What’s in a state symbol? Not all can make the cut to represent Minnesota


DETROIT LAKES - Not everything has what it takes to become a state symbol.

The lowly leech in its lake weeds and crawly wood tick in its underbrush can only gaze wistfully at those state symbols that so proudly embody what it means to be a Minnesotan – the soulful loon is the state bird, bone-building milk is the state drink, the elegant fluttering monarch is the state butterfly and the tasty walleye is the state fish.

But the slimy leech and the bloodsucking wood tick, not to mention the mighty timber wolf, the timid leopard frog and even the extinct giant beaver all could have been contenders as state symbols, too – if only they had hired better lobbyists and maybe a good PR firm.

Without further ado, here is a list of symbols, unofficial, proposed, or facetious, compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, that were at one time or another proposed to represent Minnesota on the illustrious list of state symbols:

Amphibian: The northern leopard frog was proposed in the Legislature as the Minnesota state amphibian in 1998 and again in 1999. It fell short in its leap to fame.

Amusement Ride: The Tilt-A-Whirl was proposed in the Legislature as the State Amusement Ride in 2007.

A State Fair poll question at the House booth in 2007 asked, “Invented in Faribault in 1926, should the Tilt-A-Whirl be designated the State Amusement Ride?” A total of 47 percent said yes, 22 responded no, and 31 percent were boldly undecided.

Mammal: State lawmakers just can’t be persuaded that the state needs an official mammal.

Legislation was offered to designate the white-tailed deer as the state animal at least eight times from 1971 to 1989. The Eastern timber wolf was proposed at least six times from 1969 to 2000 as the official Minnesota animal or mammal. All to no avail.

A bill to designate the not-so-cuddly black bear as the official state mammal was introduced in 2011 and 2012.

And others have their own lobby. Amendments were introduced in 1973 and 1977 to designate the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (the “striped gopher”) as the state mammal instead of the white-tailed deer. Lawmakers apparently thought that was just nuts.

In 2000, Minnesota schoolchildren voted on whether the state mammal should be the wolf, the white-tailed deer or the gopher. The wolf received 208 votes; the deer got 129 votes and the gopher got 80.

A newspaper clipping from 1973 documents a citizen proposal to designate the wood tick as the official state animal.

“If it were … since the loon is already the official state bird, we’d be the loon-and-tick state …” (St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 18, 1973, page 4).

Beer: Believe it or not, a wholesome glass of milk is not the only beverage Minnesotans love.

Competing bills proposed the designation of a state beer in 1987. One proposed Schell’s Deer Brand beer, while another suggested Cold Spring beer. Both bills went flat.

Book: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” was proposed as the Minnesota state book in 1990. Her book “On the Banks of Plum Creek” was proposed as the state book in 1992. No luck with either one.

Candy: Licorice was proposed as the official candy of Minnesota in 1997. There was no sweet tooth in the Legislature that year.

Coin: For a ten-year period from 1999 through 2008, the United States Mint commemorated each state by releasing a quarter honoring each state. Minnesota’s quarter was released in 2005.

The Minnesota coin design was selected by the members of the Minnesota State Quarter Commission.

Flag: Bills were introduced in 2013 to designate the “Honor and Remember Flag” as an official symbol of the state’s commitment to military service members who lost their lives in service to their country.

Folk Dance: The square dance was proposed as the state folk dance in 1992 and 1994. Lawmakers weren’t willing to give it a whirl.

Fossil: Legislation was introduced in 1988 which would have designated the Giant Beaver (Castoroides ohioensis) as the Minnesota state fossil. Apparently, nobody dug it.

Legislators suggested that the rynchotrema, the trilobite and the bison should all be considered as the state fossil in 1988, but legislation was not introduced.

Insect: Clippings suggest a variety of insects as the state insect; however, no legislation has been introduced.

Among the suggestions are the mosquito, the wood tick, the no-see-um and the corn borer.

Mineral: Iron ore was proposed as the official Minnesota state mineral in 1990. It sunk like a stone.

Parasite: In 1977, during debate on a bill giving leeches the same status of minnows in law, Sen. Jack Davies considered offering an amendment proposing the leech as the Minnesota state parasite.

According to a news account, he was poking a jab at the recent heated debate over whether the gopher or white-tailed deer should be the state mammal.

Pipe Band: The Minnesota State Fire Service Memorial Pipe Band was proposed as the official pipe band of the state of Minnesota in 2012. There was much wailing when it failed to pass.

Poem: A bill to designate “Minnesota Blue” as the state poem was introduced in 2008 by Rep. Bruce Anderson and Sen. Amy Koch. Another bill was introduced by Sen. Bruce Anderson in 2013. It was written by Codell Keith Haugen in 1985. Alas and alack, lawmakers gave it a pass, in a pack.

Reptile: The Blanding’s turtle was proposed as the Minnesota state reptile in 1998 and 1999. The bills went nowhere, slowly.

Soup: Wild rice soup was proposed as the official state soup in 1998. Soup fans still taste the burn.

Nickname or slogan: Three nicknames are used to refer to the state of Minnesota: The Gopher State; Land of 10,000 Lakes; and the North Star State.

In February 1858, the new Minnesota Legislature introduced the “Five Million Loan” bill. The purpose of the bill was to provide money to build railroads in the state.

A highly controversial proposal, the bill ultimately passed.

During the public debate, a cartoon was circulated depicting the railroad tycoons as nine gophers with human heads pulling a Gopher Train.

Minnesota’s nickname “the gopher state” came from this 1857 cartoon. A full description of the Five Million Loan may be found in “William Watts Folwell, A History of Minnesota, Volume II (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1961),” pages 37-58. In fact, the nickname refers to the “striped gopher” which is not actually a gopher, but is a thirteen-lined ground squirrel.

Minnesota is called the “land of 10,000 lakes” despite the fact that there are 11,842 lakes larger than 10 acres in size in the state.

The legend of Paul Bunyan gives Paul and Babe the Blue Ox credit for creating the lakes with their footprints. In reality, Minnesota’s many lakes were created by the filling of depressions in the Minnesota landscape when four large glacier systems melted.

This not-very-catchy official state slogan was proposed in 1959: “Your vacation and convention dollar goes further in Minnesota.” The bill was amended to add, following the word Minnesota, the phrase “-No Sales Tax!”


By Nathan Bowe, Forum News Service