Minneapolis Water Works

Tour curated by: Justin Berchiolli, Isaac Shapiro, & the Minnesota Environments Team

Lying beneath the streets and homes of Minneapolis are over 1,000 miles of water pipes. These pipes carry water from pumping and filtration systems along the Mississippi River to thousands of homes and businesses and cycle waste back into the river. This system represents the culmination of a century of urban planning and infrastructure development. This tour provides an understanding of how over the span of 100 years, the physical spread of typhoid in addition to city officials’ interpretation of how the disease worked, influenced the development of Minneapolis’ municipal water system. Though the scientific beliefs of late 19th century doctors and city officials have long been proven false, the remnants of their theories lie cast in concrete, iron and wood under the feet of every Minneapolitan.

Locations for Tour

In the 1860s, the city of Minneapolis bore little semblance to its modern day metropolitan nature. In comparing the historical map to a present-day map of Minneapolis, the minuscule size of the city becomes evident. The mid-19th century city was…

The first municipal water pump opened in 1867 primarily for the fire department’s use. This pump was located along a canal that fed mills on the west bank of the Mississippi River just north of the city limits. As Minneapolis’ population…

Minneapolis’ population and size continued to expand throughout the 1880s. Typhoid outbreaks maintained a positive correlation with the population and size of the city. Baffled city officials searched for a source to blame and settled on the…

Over the next several decades, the exact cause of typhoid remained elusive and contested. As late as 1910, the Minnesota Board of Health insisted that drinking water was not the primary cause of typhoid. Instead, Minneapolis officials attributed the…

Though abundant and accessible water certainly benefited the population of Minneapolis, it also set up some fundamental problems. An interconnected infrastructure drawing from a mixed-use water source inadvertently created a new vector of disease…