Stay in the Loop

Flashback 75 Years When Downtown Air Was Filthy

It can be easy to forget that the downtown Minneapolis riverfront used to be not only our central business district but also a hub for factories, warehouses and freight trains. Grain mills and manufacturers used our extensive network of railroad tracks as well as river barges to get their products out to the world.

But that ultimately led to such an air pollution problem, the city hired a new Chief Smoke Inspector, T.A. Podolske. In 1947, he conducted a very low-tech but eye-opening study, setting 16 glass jars around the city to collect air and dust samples.

What he found was that the air in “The Loop” (the term back then for the downtown business district) was even worse than Detroit, the Motor City. He put the blame not only on manufacturers but also mills and grain elevators.

Several historical photos from around the North Loop (below) show the thick levels of soot that were left on buildings after rail shipping declined and factories moved away from here. Most have since been scrubbed clean and converted into offices or residential lofts.

You can find several more articles on our neighborhood’s history in our Historic North Loop section.

By Mike Binkley, North Loop volunteer

Photo credits: Hennepin County Library

The skyline looks different in many ways today.

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