Grain Belt Beer sign at night, Nicollet Island, 1970s
An image from the Municipal Information Library slide collection which we are in the process of digitizing.
This sign was built in 1940 and faces downtown. It was lit until 1976 when Grain Belt Brewery was sold to G. Heileman Brewing Company. Convinced by the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (Nicollet Island is in the St. Anthony Falls Historic District) and the Eastman family (that own the land the sign sits on) to renovate it and relight it, Heileman did so in 1989. The sign went dark again in 1991 when Grain Belt was sold to Minnesota Brewing Company (the maker of Pig’s Eye Pilsner). It was re-lit briefly in 1992 by Minnesota Brewing and stayed lit until 1996 when the financially strapped brewery could no longer afford the maintenance contract. When lit it contains 1,400 light bulbs and 800 feet of neon tubes. In 2010 a developer proposed converting the sign to LED lights and current Grain Belt owner August Schell Brewing was on board to contribute to the renovation but it did not go forward.
A lot of historical sources credit Grain Belt first being used in 1893 to describe beers brewed by Minneapolis Brewing Company. Two major changes happened around 1893, the new brewhouse was built in 1892 and the company was reorganized and offered stock in March 1893. Historians had previously believed the name “Golden Grain Belt” was also rolled out at that time.
Using our trusty “Historical Minneapolis Tribune” database (accessible with your library card here) we found evidence that “Grain Belt” was coined in 1895 and first used by Minneapolis Brewing in 1896.
An advertisement by Minneapolis Brewing from November 1, 1895 congratulates its naming contest winner for winning $50. The winning name? Golden “Grain Belt.”
The first advertisement we found in the Minneapolis Tribune using the Grain Belt name was November 13, 1896. Part of the advertisement reads, “Prompted by the universal and merited success and the constantly growing demand of the Northwestern People for Northwestern Beer Brewed from Northwestern Grain, we have, after forty years’ experience in the Golden Grain Belt, adopted and registered a characteristic label, representing a geometric diamond with the words and pictorial representation of the words Golden Grain Belt upon it…”