Who We Are
Discover the stories we share.
The Minnesota Historical Society preserves Minnesota's past, shares our state's stories and connects people with history in meaningful ways, for today and for tomorrow. Because history matters!
We're part of Minnesota's rich history. Since 1849, we've grown to become one of the largest and most prestigious historical societies in the country. We play an important role in our state's historic preservation, education and tourism; and provide the public with award-winning programs, exhibitions and events.
We owe it to future generations to be good stewards of the past. Join us. It's the best deal in history!
Library and Collections
Each object in our collection tells a personal story. You'll find vast numbers of books, letters, photographs, historical records, works of art and many other artifacts. Like the beaded Bandolier bags of the early Ojibwe and the embroidered story cloths of the Hmong, these artifacts educate, inspire and help us remember.
Use our online resources and the Gale Family Library to research your past and understand the life we share today. Search our extensive database of birth and death certificates and the State Archives.
Much of our history resides within the buildings and landscapes of our communities. Churches and state parks, shipwrecks and bridges, even family homes. Beloved landmarks that remind us of life long ago and help explain our world today.
Exhibits and Programs
You'll find hundreds of programs and exhibits at our sites and museums throughout the year. Ride out a tornado in a Minnesota storm cellar. Crash behind enemy lines in a WWII transport plane. Feel the spray of the mighty Mississippi as it powers the world's largest flour mill. Choose to sign a new treaty — or not — knowing your way of life hangs in the balance.
Our programs are full of fun! History gets its groove on with Bands on the Boulevard, and we host happy hours, pub crawls and engaging lectures.
Historic Sites and Museums
From Split Rock Lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior to the Jeffers Petroglyphs in Comfrey, and all points in between, our 26 historic sites and museums draw 850,000 visitors each year. Road trip, anyone?
Note: MNHS acquired Grand Mound Historic Site in 1970 but it has been closed to the public since 2002.
Learn about Grand Mound Historic Site
Education is at our heart: Educating our state's schoolchildren and making a difference in the lives of at-risk and under-achieving students. From National History Day in Minnesota, to using technology to speak kids' language, hosting innovative teacher development workshops and creating engaging new curricula, we're helping educators ignite the luminous imaginations of 21st-century learners.
Find the story you can't put down. The Minnesota Historical Society Press is the oldest publisher in the state and the largest historical society press in the nation. See what's new on our bookshelf online or in our History Center shops. We also publish great content online.
A Brief History of the Minnesota Historical Society
By Jack El-Hai
Long before the place we call Minnesota had a motto, a capitol building, or a voting member of Congress, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) was helping people understand the region’s past. From the start, our mission was to collect and preserve Minnesota’s stories in all their forms.
As its fifth official act, Minnesota Territory’s legislature established the Minnesota Historical Society in 1849. No other U.S. territory or state created a historical organization so rapidly. Charles K. Smith, Minnesota’s first territorial secretary with a reputation as a political rascal, drew up the legislative act, wrote the founding charter, and attached the names of eighteen distinguished supporters (several of whom had not given their permission). MNHS held its first annual meeting, for fewer than 100 members, on New Year’s Day 1850. Statehood followed eight years later.
In its earliest decades, MNHS hosted discussions of historical topics, established a library and collection of manuscripts and artifacts, began building an endowment, and published reminiscences and scholarly works — including a groundbreaking Dakota dictionary. It operated from a series of temporary quarters. The Minnesota Historical Society survived devastating fires in 1857 and 1881, guided the creation of Itasca State Park in 1890, and entered the 20th century with 300 members, 100,000 volumes in its library, and a dozen people on staff.
To protect its growing and scattered collections from another fire, MNHS needed permanent quarters. That home arrived with the completion in 1918 of a dedicated Minnesota Historical Society building in the capitol complex. (The Roman Renaissance-style structure currently serves as the Minnesota Judicial Center.) With a secure base of operations, MNHS could in the following years provide more public services — helping county and local historical societies organize, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors a year, and beginning radio broadcasts and other kinds of public outreach — while vastly increasing the size of the library and manuscript collections.
MNHS acquired its first historic site in 1958, eventually telling Minnesota’s stories through a network of sites across the state. As MNHS continued to grow in size and ambitions — launching educational programs, granting funds to local history organizations, and becoming a force in such fields as archaeology and historic preservation — the space and technological limitations of its old headquarters became clear. The Minnesota History Center — with marvelous facilities for exhibits, programs, library and collections — opened in 1992.