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The Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Building

Article by Michael Rainville, Jr.

Long before the Minneapolis Convention Center started hosting events, such as the American Legion’s 100th Anniversary convention, the Industrial Exposition Building was home to many events and fairs. Sitting on the east side of the Mississippi River, the building towered over the riverfront and added to the already impressive sights of St. Anthony Falls and the Stone Arch Bridge. While it may not be there today, it served as an important event center for the city for many decades.

1910 photo of the building through an arch of the Stone Arch Bridge. 

Planning for the Exposition Building started in 1885 to counteract an announcement made that same year by the Minnesota State Fair to call St. Paul their permanent home. Prominent Minneapolitans were upset with the decision, so they quickly came together and agreed to dedicate an impressive structure to host industrial expositions to compete with the yearly agricultural exposition held in the next city over. After passing on many architects, such as Leroy Buffington, who designed the Pillsbury A Mill and the second iteration of the State Capitol Building, the local firm of Isaac Hodgson & Son won the bid.

Photo of the celebration when the laid the cornerstone in 1886.

After acquiring land on 101 Central Avenue SE and considering the construction cost, the total amount it took to complete the building was roughly half a million dollars in 1886, or $13,400,000 in 2018. However, the 5.5-acre plot was donated by the city, and the $250,000 needed for construction was raised by the citizens of Minneapolis. Once the building would open, it would be free of debt. On April 29th, a ceremony was held to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone, and it was attended by over 5,000 people. Only taking three months to construct, the cream-colored brick and Mankato limestone building officially opened on August 3rd, 1886. The majority of the building consisted of a three-story hall that could be divided into smaller rooms, and the main feature of the building was an eight-story tower that was the tallest building in the city upon completion.

The building with the new 3rd Avenue bridge in the foreground, circa 1920's.

To celebrate this brand-new event center, they held their first exhibition on August 23rd. 50,000 people attended the first day of the exposition and saw guest speakers such as Archbishop John Ireland and Senator Cushman Kellogg Davis, who was also the state’s 7th governor. President Grover Cleveland and First Lady Frances Cleveland were also invited but could not make the event. Instead, he wrote a letter, which was read aloud to the many spectators.

“With many thanks for the kind message sent to us by the officers and directors of the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition, Mrs. Cleveland joins with me in tendering to them a hearty congratulations upon the auspicious inauguration of an exhibition which not only demonstrates the prosperity and progress of the great northwest, but also reflects credit upon a country whose greatest pride is the happiness and contentment of its people and their enjoyment of all the gifts of God. Mrs. Cleveland gladly complies with your request and will set in motion the machinery of the exposition. she now awaits your signal.”
— Grover Cleveland

Standing by in New York, Mrs. Frances Cleveland flipped a switch and all of the machinery at the exposition turned on much to the excitement of the crowd. Running through October 3rd, the forty-day exposition attracted over 500,000 people.

The next significant event at the Industrial Exposition Building was the 1892 Republican National Convention. The ballot consisted of President Benjamin Harrison, who eventually won the nomination, James Blaine, William McKinley, Thomas Reed, and Robert Todd Lincoln, the first son of Abraham Lincoln. Harrison lost the presidential election to Grover Cleveland who then became the first president to serve two non-concurrent terms. Not only was this an important convention for Minneapolis, is was very important for the entire country as it was the first national convention where women could be delegates and vote. (They couldn't vote in the presidential election, however.)

Depiction of the inside of the building when the RNC was there.

The Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Building could never draw big crowds like they once did, and in 1896, it was sold to Thomas Janney for only $25,000. The few events that were held there for the next seven years were concerts, and in 1903, it was sold once again to Marion Savage, owner of the famous race horse Dan Patch, who turned it into the International Stock Food Company. In 1940, it was sold once again to Coca-Cola and torn down to make way for a new bottling plant. However, they did keep the eight-story tower to honor the history of the previous building. While it served an important role in the development of the Mississippi riverfront and was an attractive space to hold many different events that saw many visitors come to the city for the first time, the Minneapolis Industrial Exposition Building could never really compete with the Minnesota State Fair and eventually was lost to history. You win this time, St. Paul.

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About Michael Rainville, Jr.

A 6th generation Minneapolitan, Michael Rainville Jr. received his B.A. in History from the University of St. Thomas, and is currently enrolled in their M.A. in Art History and Certificate in Museum Studies programs.

Michael is also a lead guide at Mobile Entertainment LLC, giving Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront for 5+ years.

He can be reached at

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