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Politics of the Past: Putting politicians on the map

Editor’s note: This summer and fall, Capitol Report is dipping into the Minnesota Historical Society’s political archives and scooping out documents and artifacts exploring the state’s rich record of voting reforms, colorful politicians, contested elections, curious facial hair and more.

Alfred T. Andreas’ “Illustrated Historical Atlas of Minnesota” was published in 1874 at the cost of more than $200,000. Subscribers could purchase biographies in Andreas’s atlas for 2 1/2 cents per word. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

Alfred T. Andreas’ “Illustrated Historical Atlas of Minnesota” was published in 1874 at the cost of more than $200,000. Subscribers could purchase biographies in Andreas’s atlas for 2 1/2 cents per word. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

In 1873 and 1874, Alfred T. Andreas spent more than $200,000 to publish an atlas. He bought 70 tons of paper, 17 of cardboard and one of leather, and he hired cartographers, lithographers and a small army of door-to-door salesmen. The “Illustrated Historical Atlas of Minnesota,” one of the first statewide atlases to appear anywhere in the country, sold 10,000 copies in a state with only 70,000 households.

Including illustrations of both ornate mansions and simple farmhouses, along with full-color picture views of cities, photos of prominent politicians and hundreds of biographies of residents — Andreas’ atlas helped a young state form a social and cultural identity. “There were maps made before, but the combination of all the icons of the state rolled into a book must have had an impact on people’s sense of their political location,” said David Lanegran, a Macalester College geography professor who’s written about the Andreas atlas.

Farmers, doctors and tradesmen paid for inclusion in the atlas; it functioned as sort of a cross between a “Who’s Who” anthology and the yellow pages. Some critics of the time complained it was a swindle, a fleecing of laborers into wasting money on sketches of their homes and cows. But the ability of the rural poor to buy their way into posterity is precisely what makes the atlas a valuable, democratic historical document, and Andreas’ tactics don’t seem all that unscrupulous to modern eyes, habituated to the bleak, bright light of the contemporary marketing racket. “It’s like why real estate agents put their faces on bus stops,” explained Minnesota Historical Society senior curator Pat Coleman.

Farmers, doctors and tradesman paid for inclusion in the atlas. One farmer listed in the atlas was James McLaughlin. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

Farmers, doctors and tradesman paid for inclusion in the atlas. One farmer listed in the atlas was James McLaughlin. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

Legislators, however, likely didn’t pay to be listed, and Lanegran said their appearance in the atlas served a role in forging Minnesota’s collective civic consciousness. “It’s the first time people across the state actually saw the Legislature, their elected officials,” he said. “It’s like a team photo. You get a sense of individuals within a unitary organization. You think, ‘Do you look like them? Do you see yourself in the Legislature? Could you imagine yourself running?’”

You can view a copy of the Andreas atlas at the Minnesota Historical Society library in St. Paul.

David Day was a self-made man. Born in Virginia, he worked in a lead mine to put himself through medical school. His medical career established, he joined Minnesota’s Territorial House in 1853 and the following year was elected speaker on the 64th ballot. Later in life, Day was appointed to the post of “Seed Wheat Commissioner” and tasked with distributing seeds to sufferers of a grasshopper raid. A history of the city of St. Paul, published in 1876, praised him as “one of our most successful, sagacious and enterprising business men” and offered a prophecy about the then 51-year-old’s longevity: “With an even temperament, and well-preserved physique, one might almost expect him to be the ‘last man’ of the old settlers.” Day died in 1896 at the age of 71. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

David Day was a self-made man. Born in Virginia, he worked in a lead mine to put himself through medical school. His medical career established, he joined Minnesota’s Territorial House in 1853 and the following year was elected speaker on the 64th ballot. Later in life, Day was appointed to the post of “Seed Wheat Commissioner” and tasked with distributing seeds to sufferers of a grasshopper raid. A history of the city of St. Paul, published in 1876, praised him as “one of our most successful, sagacious and enterprising business men” and offered a prophecy about the then 51-year-old’s longevity: “With an even temperament, and well-preserved physique, one might almost expect him to be the ‘last man’ of the old settlers.” Day died in 1896 at the age of 71. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

When Andreas’s atlas was published, Eugene St. Julien Cox was a 39-year-old senator representing Nicollet and Renville counties. But his most notable entrance into Minnesota’s history came later after he was elected district court judge in 1878. Newspaper reports started appearing soon after his election claiming he was “seen in a state of intoxication while attending to his judicial duties.” Cox was impeached for his drunkenness in 1882, the first time a Minnesota judge had been removed from the bench. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

When Andreas’s atlas was published, Eugene St. Julien Cox was a 39-year-old senator representing Nicollet and Renville counties. But his most notable entrance into Minnesota’s history came later after he was elected district court judge in 1878. Newspaper reports started appearing soon after his election claiming he was “seen in a state of intoxication while attending to his judicial duties.” Cox was impeached for his drunkenness in 1882, the first time a Minnesota judge had been removed from the bench. (Submitted image: Minnesota Historical Society)

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