The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
This unusual looking contraption is called a steelyard, and had you been alive during the late nineteenth century you probably would’ve already known that, as they were quite abundant. Steelyards are weighing devices that were most often found in rural areas, particularly on farms. They were used for weighing everything from household goods to grain to animals and even newborn babies. Although similar weighing devices date back more than 2,500 years, the most common version in America was sometimes referred to as a Scandinavian steelyard and resembled the one in this photograph. Steelyards were usually hand forged by a town’s local blacksmith, but two in the MHS Collection were brought to Minnesota by Scandinavian immigrants; one from Norway and the other from Iceland.