Brief History of Minneapolis

The Minneapolis skyline seen from the Prospect Park Water Tower in July 2014

Minneapolis is a major American city located in Minnesota on the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers.

The land that became Minneapolis was first explored in the late 1600s by French missionaries. A band of Dakota known as the Mdwekanton inhabited the chain of lakes, and they eventually agreed to sell the land to Europeans in a series of treaties. Later, Minnesota itself ended up part of the Louisiana Purchase, giving the United States control over the area.

Establishment on the Mississippi River

In 1805, Zebulon Pike purchased the land from the Mdwekanton for $200 and 60 gallons of liquor. A future payment was approved by the U.S. Senate for an additional $2000. The U.S. sent military expeditions to establish a fort for further expansion into its new western territory.

Minneapolis, Minnesota had its start from the establishment of Fort Snelling, a major military installation built in 1819 where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet. The site of the base was near Saint Anthony Falls, the Mississippi’s largest waterfall.

Expansion of Minneapolis

During the early 1800s, the area became settled on either side of the falls. The east became Saint Anthony, while the west was dubbed Minneapolis. In 1872, after the state was founded, the two towns merged into a single city. Some of the first businesses to be established was the sawmill industry, but the city began to really boom with the rise of a number of flour mills. This development came in conjunction with the influx of major railroad lines and banks. Soon, the Minneapolis Grain Exchange was established as a way for the companies to trade in valuable securities. Minneapolis was nicknamed “Mill City.”

Growth of Minneapolis

By the end of the century, Minneapolis became a major hub of finance and culture for the upper Midwest. Churches like the Basilica of Saint Mary, a number of art institutes and an elaborate park system along the chain of lakes all gave the city its characteristics. This growth was facilitated to an even greater extent with the establishment of the University of Minnesota, a major public college with a very large campus.

While the turn-of-the-century saw the disappearance of much of the sawmill and flour mill industries, the two largest milling companies, General Mills and Pillsbury, merged and created one of the nation’s largest flour and baking companies.

Modern Developments of the Mill City

The riverfront was redeveloped during the mid-1900s, giving prominence to the downtown area. Cultural milestones such as the Mill City Museum and the Guthrie Theater helped provide bookends to the new parks districts. This was followed by the establishment of a series of navigable locks in the 1960s. These installations opened the area north of Minneapolis to tourism via boats and further shipments up the Mississippi.


  1. Minneapolis Public Library (2001). “A History of Minneapolis”.
  2. Pennefeather, Shannon M. (2003). Mill City: A Visual History of the Minneapolis Mill District. St. Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society
  3. Aby, Anne J. (2002). The North Star State: A Minnesota History Reader. Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 0873514440