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The Continuing Saga of Their One-hundred and Fifty Year War



Twin Cities History




William B. Panknin


September 1997





How St. Paul Became the Capitol

Minneapolis Starts Asserting Itself

War on the Mississippi River

The Ford Plant

The Great Census War

The State Fair

The War that Never Ends



Introduction    Return to Index

If one goes out to the Mendota Bridge, one can get a fantastic view of both cities. Somehow they even look like twins. History shows us just like siblings they have continually fought over almost everything. This paper will not attempt to cover all of the cities’ rivalries, but it will tell the stories of a few that the author feels are important in showing how intense the rivalry has been, how silly the rivalry has seemed at times, and why some of these things might have been necessary for the survival of one city or the other, or both. This is the tale of two warring siblings. I mean the tale of two warring cities, Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

The competition, or rivalry, between Minneapolis and St. Paul started early. Since the very beginning they have competed over almost everything. They have traditionally created two of almost everything; two city governments, two police departments, two fire departments, two school systems, many newspapers (the movies of St. Paul and suburbs are not shown in the Minneapolis Paper to this day, and vice versa), two symphony orchestras, two separate park systems, two completely separate neighborhoods for the upper classes, two very distinct and separate cities. They have competed over river access, the location of the territorial capitol, moving the capitol, water power, the lumber industry, the milling industry, the stockyards, the airports, census figures, orchestras, the location of the state fair, the winter carnival and the Aquatennial, baseball stadiums, hockey teams, theaters, newspapers, buildings, and industrial and commercial concerns.

Nothing was sacred in these cities, everything was fair game. Sometimes when one city seemed to have something good, the other would try to move in on it. This happened with the stockyards, waterpower, the lumber industry and even the milling industry. When one city built big beautiful buildings the other had to build their own.

How St. Paul Became the Capitol

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The American government awarded St. Paul the honor of becoming the territorial capitol in 1849, holding with tradition at the time, the territorial capitol usually became the state capitol when the territory became a state. In the early years, St. Paul was bigger, stronger and more influential; acting more like a condescending big brother or mentor, which in turn made most people in Minneapolis and St. Anthony angry.

The creation of the new territorial capitol St. Paul was a combination of good fortune and real estate speculation. Henry Hastings Sibley single handedly sealed the fate of St. Paul by insisting on making it the territorial capitol. The village of Mendota was handpicked and very much supported by Senator Douglas. After considerable solicitation by Mr. Sibley, Senator Douglas conceded St. Paul to Mr. Sibley. Even then the deal was not finished; Mr. Sibley worked "day and night" lobbying for St. Paul with all of the members of the government he could influence.

Mr. Sibley had a substantial amount to gain with St. Paul being named the territorial capitol. He had purchased an entire tract of land adjacent to what was Saint Paul in 1848 when he was sent by the people, (most of whom who did not speak English) to purchase their land, well before he went to Washington as a territorial delegate from Wisconsin in 1849. Mr. Sibley changed his residence to St. Paul in June of 1849, and moved there with his family sometime between 1862 and 1866. Most historical records are not clear on this issue.

Folwell claims in his book A History of Minnesota, that Sibley was the epitome of virtue and integrity and lost millions by insisting that the capitol be moved to St. Paul, but one-hundred pages later, reports on the purchase of the tract of land that would make Sibley even wealthier. "In the previous year he (Sibley) had made a beginning toward the development of the city of St. Paul by purchasing a tract of land adjacent to the town plat. . . on November 3, 1849, the original plat and Irvine’s addition (which included the tract of land owned by Sibley) were incorporated as the ‘town of St. Paul’ by a special act of the legislature."

Mendota was turning into a frontier town complete with the bad influences that come with these types of new settlements. Bars, drunks, and crime were all a part of the everyday life there. Fur-traders would come in from the wild country, and Mendota was the place they blew off steam and relaxed. Mrs. Sibley was not a fan of Mendota, and did not want to have to remain there any longer than absolutely necessary.

If Mr. Sibley had not stuck to his stubborn wish of St. Paul as capitol, with the full knowledge that he stood to make a bundle, Minnesota could be much different today. Mendota or St. Peter might very well be the capitol, and as was the custom in those days when statehood came, the territorial capitol traditionally became the state capitol.

In 1869 the legislature passed a bill to remove the capitol twenty miles nearer to the geographical center of the state. The governor vetoed the bill and the legislature did not override the veto. Later, in 1890, a plot was hatched to move the capitol to St. Peter. During the debates an amendment was proposed to substitute Nicollet Island with St. Peter. The amendment was defeated 19 to 18. In 1895 Minneapolis led an abortive effort to remove the state capitol to Loring Park in Minneapolis. Legal difficulties in donating Loring Park deflected the campaign.

