History Center offers perfect exhibit to learn and celebrate 150 years of statehood


Make plans in 2008 to spend an afternoon – or better yet a day – at the MN150 exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. It is a visual and audio crib sheet of topics and people for anyone with a passing interest in Minnesota and what the state and its people have accomplished in 150 years of statehood.

The state is much more than the Spam, Scotch Tape, Cray Computers, wheat-based foods and implantable medical devices that became synonymous with Minnesota innovation over the years. It is much more than the thought-provoking and often sociologically important literature that has sprung forth from the state’s writers. And it certainly is far more than the careers and issues promoted by the state’s prominent political figures over time.

What comes through loud and clear is that Minnesota has long histories with entrepreneurship and progressive problem solving. They can be celebrated, but they can’t be taken for granted.

The third floor exhibit at the Minnesota History Center is built on nominations from the public. The center whittled down 2,700 suggestions to form a representative list of 150 items – people, places and topics – to salute the state’s 150 year history that is being marked this year.

“We could have had a ‘Minnesota 500’ list, or a ‘Minnesota 800’ list, easily,” said Jessica Kohen, a spokesperson for the history center. A team from the center then took the nominations, bunched the duplicates, and formed a sampling of Minnesota achievements and achievers “so we don’t just honor sports figures and politicians,” she said.

There are inventors and entrepreneurs such as Bradford Parkinson, chief architect of the global positioning system (GPS); Adolph Ronning, inventor of an ensilage harvester and other labor-saving devices for agriculture that were mostly sold and developed by International Harvester; and Walter H. Deubener, inventor of the two-handled paper shopping bags whose country estate would later become Camp Courage.

There are giants in business, like Elizabeth Quinlan whose management of the Young-Quinlan Co. in Minneapolis made her among the most celebrated women business leaders in the early 20th Century. And there are entrepreneurial public servants, such as Hamilton Harrison Judson, the Farmington postmaster who proved that rural free mail delivery was possible.

The exhibit pays appropriate homage to leaders such as Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, and to Governors Harold Stassen and Elmer L. Andersen. You will learn much studying their exhibits, but you will also leave the history center pondering questions for which there are no easy answers:

Are Minnesotans political followers or political enablers? Did Minnesotans shape the giant political personalities of the past century, or did we simply recognize their talents and let them lead?

The year for celebrating the state’s progressive history has arrived. The history center exhibit is in place, and other public events are planned for Saturday, Jan. 12,in Roseville and St. Paul, said Jane Leonard, executive director of the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission.

The Sesquicentennial Commission is still planning month events for around Minnesota, and is still raising money to support the year-long celebration and learning opportunity, Leonard said.

Information about Sesquicentennial events and ways to contribute can be found at www.mn150years.org and information about the MN150 exhibit at the Minnesota History Center can be found at www.mnhs.org.