Sioux natives, city founded
was among the 121 Sioux
leaders, who from 1837 to 1851, ceded the land where Minneapolis developed.
Descendants of first peoples, Dakota Sioux were the region's sole residents when French explorers arrived in 1680. For a time, amicable relations were based on fur trading. Gradually, more European-American settlers arrived, competing for game and other resources with the Native Americans. After the Revolutionary War, Great Britain granted the land east of the Mississippi to the United States. In the early 19th century, the United States acquired land to the west from France in the Louisiana Purchase. Fort Snelling, just south of present-day Minneapolis, was built in 1819 by the United States Army. It attracted traders, settlers and merchants, spurring growth in the area. The United States government pressed the Mdewakanton band of the Dakota to sell their land, allowing people arriving from the East to settle there. Preoccupied with the Civil War, the United States government reneged on its promises of cash payments to the Dakota, resulting in hunger, the Dakota War of 1862, internment and hardship. The Minnesota Territorial Legislature authorized Minneapolis as a town in 1856, on the Mississippi's west bank. Minneapolis incorporated as a city in 1867, the year rail service began between Minneapolis and Chicago. It later joined with the east-bank city of St. Anthony in 1872.
Waterpower; lumber and flour milling
Minneapolis developed around Saint Anthony Falls, the highest waterfall on the Mississippi River and a source of power for its early industry. Forests in northern Minnesota were a valuable resource for the lumber industry, which operated seventeen sawmills on power from the waterfall.
By 1871, the west river bank had twenty-three businesses, including flour mills, woolen mills, iron works, a railroad machine shop, and mills for cotton, paper, sashes, and planing wood. Due to the occupational hazards of milling, six local sources of artificial limbs were competing in the prosthetics business by the 1890s. The farmers of the Great Plains grew grain that was shipped by rail to the city's 34 flour mills. Millers have used hydropower elsewhere since the 1st century B.C., but the results in Minneapolis between 1880 and 1930 were so remarkable the city has been described as "the greatest direct-drive waterpower center the world has ever seen."
A father of modern milling in America and founder of what became General Mills, Cadwallader C. Washburn converted his business from gristmills to truly revolutionary technology, including "gradual reduction" processing by steel and porcelain roller mills capable of producing premium-quality pure white flour very quickly. Some ideas were developed by William Dixon Gray and some acquired through industrial espionage from Hungary by William de la Barre. Charles A. Pillsbury and the C.A. Pillsbury Company across the river were barely a step behind, hiring Washburn employees to immediately use the new methods. The hard red spring wheat that grows in Minnesota became valuable ($0.50 profit per barrel in 1871 increased to $4.50 in 1874), and Minnesota "patent" flour was recognized at the time as the best in the world.
Not until later did consumers discover the value in the bran (which contains wheat's vitamins, minerals and fiber) that "...Minneapolis flour millers routinely dumped" into the Mississippi. After 1883, a Minneapolis miller virtually started a new industry when he began to sell bran byproduct as animal feed. Millers cultivated relationships with academic scientists, especially at the University of Minnesota. Those scientists backed them politically on many issues, such as in the early 20th century when health advocates in the nascent field of nutrition criticized the flour "bleaching" process. At peak production, a single mill at Washburn-Crosby made enough flour for 12 million loaves of bread each day; by 1900, 14.1 percent of America's grain was milled in Minneapolis. Further, by 1895, through the efforts of silent partner William Hood Dunwoody, Washburn-Crosby exported four million barrels of flour a year to the United Kingdom. When exports reached their peak in 1900, about one third of all flour milled in Minneapolis was shipped overseas.
Known initially as a kindly physician, Doc Ames led the city into corruption during four terms as mayor just before 1900. The gangster Kid Cann was famous for bribery and intimidation during the 1930s and 1940s. The city made dramatic changes to rectify discrimination as early as 1886 when Martha Ripley founded Maternity Hospital for both married and unmarried mothers.
Different forms of bigotry played roles during the first half of the 20th century. In 1910, a Minneapolis developer started writing restrictive covenants based on race and ethnicity into his deeds. Copied by other developers, the practice prevented minorities from owning or leasing such properties. Though such language was prohibited by state law in 1953 and by the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, restrictive covenants against minorities remained in many Minneapolis deeds as recently as 2017. The Ku Klux Klan succeeded by entering family life, but effectively was a force in the city only from 1921 until 1923. After Minnesota passed a eugenics law in 1925, the proprietors of Eitel Hospital sterilized about one thousand people at a Faribault state hospital.
From the end of World War I until 1950, Minneapolis was a "particularly virulent" site of anti-semitism. A hate group known as the Silver Legion of America recruited members in the city and held meetings around 1936 to 1938. Answering bigotry against Jewish doctors, Mount Sinai Hospital opened in 1948 as the first hospital in the community to accept members of minority races and religions on its medical staff.
When the country's fortunes turned during the Great Depression, the violent Teamsters Strike of 1934 resulted in laws acknowledging workers' rights. A lifelong civil rights activist and union supporter, mayor Hubert Humphrey helped the city establish fair employment practices and a human relations council that interceded on behalf of minorities by 1946. In the 1950s, about 1.6% of the population of Minneapolis was nonwhite. Minneapolis contended with white supremacy, participated in desegregation and the civil rights movement, and in 1968 was the birthplace of the American Indian Movement.
During the 1950s and 1960s, as part of urban renewal, the city razed about 200 buildings across 25 city blocks (roughly 40% of downtown), destroying the Gateway District and many buildings with notable architecture, including the Metropolitan Building. Efforts to save the building failed but are credited with sparking interest in historic preservation in the state.