Building a major city quickly, St. Paul had most of the commercial and banking industry and for a time had control of the lumber industry. They raised new buildings often and claimed victory whenever they could, right or wrong, for everything. St. Paul, swollen with pride and position, rested on their climb to the top of Minnesota. They rested a little bit too long. In 1880, the new Minneapolis, now merged with St. Anthony, passed St. Paul in population. From that point on, the relationship changed considerably.

Minneapolis Starts Asserting Itself

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Minneapolis, the new king of the hill, acted as any abused sibling would; she lashed out at St. Paul to the extreme. St. Paul, with innocent eyes and surprise, wondered what they could have done to deserve such a fate. Complaining about the turn of events that made St. Paul the second city, the rhetoric was sometimes elegant, sometimes comical and sometimes painful.

In a magazine article from 1928 Ray Vaughn writes: "Out in the heart of Minnesota’s wheat fields, two sister cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis are playing a new version of the game. Not armed with swords and guns, but with the weird and deadly propaganda of the commercial associations, lusting for blood and glory. Twins we call them but one, the older by only a few years, long ago gave way to the modern young hussy who has lost St. Paul her place in big business. She has become the bedfellow of defeat, weary of the incessant babbling of Minneapolis boosters who have elbowed their way to the front ranks, shouting as they point to their glittering palaces of gilt and plush."

Later in the same article he writes, "in St. Paul the pitiful remnants of an old aristocracy go their unobtrusive, lifeless, genteel way. While in the sister city, the new rich the bourgeoisie out for a hell of a good time, glitter as they reveal themselves for what they typify-the pheasant elevated out of his class. The great horde of the unwashed, given a perfumed bath, diamond studs, a roll of bills, a motor car, and an empty head."

He goes on to say, "St. Paul has become the manic of her local journals. If anyone doubts let him pick up any three of the St. Paul daily publications, Pioneer Press, Daily News, or the Dispatch and count the number of times the Magic name appears on page one. Everything is St. Paul, a murder or seduction if committed here, becomes per se the best murder or seduction in the world . . . while St. Paul’s esteemed journals’ bawl out the name of their city, her sister publications the Journal, Tribune, and Daily Star shout out Minneapolis. Even though the activities of the two cities are somewhat interlocked, Minneapolis press constantly play down St. Paul news shouting only the portion that reflects to the glory of the ‘great Twin City area’."

That is not to say that St. Paul did not have its victories. In the earliest days, it had the capitol, it had the river trade, which was of first importance before the railroads, it had the fur trade, it had Indian business until the Winnebago and Sioux were expelled from the state in 1863. It was the headquarters of an Army District; it almost engrossed all of the trade of a great area, and was the center from which the railroads penetrated the hinterland.

She was, and remains today, the head of navigation on the Mississippi River, won the state fair, the Ford plant, acquired water power for both the trolley cars and for the Ford plant, repelled several attacks trying to move the state capitol, helped to keep the airport in the Twin Cities proper, built a large campus for the University of Minnesota in St. Paul, and most recently received a hockey franchise by the National Hockey League.

Minneapolis had the lions share of victory, however, with the University of Minnesota, the airport, industry, milling, buildings, baseball, football and basketball teams, name recognition, population, and riches. Over time, Minneapolis has replaced St. Paul in almost every measurable area of commerce. When pilots fly in to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, more often than not they say welcome to Minneapolis.

The cities have had their share of ties as well, railroads and train lines, the metropolitan airport, power for the trolley cars supplied by the power generated at the Falls of St. Anthony, the 1890 census in which both cities were found to have padded the numbers, and the metropolitan sewer district, which the entire country admired and stood as an example of cooperation.

War on the Mississippi River

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Initially, St. Paul was the natural head of navigation on the Mississippi River. The geography of the area around St. Paul was perfect for the port that was to come. The river was the only long distance form of transportation at the time. The area where they established Fort Snelling was the perfect place for a fort like this, right at the convergence of the Mississippi and the then St. Peter River. Just a few miles upriver from the fort were the St. Anthony Falls, the perfect place to supply waterpower to many people.

From the very beginning, people who settled at St. Anthony coveted the head of navigation title, being a great manufacturing center was not enough for them, and they also wanted to be a great center of trade.

As the head of practical river transportation, St. Paul developed into a commercial city, but that was not enough. The people at St. Paul coveted the natural waterpower at the falls. St. Paul had a hunger to which would be difficult to aspire. It wanted to be a great manufacturing and a trade center. St. Paul believed that it could reach this goal if it had possession of the waterpower at the Falls at St. Anthony.

