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The History of Minnesota’s Iconic Twin Cities

The two biggest and busiest cities in Minnesota are Minneapolis and St. Paul, with the former boasting a population of over 425,000 people and the latter recording more than 307,000. You may better know them by their nickname, the Twin Cities. Considering their sizes and close connection, you may not be surprised to learn that they have a rich history.

Allow us to elaborate! Keep reading to learn more about Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Twin Cities.

A view of the Minneapolis skyline in early evening. Twin Cities.
The Minneapolis skyline.

The Founding of the Twin Cities

Despite their proximity to each other, Minneapolis and St. Paul were not always known as the Twin Cities. Their stories began separately but with similar origins, as they were each founded by European immigrants in the middle of the 19th century.

The City of Water

The native Dakota Sioux tribe had lived for thousands of years near what came to be known as St. Anthony Falls. When Fort Snelling was built in the 1820s, the falls were used to provide water for residents and power for the flour mill.

By 1855, there were enough settlers on the falls’ west side to establish the Minneapolis village. The name is partially derived from the Sioux word for water–minne. Add the Greek suffix polis, meaning “city,” and you get a word roughly translating to “city of water.”

The nearby town of St. Anthony was originally regarded as Minneapolis’ “twin.” However, as the city grew, it absorbed St. Anthony. They became one and the same in 1872.

From Pigs to Saints

With its proximity to the Mississippi River and thriving forests, the St. Paul area attracted French and French-Canadian fur trappers. This, in turn, inspired Catholic missionaries to move there. In 1841, a priest named Father Lucien Galtier built a chapel that he named after St. Paul.

Soon, the name was applied to the rest of the settlement, and it became the official name when the city was established as the state capital in 1849. It was a welcome change from Pig’s Eye Landing, which was the name a tavern owner had given the land a few years before Father Galtier came along!

The Twin Cities Throughout the Rest of the 19th Century

The Twin Cities’ individual foundings were only the beginning of their rich histories, which gradually became intertwined. The rest of the 19th century contributed significantly to that.

Economic Development

While Minneapolis was known for wheat production, water power, and milling, St. Paul became the go-to city for breweries and general commerce. With these complementary specializations, Minneapolis and St. Paul supported each other and grew together. This was key to their evolution into the Twin Cities.

In 1866, Minneapolis also served as the site for the establishment of General Mills and Pillsbury, now two of the world’s largest suppliers of flour, cereal, baked goods, and other foods. It remains a major source of jobs for residents of the Twin Cities.

Both cities’ economic and business growth led to powerful families gaining enough wealth to build mansions. Many of them are still standing today.

Technological Development

Having been founded shortly after the Industrial Revolution, Minneapolis, and St. Paul flourished with advances in technology. In 1862, the Pacific Railroad began transporting travelers between St. Paul and the western United States; by 1887, the Great Northern Railway had taken over and expanded the railroad to Seattle.

People depended mainly on horse-drawn carriages and cable cars for short-distance transportation until 1891. After that, the cities switched to electric streetcars.

Social Development

From 1849 to 1860, the population of both Minneapolis and St. Paul exploded from the high hundreds to more than 10,000 people, thanks to a combination of French Canadian and European settlers. Toward the end of the century, the cities also saw an influx of Russian and Swedish immigrants, who formed the bulk of the poor working class.

Between the increase in population and the prominence of multi-passenger transportation, illness, and disease became more common. Most notably, many residents throughout the Twin Cities were affected by a typhoid outbreak in 1898. The 15th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry was especially devastated, requiring the hospitalization of about 400 members.

Growing Closeness

Although the nickname “Twin Cities” wouldn’t be attached to the area for years, the cities quickly became similar and interconnected, despite fierce rivalry between their people and businesses. In 1891, the Minneapolis Tribune even suggested they join together into one city. Although some legislators and citizens liked the idea, there was never enough support to make it a reality.

The Twin Cities in the 20th Century

As with most of the world, the 20th century was a time of major changes and advancements for the Twin Cities. In fact, the area wouldn’t be what it is today without the progress that occurred during these formative one hundred years.

Economic Development

Minneapolis and St. Paul continued their initial specializations for most of the first half of the 20th century. However, they were just as affected by the Great Depression and World War II as the rest of the globe. They helped supply the U.S. military with electrical power during the war to survive.

Afterward, they began transitioning from manufacturing to tech and information. As the century drew to a close, the Twin Cities became renowned for their contributions to all these industries.

The year 1992 saw the opening of one of the area’s most distinctive highlights–the Mall of America. Based in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, the mall covers a stunning 129 acres and generates a whopping $49 million in revenue annually. Actually, the Mall of America is so prominent that we have a whole section of our website dedicated to it!

Technological Development

The Twin Cities share a streetcar transport system that accommodated huge population growth during the first half of the century. Following World War II, engineers of all kinds flocked to Minnesota, especially Minneapolis and St. Paul, to start new businesses and nurture their ideas. St. Paul was instrumental in funding these ventures as the state capital, with its emphasis on financial savvy.

Consequently, the cities became the headquarters for numerous successful tech companies, such as Medtronic and Groupe Bull. If you’ve ever played the famed Oregon Trail computer game, you can thank the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium for making it!

Social Development

Throughout World Wars I and II, Minneapolis wrestled with severe antisemitism, leading to employment discrimination. It was less of an issue in St. Paul since Jewish immigrants settled there around the same time as other immigrants.

