Before Wells Fargo became a prominent name in Minneapolis, there was Northwestern National Bank.
In its heyday in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Northwestern Bank was best known for the Weatherball, a sphere that topped the giant neon sign atop the bank’s downtown Minneapolis headquarters, and branches throughout Minnesota, which would change colors based on weather forecasts – red for warmer, white for colder, green for no change, or blinking for precipitation. In addition, the bank was known for friendly advertising slogans such as “May we help you today?” and “We’re on your side.”
In seeming contrast to all this fun and friendliness, we find this ominous eight-page Cold War-era booklet that was issued to employees of the downtown Minneapolis Northwestern Bank headquarters, titled “Survival Under Attack,” featuring a drawing depicting a mushroom cloud hovering over the bank building and Weatherball sign on the front cover, the words “KEEP THIS BOOK HANDY” in big red letters on the back, and the words “KNOW YOUR SHELTER AREA” near the bottom of each page. The booklet is undated, but it was most likely issued in the late 1950s, when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were intensifying, and Americans were encouraged to be prepared for a possible nuclear war.
On the inside, a message “to all employees” from bank president Joseph F. Ringland. “We fervently hope that Minneapolis will never be the target for bombing attack by an enemy. However…to be fair to ourselves, we must alter our concept that Minneapolis is a secure, inland metropolis, protected by countless miles from any enemy.
“Defense authorities tell us that with an enemy striking at our nation over the arctic regions, Minneapolis is indeed a prime target area. So we must prepare.
“Our presentation is a plan—a plan to provide maximum safety for all employees and customers of the bank during an attack. This Civil Defense Employee Protection program has been carefully worked out by Northwestern’s defense committee under the supervision of the local Civil Defense authorities.
“We are fortunate to be located in a steel frame, reinforced concrete building, for defense experts tell us that such a structure provides one of the safest havens from bombing attack…The regulations set herein must be followed if we are to avoid the panic that is always the greatest danger in any emergency. To prevent panic and to insure the safety of all of us, wardens and other emergency officials are instructed to enforce these regulations by whatever means they can command.”
The booklet goes on to describe procedures. “It is expected that the Minneapolis Civil Defense Air Raid warning service will give notice of an alert in the event of any impending enemy air attack. The alarm for the bank will be sounded by a voice over the Muzak [piped-in music] and supplementary public address systems. The all clear signal will be given by the same system.
“When the alert signal is sounded, you will proceed quietly via the designated routes to the shelter area assigned to your specific department. Proceed by the stairways assigned to your department.
“When you arrive at your shelter area, stand around, sit or lie on the floor, but under no circumstances in front of a glass window or door. Do not smoke. Keep calm and wait for the all clear signal.
“…There will be no elevator service during an alert. Elevators will be reserved for emergency crews.”
From there the booklet describes the location of shelter areas, with one on the first floor designated for customers and general public, and two in the basement, designated for people working in specific floors of the building. Stairways were also assigned to specific departments and floors, and evacuation routes to the shelter areas are described.
Ultimately it would not be a nuclear bomb that would take out the Northwestern National Bank building in downtown Minneapolis, but a massive Thanksgiving Day fire in 1982. In its place, the bank built a new skyscraper, and in the interim changed its name to Norwest, moving forward with an eighties-bland corporate logo, leaving the Weatherball behind. In 1998, Norwest merged with San Francisco based Wells Fargo and adopted that name.
To look back on Minneapolis of yesteryear and for other writings by Jeff R. Lonto, check out Studio Z-7 Publishing, which is an independent publisher of books and other media.