Both groups tried to do everything that they could to claim the prize they wished they had. Interestingly, it was the falls that created the barrier between Minneapolis and unimpeded navigation of the river and made St. Paul the natural head of navigation. They have always been linked in this fashion; they have always known it, but don’t try to get citizens from either city to admit it.

For years the river traffic trickled to St. Anthony while hundreds of boats crowded the levee in St. Paul. Some thought that much of the problem was that the people in St. Paul, incessantly talking about the dangers of the rapids and boulders in the river, seemed to convince river boat captains that there was a greater danger than existed. The danger stories were considered so real that insurance companies levied an additional expense on boats going all the way to the falls. St. Anthony always believed that if they could secure the navigation rights to and through the falls, that St. Paul would "retrograde into a modest little village."

In the 1850s the people of St. Anthony raised money to remove obstructions left by the erosion of the falls and made the navigation of the river so dangerous. They also applied for federal help for river improvement below the falls. In 1857 several Minneapolis men, headed by Bradley B. Meeker, organized the Mississippi River Improvement and Manufacturing Company. The charter empowered the company to build a lock and dam and create waterpower.

There were terrible fights over land grant bills to build locks and dams to extend the navigability of the river to and beyond St. Anthony. On June 7, 1868, the Minneapolis Daily Tribune stated that, "the bill was of immense importance to the city of Minneapolis as it will make St. Anthony Falls in reality the head of navigation on the Mississippi, . . . it will also give us another water power just below the city limits nearly equal in volume to that of the falls proportionately increasing our manufacturing facilities. With our city the head of navigation on the Mississippi, and 75 percent added to her already magnificent resources in point of manufacturing capacity, and transfer the commercial prestige of this upper country from St. Paul. Who will longer dispute that Minneapolis is the real seat of destiny in the northwest?"

Mineapolitans were in for a surprise because in February of 1867, the Meeker Company had been sold to several men, among them Mr. Henry H. Sibley. St. Paulites owned the Mississippi River Improvement and Manufacturing Company. Over the next several years the St. Paul contingent was unable to get the project rolling. They tried but failed several times to win a land grant until 1869. They then persisted in trying to obtain extensions for certain time limitations for the completion of the work. The last straw for Minneapolis came when the company tried to secure another amendment removing from the original amendment the provision that no more than one parcel of land could be selected from any township.

To garner Minneapolis’s favor and support for the new amendment, Minneapolitans demanded controlling interest in the company and the owners from St. Paul acceded to the request. Minneapolis again controlled the company. The cities continued to fight and exchange words for thirteen years, but they built no dam. There was a last gasp effort to try to work together in 1890 when a combined contingent of St. Paul and Minneapolis businessmen tried to revive the Meeker Dam project, but it was all for nothing when the major investor, Henry Dillard, abandoned the plan.

This was the end of what has been known as the Meeker Dam project, but the rivalry did not end there. In 1911 the cities, with the University of Minnesota, incorporated the municipal electric company. The charter for the company did not enable it to issue bonds necessary to build a power plant. The greater St. Paul Committee directed its attention to obtaining the power for St. Paul and invited Henry Ford to build a plant in the city to use the power.

The federal government decided to step in and build two locks and dams. When the first, Minnehaha Dam, was completed, they changed plans and converted the Minnehaha Dam to one high dam to improve navigation on the Mississippi and abandoned the Meeker Dam site. The Minnehaha project was opened for navigation in 1917. This brought navigation on the Mississippi to the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis.

Through the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, Minneapolitans devoted considerable time and energy attempting to complete the original vision of navigation beyond Minneapolis and over the Falls of St. Anthony. They bombarded congress with many appropriation requests, had several false starts and stops, all the while exchanging furious barbs and insults with her sister city St. Paul. The cities now saw that it was in the best interests to work together to win the power rights from the government.

The final phase of the project to bring navigation beyond Minneapolis was finally completed in 1963 with the opening of the upper lock at the Falls of St. Anthony. An ironic twist to the story is that just three miles further upstream the river becomes too shallow for big boats to navigate. There never was a chance for Minneapolis to garner too much river business from the north, and in retrospect there does not seem to have been much chance for Minneapolis to become the head of navigation either since the falls, in combination with the perfect natural geographical landscape in St. Paul, made St. Paul the natural head of navigation and commerce on the Mississippi River.

The Ford Plant

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The cities sometimes decided to work together for the common good. The Twin Cities, along with the University of Minnesota, created the municipal electric company. St. Paul decided to try to garner the power from the high dam to entice Henry Ford to build an automotive plant on the east bank of the Mississippi River in St. Paul. Minneapolis balked at the idea, and only after months of argument agreed to the plan if St. Paul would pay one half the cost of a bridge over the Mississippi that would make the Ford plant accessible to everyone.

