Listen: A Minnesota Century - News 100 Years Ago

To close out the millennium, Minnesota Public Radio's All Things Considered presents a look back at Minnesota life in 1900 via a 12-part series, entitled “A Minnesota Century.” This segment, a look back at what was the news at the turn of the last century.

Before radio, TV and the Internet, people got their news from the daily papers. Breaking stories clattered across the wires to newspaper offices around the country. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, two pennies bought you one of four daily papers. What stories made the Twin Cities papers 100 years ago this month? Grab your slippers, find a comfortable chair and your favorite coffee mug for our final edition of the Minnesota Century series.

[Audio contains offensive language]

This is the twelfth of twelve reports.

Click links below for other reports in series:

part 1:

part 2:

part 3:

part 4:

part 5:

part 6:

part 7:

part 8:

part 9:

part 10:

part 11:


2000 The Gracie Allen Award, Radio - Outstanding News Story/Series category


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LORNA BENSON: It's All Things Considered on Minnesota Public Radio. I'm Lorna Benson. Long before radio, TV, and the internet, people got their news from the daily papers. Breaking stories clattered across the wires to newspaper offices around the country. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, two pennies bought you one of four daily papers. What stories made the Twin Cities papers 100 years ago this month? Grab your slippers, find a comfortable chair, and your favorite coffee mug for our final edition of the Minnesota Century series.


News of the Anglo-Boer War dominated headlines of the local papers in December of 1899. The war broke out on October 11 of that year, after the Dutch farmers who occupied two independent republics within South Africa refused to allow the British to mine the region's newfound wealth in gold.

SPEAKER 1: December 27, Minneapolis Tribune. War situation in South Africa at a glance. British troops are now halted in their northward march in South Africa by overwhelming hordes of Boers, and apparently must await large reinforcements before they can again take the aggressive. In the east, General Butler has fallen back from the Tugela River and is no more than 20 miles from his objective point of Ladysmith, having made practically no progress.

LORNA BENSON: The war lasted another two and a half years, but the British, who outnumbered the Dutch more than five to one, eventually overtook Boer troops. The Treaty of Pretoria in May 1902 transferred both Boer republics to British rule.

In the United States, the last decade of the 19th century brought a tide of new immigrants. More than 4 million arrived in America, often encountering a deep intolerance. Hostility toward African-Americans escalated as Jim Crow and lynch mob terror pervaded the South. The newspapers chronicled their experiences, although not always sympathetically.

SPEAKER 2: The Minneapolis Journal. Barbarous. Maysville, Kentucky. Dick Coleman, the Negro murderer of Mrs. Lashbrook, was taken from the jail by a mob of 1,000 men and burned at the stake. The mob, led by the husband of the Negro's victim, dragged the shrieking criminal through the principal streets of the town, bound him to a small tree, set fire to brush heaped about him, and stood guard until he was dead. The rope had torn and terribly lacerated his neck, and his face was beaten up. His death was slow, and writhing in terrible agony, he was hooted and glared at by the thousands of people standing on the edge of the pit.

SPEAKER 3: The Pioneer Press. Undesirable immigrants. The Treasury Department is disturbed by the constant inflow to the country of undesirable immigrants. During the past two months, more than 600,000 immigrants arrived in the country, and the greater percentage has come from the Slavonic countries of Southern Europe.

SPEAKER 4: The Minneapolis Journal. Cut his whiskers. When Mr. Stein landed at the barge office from Europe, he had one of the longest and thickest beards that had ever passed through the Sandy Hook immigration office. A customs house man searched the beard for smuggled property, and then passed it along to health authorities.

Mr. Stein was led off to the Long Island College Hospital, where authorities said, "Take off his whiskers and shave his head, then give him a bath." Said Mr. Stein, "Free? This country is not free. Even in my own land, they would not have done this to me. If there is justice in America, I will get it, but I fear there is none."

LORNA BENSON: One of the things that hasn't changed much in the past 100 years is the amount of space newspapers devote to advertisements. Usually they fade into the background. But occasionally, an entertaining slogan gives you a chuckle or offers some sound advice.


