacific Northwest. The lines also tapped the great
agricultural, mining and timber resources of the Dakotas, Montana,
Idaho, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. The society’s railroad records
encompass a vast variety of items including Timetables, detailed maps,
drawings of equipment, building plans, personnel records, thousands of
photographs promoting the railroads, and of course, records documenting
the operation of these vast business enterprises that became the model
for the modern corporation. Complementing these records
are the personal letters, diaries and financial papers of James J. Hill,
founder of the Great Northern, and the papers of his son Louis Hill who
followed him as president of the GN. The personal lives of these men were very
much intertwined with their business interest and their private papers include
much detailed information on the railroads. [ Matt Anderson ] Minnesota’s railroads
brought new residents into the state, and shipped its products out
to the rest of the country. [ Hampton Smith ] Those important
contributions are preserved and presented in the collections of the
Minnesota Historical Society.

5 Replies to “Railroad Collections at the Minnesota Historical Society”

  1. Ihink you meant it was a uniform from The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific. That cap was from the early '70s by the way.

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