For some other reason, Minneapolis again balked at the prospect of St. Paul gaining such a lucrative business within its borders. Only when the federal government, tired of the bickering, was going to award the power to the Northern States Power Company, did Minneapolis decide that it would support St. Paul’s efforts. The Ford plant was built and still gets power for its operations from the high dam to this day.

The Great Census War

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In 1880, Minneapolis passed St. Paul in population for the first time. The Minneapolis Tribune announced that it expected the St. Paul newspapers to be seized with "gripes and conniptions." St. Paul was ready for the census. On July 17, 1890 a deputy Marshall appeared in Minneapolis from St. Paul and arrested seven enumerators and seized six bags of papers and took his prisoners to St. Paul to be arraigned before a United States court commissioner there. They were later released on five hundred dollars bond each.

Minneapolis, while saying that it believed no laws had been broken, wanted a fair and early trial for the enumerators and if any should be found guilty, should be punished. Minneapolis also stressed that all it asked was an honest count.

St. Paul went crazy. They called for the prosecution on the census frauds. They presented a petition to the United States district attorney signed by forty-nine of the cities most prominent and reputable citizens. Protest was made that apportionments from federal and state congresses be changed. The newspapers unmercifully denounced Minneapolis as a fraud and as a shame. When they went to Washington to present evidence to the superintendent of the census, Robert P. Porter, he said that he was receiving reports from his agents in the cities that fraud was coming out of both cities. The result was an order to recount both cities.

Minneapolis was found to have augmented families to enormous sizes by adding fictitious children and borders, existing houses had been filled beyond capacity with imaginary residents, houses had been invented by the hundreds, and employees had been counted at work and at their homes.

So far there was no evidence of a conspiracy in St. Paul, but there were enough suspicious things in their tabulations that the superintendent of the census believed that the residents of both cities would favor a recount to avoid the stigma of a padded census.

The people of Minneapolis had the sense to agree to this and prevent the publication of the shameful details of the events that had transpired in the padding of the census numbers. The Minneapolis paper started firing a few well placed shots at St. Paul with these headlines:

"The Mask of Hypocrisy Torn from the Malignant Face of St. Paul!"

"It Means War"

The good people of St. Paul had no desire to share in the disgrace of Minneapolis. They were so confident that their census had been taken properly. The Chamber of Commerce for St. Paul protested by resolution against the "unjust linking of the two municipalities in a common infamy." The Pioneer Press was relentless in its attacks with such quotes as:

"An abominable outrage of justice and dignity." Show indignation at having its census coupled with that of "a city which stand degraded and ashamed in the eyes of the nation."

"In the list with this jezebel whose dallying with this sin is the jest or scorn of a whole people."

"This forced marriage with a strumpet."

"Scheme to Swell the Population of the Flour City Knocked in the Head."

"Villainous plot to pad the Minneapolis census by more than 100,000 names."

After investigating St. Paul, a hearing was held. Some of the irregularities found and presented at the hearing were that of excessively large families. On Wabasha Street, 27 families were reported, 15 of them had more than 10 persons in the family. On St. Peter Street, out of 20 families, 6 were found with 10 persons each. On East Seventh, out of 28 houses, one contained 79 people, 2 had 20 each, and 17 had 10 each. On Jackson, a house that only had its foundation finished had 78 people reported to be living there. 325 houses were reported but not on the map. St. Paul protested vigorously stating that the maps were only for insurable buildings. But the other maps had corresponded exactly with the houses found.

More irregularities were found in St. Paul, 78 people living in the St. Paul Dispatch Building that had also been counted at home, 68 people in an adjoining book bindery, 14 families including 46 people in the Bank of Minnesota, 44 people in the Chamber of Commerce building people living in the Ryan Hotel, not including the 25 living in the barbershop, 275 later corrected to 225 living at the Union Depot, 102 in a factory, 120 people were discovered living in a small house, and 35 people living in a dime museum.

St. Paul, comically trying to beat the system, presented a seven thousand-word explanation of things that had been reported so far. While disclaiming fraud, it candidly admitted that there might be grounds to recount nine districts out of the thirty that had been examined. St. Paul still insisted that no fraud or suspicion of fraud had occurred. They had a victory of sorts when the superintendent ordered the recount of only thirty-four districts instead of the entire city.