However, the problem was common enough to cause some Jews to change their names, become self-employed, or join organizations dedicated to combating antisemitism. Widespread acceptance of Jews didn’t occur until the 1950s.

By the early 20th century, about 1% of Minneapolis’ population was Black. Despite this, racial segregation was not a major issue until 1910, when real estate agents and developers started denying them housing. This trend continued for about four decades, even after the Fair Housing Act became law in 1968.

Around that same time, Native Americans in Minneapolis started the American Indian Movement to preserve native traditions. Shortly after, a same-sex couple in the city fought the U.S. Supreme Court to obtain a marriage license in 1971; the landmark case is Baker vs. Nelson.

Despite all these issues, the Twin Cities continued attracting diverse people during the 20th century. Each demographic served to grow and strengthen the community. In fact, Minneapolis’ first Black and female mayor, Sharon Sayles Belton, served the city from 1994 to 2001.

The Birth of an Identity

Despite the prevalence of the nickname, there doesn’t appear to be a record of when Minneapolis and St. Paul were first called the Twin Cities. Nevertheless, it must have happened sometime before 1961, the year that Minneapolis’ baseball team changed its name from the Washington Senators to the Minnesota Twins.

Up until this point, both cities had been developing at similar paces and with similar demographics. Their buildings were made with an identical aesthetic, they shared their technologies and transportation, and their people had the same standard of living. Even so, they had remained rivals for a century.

The new baseball team name was a manifestation of cooperation between the cities. It signified acceptance of their interdependence and desire to work together for the betterment of their people, despite the failures of every effort to unite them into one city.

The Twin Cities So Far in the 21st Century

Although we’re only a couple of decades into the 21st century, the Twin Cities have already experienced lots of changes. Just have a look at everything that’s happened!

Economic Development

For the past two decades, the Twin Cities have carried on enjoying a thriving economy built largely on information, finance, and tech, with pieces of their manufacturing roots. In fact, in 2022, Minneapolis was identified as having the eighth-highest number of corporate headquarters in the U.S. (tied with Boston, MA).

Minnesota enjoys excellent private and public healthcare as well. This is partially due to a robust healthcare industry, made even stronger by the cities’ specialization in technological development.

Since Minnesota ranks third in states for funding the arts, it’s unsurprising that the Twin Cities also count on income from museums, theaters, concert halls, and literary presses. Thanks to influxes of immigrants and the rising popularity of veganism, the cities have also become known for East African and meatless cuisine.

Technological Development

The Twin Cities have remained attractive to numerous powerful tech companies. Geek Squad, Digital River, St. Jude Medical, Alliant, 3M, Digi International, and IBM Rochester are just a few examples of companies that have set up offices there.

Although transportation was already accessible throughout both cities, the Blue Line–a product of light rail technology–began operating in 2004. Ten years later, the Green Line opened as well.

Social Development

Tragedies like the deaths of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, and George Floyd in Minneapolis provoked worldwide protests and conversations about systemic racism. Thankfully, the Twin Cities is still home to many dedicated, fair-minded citizens who work hard to support diversity and equality for all communities.

By now, people of color make up roughly 30% of the area’s population, and immigrants from Asia, Mexico, and South America continue moving in. They have already begun impacting the cities’ culture. The Somali American Museum of Minnesota in Minneapolis is a wonderful example–the first and only of its kind in the entire world.

As LGBTQI+ issues gain traction, the Twin Cities have striven to become a safe place for community members to live freely without concern. In fact, Minneapolis is regarded as one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the U.S.

Looking Ahead: The Future of the Twin Cities

Understanding how the Twin Cities have progressed up until this point makes it easier to predict what the future might hold. Plus, the area is rife with leaders and hard workers who are outspoken about their visions and goals. What can you expect to see in the next few years or even decades?


Economic Prospects

According to experts, the Twin Cities will keep growing, competing capably in the economy and taking care of their citizens. Although diverse industries play a role, the economy also draws strength from the cities’ sense of community and the generally high standard of living. That is, people want to live, work, and contribute there.

Plus, more entrepreneurs are moving to the area to build new startups, further solidifying the Twin Cities as business hubs. Local legislators are optimistic about future economic booms, even with concerns about nationwide inflation and recessions.

Technological Prospects

Medical and transportation technology appears to be the most favored types in the Twin Cities. However, what could truly accelerate advanced ideas and techniques in these industries is creating more spaces and programs for people to learn and collaborate.

More specifically, legislators and educators are looking to implement more rigorous STEM programs in K-12 schools and universities, organize STEM-related events for communities, set up coworking spaces for like-minded people, and attract angel investment groups for tech startups. The future is very tech-friendly!

Social Prospects

If the Twin Cities continue growing at the current and expected rates, the population could increase to the high six figures or low seven figures within 30 years. Of course, the new population will include higher numbers of minority communities.

Considering the social turmoil of recent years, both political and church organizations in both cities have formed programs devoted to addressing racial inequality and other issues of concern. Their success could be a strong contributing factor in drawing more immigrants and citizens from other states, as people want to live in a place where they can feel safe and welcome.

Get to Know the Twin Cities!

A view of the St. Paul skyline reflected in the river at night.
The St. Paul skyline at night.

With such storied significance to Minnesota and the United States, the Twin Cities should never go without the appreciation they deserve. This article should just be the beginning of your acquaintance!

To learn more, check out our other articles on these cities, and start getting to know both of them with some budget-friendly activities!