Minneapolis city directories from 1859 to 1917 are now online, thanks to the Hennepin County Library and a donation from the city's Professional Librarians Union. The address: http://box2.nmtvault.com/Hennepin2.
It's a powerful research tool and a great way to kill an hour or two. You can search or browse the database to track down famous residents of years past. I found listings for George D. Dayton, the department store founder; Theodore Wirth, the pioneering parks superintendent; and Ada L. Comstock, the University of Minnesota's first dean of women. Lillian M. Knott, the “penniless prima donna” who later taught at the Northwestern Conservatory of Music, turns up in the 1917 directory. You can look up your great-grandfather Gustav or your great-aunt Mabel or the family that lived in your house a century ago. Occupations, addresses and, in later years, phone numbers are listed for each resident. Dayton is listed as president, Dayton Dry Goods Company, residing at 2020 Blaisdell, telephone “T-S 4906.”
Many of the job titles are familiar: teacher, plumber, laborer, physician, reporter. Other titles are far less common or unknown more than a century later: maltster, milliner, horseshoer, smutter, cupola tender.
The directories are packed with ads. Here's one I stumbled across in the 1906 directory. While researching the business, the Northwestern Scavenger Company, I discovered that a blogger who works for the county library posted this very image in 2011. What are the odds? I hate duplication, but I've already spent 10 minutes reassembling multiple screen grabs in Photoshop, so here goes:
More from Yesterday's News
A century ago, the Minneapolis post office hand-sorted a half-million letters a day. More than 2,000 arrived with mangled or incomplete addresses. Here's how patient specialists dealt with letters that "would baffle an expert in hieroglyphics."
On a friendly wager, a Minneapolis man set a blistering pace in the vertical portion of an unusual duathlon: an 8-mile run followed by a 75-foot chimney climb.
How many children does it take to move an old, decrepit house six miles? The answer, Minneapolitans learned back in 1896, was about 10,000.
In a United Press story published in the Minneapolis Tribune, a Yale man who probably managed to avoid frat houses during his undergrad years demonstrates that you can be right about all the facts and still come to the wrong conclusion.
This Minneapolis Tribune story is a mess. But the headline is sublime.