The conclusion of the affair came when, after trial, one of the St. Paul enumerators was found not guilty, the court did not seem to want to further waste the taxpayer money and continued all other trials for two months. Finally, a plea bargain was struck where two of the enumerators would plead guilty; they would be fined and released and all of the other cases would be dismissed. Not having an alternative, the fine money was collected from Minneapolis businesses, paid, and the entire sordid affair brought to an end.

The final results of the recounts were a reduction in Minneapolis’ figures by (18,229) and a reduction of St. Paul’s figures by (9,425). St. Paul newspapers continued to blast Minneapolis, calling her such names as "Padville" and "Pad City" and the census superintendent was denounced as partisan of Minneapolis and as utterly incompetent. Although both cities were found to have substantial errors in the reporting, St. Paul by fighting vociferously, never had an official ruling of misconduct leveed against it. St. Paul never had anyone convicted of padding the numbers. In the eyes of St. Paul, she was vindicated while Minneapolis was branded forever as a fraud.

The State Fair

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Another episode in the rivalry between the cities was the State Fair. For many years it was a revolving affair being held at different sites each year. All of the sites hoped to become the permanent site of the fair. Rochester held the fair six times, Owatonna held the fair six times, and the Kittsondale racetrack in St. Paul held the fair four times. Minneapolis also had it’s share of hosting the state fair, but often held an independent industrial exposition sometimes when the fair was to be held in St. Paul and at the same time of year. In 1885 a committee was formed to examine permanent sites for the fair and accepted, with loud acclaim, the offer from Ramsey County to donate the poor farm as the new site. The poor farm became the permanent site of the Minnesota State Fair. The people of Minneapolis were so incensed by this St. Paul victory that they stayed away from the fair. The Pioneer Press reported that the other exposition, held in Minneapolis, was the "offspring of a jealous brain." The Minneapolis Tribune fought back saying that "Minneapolis would support the fair, she would never take part as exhibitors. . . not even if St. Paul, by some legerdemain, annexes Minneapolis to Ramsey County."

The War that Never Ends

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Most recently, St. Paul was completely involved trying first to attract an existing hockey team. Failing that, they decided to do what was necessary to gain the rights for an expansion hockey team. While St. Paul was courting the Hartford Whalers, they had to overcome a late offer from the Target Center in Minneapolis for the same team. While attempting to gain an expansion franchise they constantly had to look over their shoulder because the City of Minneapolis was suddenly interested in an expansion franchise.


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It is very difficult to be absolutely certain, but had St. Paul not fought, the history convinces me that we would live in a very different Twin Cities today. A very vanilla, generic, yuppie-filled world on the east side of the metro area instead of the history-filled, restored, proud tradition that we can live in today. St. Paul, which at times seemed juvenile in it’s battles, was always convinced that she was fighting for her very existence, and perhaps she was. Minneapolis always had designs on making St. Paul the eastern border of her great city. Today, we have the benefit of two very different metro areas, both with something to offer, and both in their own way endearing themselves to all of us who enjoy life. If St. Paul were part of Minneapolis, we would have lost a great deal of uniqueness. If Minneapolis were part of St. Paul, who would St. Paulites have to despise?

Parks, plays, music, culture, history, opportunity, and richness are some of the things we enjoy because the Twin Cities are what they are today. Although people complain that we are "going to Hell in a handbasket," it is nowhere near as bad as metropolitan areas of comparable size. I would use St. Louis as a comparable example. The Twin Cities is a pretty good place to live right now and we have these people who have fought the 150-year war to thank for it.

Copyright 1997 William B. Panknin



Kane Lucille, Rivalry for a River, Selections From Minnesota History,Minnesota historical Society, 1965, p 230-247.

Vaughn, Ray, Minneapolis vs. St. Paul. The Holy War Between The Twin Cities. Haldeman Julius Quarterly, 1928, Located in the Minnesota Historical Society Archives.

Williams Fletcher J. History of St. Paul to 1875, Minnesota historical society press, 1983, 1876


Additional information was obtained from the following publications.

1. Smith, Robert, Minneapolis - St. Paul: The Cities, Their People, American Geographic Publishing, Helena Montana, 1988.

2. Kane, Lucille M., The Waterfall That Built A City, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, 1966.

3. Minnesota in a Century of Change, The State and itsPpeople Since 1900, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, 1989.

4. Kunz, Virginia B., St. Paul, Saga of an American City, Windsor Publications, Woodland Hills Ca., 1977.

5. Brink, Carol, The Twin Cities, The Macmillian Co., New York, 1961.

6. Gilman, Rhonda R., Northern Lights, The Story of Minnesota’s Past, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul, 1989.

7. Blegen, Theodore C., Minnesota, History of the State, University of Minnesota Press, 1963.