The Fur Trade in Minnesota

Few people may realize it, but the driving force behind the earliest European exploration and settlement of their region was not the quest to establish a northwest route to the Orient or conquer and settle new lands. It was, instead, demand for a hat.

The "beaver," as the hat was called, topped the heads of fashionable Europeans for some 200 years. The hat ranged in style from the tri-cornered fashion of the late 1700s to the stovepipe top hat of the 1800s. Believed to have originated in Russia in the 1500s, the beaver is said to have become popular when Swedish soldiers, engaged in the Thirty Years War from 1618 - 1648, sported a wide-brimmed, reportedly romantic style.

With Europe's beaver populations largely depleted through overhunting, hatters looked to the New World and its bounteous supply of fur-bearing animals. To meet the demand, French, British and Scottish traders, bearing iron tools, kettles, wool blankets and other supplies to exchange for furs harvested by Native Americans, established trading posts westward from Hudson Bay. Two companies, the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company, came to dominate the fur trade from the mid-1700s to the mid-1800s.

As competition for furs intensified, posts sprang up farther west. One of the largest in the late 1700s was at Grand Portage on Minnesota's Lake Superior shore. The North West Company Fur Post near Pine City, now a historic site operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, was one of several smaller trading posts from which furs were shipped north to bigger posts, such as Grand Portage and Fort William located farther north on land that would become Canada.

This is a web page for students designed by students to inform and educate the viewer about Minnesota's rich history.