Gene Autry 1940 Aquatennial / Photograph from the collection of the Hennepin History Museum

Gene Autry 1940 Aquatennial / Photograph from the collection of the Hennepin History Museum

A singing cowboy for the first Aquatennial

Minneapolis launched its Aquatennial festival in summer 1940.

Among that first year’s lead attractions was an eight-day rodeo, the first championship rodeo in the city’s history.

“Singing cowboy” Gene Autry, along with his horse, Champion, flew in for the festivities. Horse and cowboy alike stayed at the elegant Hotel Nicollet.

In addition to Autry, shown above, competitive cowboys from around the nation came to compete for $5,000 in prize money in 16 different rodeo events held at the Parade grounds.


Cedar Imboden Phillips is executive director of the Hennepin History Museum. Learn more about the museum and its offerings at hennepinhistory.org or 870-1329