Flashback Friday: First Minneapolis Public Library opens 140 years ago this week

The Minneapolis Public Library in 1889. Photo: Hennepin County Library
The Minneapolis Public Library in 1889.

Updated: December 20, 2019 03:27 PM

After it was originally founded in 1885, on Dec. 16, 1889, the Minneapolis Public Library opened its doors to the public on 10th Street and Hennepin Avenue.

According to the Minnesota Historical Society, under an agreement with the Minneapolis Athenaeum (a private library), the public library board provided a building and staff to lend the Athenaeum's books. Citizens of Minneapolis now could have these books readily available for their use. 


Herbert Putnam was named the librarian, and was the eighth Librarian of Congress from 1899 to 1939. Putnam implemented his vision of a universal collection with strengths in many languages, according to historical documents. The Library of Congress' website states Putnam was the Librarian of the Minneapolis Athenaeum from 1884 to 1887, then the Minneapolis Public Library from 1887 to 1891. After he went to the Boston Public Library from 1895 to 1899, he became the Librarian of Congress in 1899. Putnam is noted as a "leading figure of the American library movement," according to the government website. 

On opening night, the building opened around 4 p.m. with the Danz Orchestra playing throughout its premiere, according to Star Tribune archives.

The photo above is courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society.

The building in total cost $304,043. Citizens were pleased with the project from the start.

"From the very first there has not been a single complaint as to the amount expended either for the building or the books," according to a column from Dec. 17, 1889 in the Minneapolis Tribune. "The public has thus far taken a deep and abiding interest in the library, and it goes without saying that this interest will continue."

The library opened with around 30,000 books on the shelves. The library was small in size, but contained "a great deal of expensive reference material in the way of long sets of serials, publications of learned scribes, illustrated works on natural science, etc.," according to historical archives. 

More from KSTP:

Flashback Friday: Nicollet Mall opens to the public 52 years ago this week

Flashback Friday: 90 years ago, the Foshay Tower was formally dedicated in Minneapolis

The library was open until 1961, when a larger and more modern building was constructed on the current location. The reason for the tearing-down of the older building was due to the library's needs not being met as it was consistently overcrowded due to the smaller space. 

The library was once again shifted to a newer, more modern building in 2006. The newer library was constructed on the same site as the one built in 1961 and designed by César Pelli. It currently stands at 300 Nicollet Mall. In 2008, after some financial difficulties, it was merged into the Hennepin County Library system. 

The Hennepin County Library system is the 10th-largest public library in the country by total collection, with a total of 4,895,312 publications. 

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Tommy Wiita

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