On this day in 1871, Kentucky Congressman J. Proctor Knott gave a speech before Congress mocking the fledgling town of Duluth, Minnesota. The speech was considered a hilarious piece of commentary, and left a legacy in place names. Duluth’s neighbor, Proctor, was named for the Congressman—in fact, the town’s original name was Proctor Knott. And Duluth’s sister city of Duluth, Georgia—originally called Howell’s Crossroads—changed its name to Duluth following Knott’s speech. The town includes a a Proctor Square and a Knott Street. Knott ridiculed Duluth to make his point in opposition of a proposal to give federal funds to a rail project connecting Hudson, Wisconsin, with Superior, Wisconsin, across the bay from Duluth. One newspaper of the day reported that Knott was interrupted 62 times by “laughter,” “great laughter,” “roars of laughter,” and “shouts of laughter.” His half-hour speech killed the bill. According to David G. McCullough, the speech was so popular that “for several years it was handed out as a memento in the dining cars of the Northern Pacific Railroad…[and] by the turn of the century the speech had appeared in at least three anthologies of American oratory.” In the 1880s, the Duluth Chamber of Commerce published the speech to show that what had once been said “in ridicule and derision” had turned out to be facts “in reality.” Read Knott’s speech here.
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