Evening commuters on Interstate 94 through Maplewood have for years been able to catch a glimpse of the 3M Co. headquarters for a little holiday cheer. Sixty years, to be exact.
Since 1962, workers in 68 offices and conference rooms of 3M's Building 220 have been told to leave the lights on and the shades open to create what has become an east metro icon. The 15-story display in the shape of a Christmas tree has been hard to miss.
Not that anyone would want to.
"We hear from 3Mers and families who have fond memories of the light display and look forward to seeing it each year during the holiday season," said Tim Post, a 3M spokesperson.
Back in that first year, right after 3M had moved to its new Maplewood campus after years at its complex on the East Side of St. Paul, somebody got the idea to use the 15-story main building and its top-to-bottom windows as a holiday message board. The illuminated offices at the front of the building spelled "Noel," with the lights coming through the building's side windows making trees, Post said.
By the next year, the tree was front and center — and has been ever since. The switches for this year's tree were first flicked on Nov. 23 and will be lit every night at 6 p.m. through Jan. 2.
While 3M's tree needs no watering, it does require some maintenance. Post said officials send a message to the people who work in those offices so that they know they're a part of the "tree."
"We post signs in each of the offices and conference rooms that alert 3Mers that they're in an office that either has lights on and curtains open at night or lights off and curtains pulled," Post said. "Our facility team routinely views it from a distance to make sure the tree is fully lit."
The building's message-making hasn't been limited to Yuletide. In 1964, the 3M logo and the word "VOTE" lit up the building. In 1965, when the Minnesota Twins played in their first World Series, and in 1987, when they won it, the lights were left on to support the team.
And in 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the building supported frontline workers by displaying a giant heart.
In case you were wondering if 3M is burning up its profits by leaving the lights on day and night, Post said officials are committed to reducing energy consumption. While the tree means some lights stay on longer than usual, the company conducts "light sweeps" to turn off other campus lighting in the late afternoon and evening.
Since February 2019, 3M's Maplewood headquarters has used 100% renewable electricity, Post said.