July 4, 1868: Thomas Foster coins Duluth’s nickname, the “Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas”

On this day in what would become Duluth in 1868 at an Independence Day picnic on Minnesota Point, Dr. Thomas Foster—who produced Duluth’s first paper, the Minnesotian—gave a grand oration, during which he first called Duluth the “Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas” and outlined the future of Duluth as the “Chicago of Lake Superior.” It was a speech filled with optimism; in January 1869 just fourteen families lived at the base of Minnesota Point. There is no written copy of the entire speech, often mistakenly reported to have been delivered in 1866. Only portions of the speech were published in the Minnesotian, and not until April 24 of the following year. The article focused on portions of the speech concerning the coming of the Lake Superior & Mississippi Railroad, Foster’s inspiration for his optimistic outlook of the fledgling city’s future. In it, Foster describes a network of rail lines that would turn Duluth into a mecca for commerce, as from the Atlantic to the Pacific, all roads would lead to Duluth, and they would offer “the cheapest and most expeditious route into the streets of our Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas.”

This grainy image is the only known photograph of Dr. Thomas Foster, editor of the Duluth Minnesotian, made February 15, 1870, during the groundbreaking for the Northern Pacific Railroad. (Image: University of Minnesota Duluth Kathryn A. Martin Library Archives and Special Collections)