January 28, 1911: Commission declares a canal from Lake Superior to the Mississippi is feasible

On this day 150 miles south of Duluth in 1911, a commission in St. Paul assembled by Governor John A. Johnson just prior to his death in 1909 declared that the idea of building a canal from Lake Superior to the Mississippi River was a feasible project. The report went on to request $15,000 for a survey of the upper Mississippi River to Sandy Lake, $5,000 to remove logs impeding navigation at Little Falls, and for the creation of a “Lake Superior and Upper Mississippi River transportation and improvement fund.” The idea had been floating about since 1872, when the U.S. Senate’s Windom committee first claimed that “the most feasible channel of commerce to be created or improved by the national government were the Mississippi and a continuous water line from the Mississippi to New York by way of the northern lakes.” The notion was raised and dropped many times over the years, but began picking up steam in 1907 when the Upper Mississippi Improvement Club met in Moline, Illinois, and at their 1908 convention in Clinton, Iowa. The 1911 Minnesota effort did not involve any Duluthians—there were none on the committee. Duluth enjoyed its Minnesota monopoly as the gateway to the great lakes and wasn’t about to compromise it with a waterway that would benefit points south. The Zenith City was already a national hub of rail and ship traffic, and such a canal would allow others to bypass the port, taking goods—and potential profits—much further south. The plan, obviously, was never seen through.

John A. Johnson, governor of Minnesota from 1905 until his death in 1909. (Image: Public Domain)