SPEAKER 5: Don't step on a rat to kill him. When you want to rid your home of all kinds of household vermin, why not do it in the easiest, surest, cleanest, and cheapest way-- by using Stern's Electric Bug and Roach Paste. Rats eat the paste, which consumes them and dries up all of the rat but the skin and bones, so there's nothing left to smell.


SPEAKER 6: What an awful strain on the nerves continued menstrual suffering is. Now the awful enervating drains of the falling of the womb, and the acute pains in the head, back, and lower limbs have been completely banished by Wine of Cardui. Thousands of women are suffering. They are silent sufferers, heroines in the cause of modesty. To try Wine of Cardui is to be cured by it.

LORNA BENSON: Local news was filled with stories about industrial growth, petty crime, and fashion. Many papers included a society page recounting the previous day's most important social engagements. One December edition of the Pioneer Press includes an article about an informal yuletide dancing party that gives a detailed account of how the rooms were decorated. But the news was serious too. On December 27, the St. Paul Dispatch recounted an effort to clean up the city's police department.

SPEAKER 7: St. Paul Dispatch. Nice kettle of fish. Detective Meyer was before St. Paul Mayor Kiefer today for alleged intoxication and conduct unbecoming a member of the police department. Meyer has been a member of the force but a few days, having been chosen by the mayor as a man on whom he could depend to assist him in purifying the department. The detective retaliated, accusing three well-known members of the police department with falsehood and conspiracy.

SPEAKER 8: The Minneapolis Tribune. He lost three turkeys. There was not a happier man in Minneapolis than Edward Berry last week. His wife had asked for one turkey for Christmas dinner, and he had bought one. But going to his home on the East Side, he saw an alluring light and a crowd of men making merry and indulging in the pernicious turkey raffle. He wandered in.

By the time Mr. Berry was wandering homeward, three long turkey necks were dragging behind him on the dusty sidewalk. Charmed with his success and happy with jovial companions, he consented to go in and have one small drink to celebrate success. And that was the reason he had no turkey for dinner Christmas Day. He laid down his turkeys on a table, had his drink, and when he turned around his turkeys were gone.

LORNA BENSON: Weather reporting at the turn of the century focused mainly on what had happened, instead of predicting what was ahead.

SPEAKER 9: The atmosphere in the vicinity of Minneapolis at the present is of the invigorating kind. The city yesterday for the first time this season saw the thermometer go below the zero mark, but the mercury fell but one degree below. In the morning, the weather was cloudy. And in the afternoon, the sun appeared for a time.

LORNA BENSON: Despite some objections, most of the world will be celebrating the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the third millennium this New Year's Eve. But 100 years ago, local newspapers held off the festivities one more year until a true mathematical century had passed. To clear up any confusion, the Minneapolis Journal offered this explanation.

SPEAKER 10: This does settle it. What is a century? 100 things of the same kind, for example, 100 years. Does it take 100 full years to make a century? It certainly does. Can one century begin before another century ends? Not without lapping, and that's against the rules of the game. Will this century, the 19th century, go right to the last second of 1900 before it's rounded out its full 100 years? Of course it will. But what about the Pope saying the 20th century would begin just after midnight January 1, 1900? The Pope didn't say it. He merely stated, the year 1900 would usher in the 20th century.


LORNA BENSON: That's the news for the month of December 1899. These few reports are, of course, just a small sample of what Minnesotans were reading 100 years ago. If you'd like to learn more, all four turn-of-the-century Twin Cities dailies are archived on microfilm at the Minnesota History Center. To see some of the articles we used, plus the advertisements and graphics, visit our website at You'll also find scripts, audio, and pictures for all 12 pieces in our Minnesota Century series.

Our story on what made the news in 1899 was produced by Annie Feidt and Dan Gorenstein, with help from Sasha Aslanian. Thanks to Ian Ferguson, Mike Edgerly, Bill Buzenberg, Steven Smith, Kate Smith, Stephanie Curtis, John Rabe, Tom Keith, and Mark Seeley for their voice work. I'm Lorna Benson.

The Minnesota Century Project on MPR is supported by Sarah Kinney Professional Real Estate Services, matching people with property for 21 years. Coldwell Banker Burnet, Crocus Hill office.


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