If it’s January, it must be citrus season! And while here in Minneapolis we’re not plucking fresh oranges or grapefruit from our own trees, our stores nevertheless are overflowing with fruits shipped in from warmer climates. These produce vendors are following in the path first forged by dealers like J.A. Shea & Co., once headquartered at 246 Hennepin Ave. J.A. Shea dominated the local market during the 1880s and 1890s and was at the forefront of introducing Minneapolis — and from here, the upper Midwest — to a steady supply of imported bananas, oranges, lemons and other fruit not previously readily available locally. In 1887, the firm sold 43 railcars of bananas; each held between 400 and 500 bunches. In 1884, they introduced Minneapolitans to California oranges. By the end of the 1880s, the company rivaled the major dealers in Chicago and was receiving trains filled with apples, pears, oranges, bananas, lemons and other fruit direct from companies in Florida, California and New York. While it’s impossible to tell what varieties of fruits fill the crates shown here, if you look carefully you’ll see bunches of bananas hanging in the store’s windows.
Cedar Imboden Phillips serves as executive director for the Hennepin History Museum. Learn more about the museum and its offerings at hennepinhistory.org or 870-1329.