Pierre-Esprit Radisson, Radisson Plaza Hotel, 35 S. 7th St.
Travel today is so easy -- room service, cable TV, Jacuzzis, quaint little bottles of scented shampoo. When the namesake of one of this country's leading hotel chains traveled, he considered himself lucky if he had a pile of straw to sleep on.
Pierre-Esprit Radisson (1636-1710) was born in France and moved to Quebec when he was 16. While playing in the woods one day, he was captured by members of an Iroquois tribe and lived among them for two years. The experience proved to be an invaluable education for the young man, who went on to become one of North America's legendary fur traders.
Radisson and his brother-in-law Sieur de Groseilliers were disappointed with the way France handled fur trading, so in 1669, they struck an agreement with the King of England. They heard the region west of Lake Superior was rich in beaver, and beaver hats were all the rage in Europe.
Their explorations proved profitable. King Charles II established the Hudson's Bay Company and allowed them rights to one and a half million square miles -- roughly half of Canada and parts of North Dakota and Minnesota.
Radisson crisscrossed the Great Lakes area to establish trading posts. He picked up native languages quickly and had great success trading. Knives, muskets, cloth, needles, beads and the famous Hudson's Bay Blanket were all traded for pelts. Radisson worked for the company for the rest of his life.
About 250 years later, when Minneapolis was a booming city with a population of 300,000, retailer George Dayton and other investors opened "the finest hotel between Chicago and the West Coast." Named after the famous voyageur, when the Radisson opened in 1909, a room with a bath cost $2.50 a night.
Gold Bond Stamp entrepreneur Curt Carlson invested in the hotel and eventually became the sole owner in 1962. The original structure made way for a new one in 1987 and the flagship hotel recently received an $11.5 million renovation.
Today, the name Radisson represents more than 1,660 hotels, resorts, restaurants and cruise ships operating in 82 countries -- but you know that it really means paddling over rapids in a birchbark canoe in search of game.
LUNCH TIP: Fire Lake Grill House off the Radisson lobby serves American classics from a wood-burning oven.
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