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Historic Business Research

Property Taxes

Red Wing Furniture Factory, Red Wing, 1882State taxes apply to businesses as well as individuals, and tax records can tell you about the location, value, and other assets (livestock, machinery, etc.) of a business. 

  • Tax Lists
    Generally, each entry gives the the legal description (location) and size of the property; owner’s name; school district number; assessed valuation of the property; amounts of various state, local, and school district taxes; total amount of taxes levied; date(s) and amount(s) of payment; receipt number(s); and a record of settlements, penalties, and delinquencies. 
    MNHS call number: Search the catalog for "Tax Lists"  and the name of the county
  • Tax Assessment Rolls
    Assessment rolls tend to be more detailed than tax lists. Generally, each entry gives the owner’s name; school district number; type of property (household, homestead, agricultural, business); and the property’s total full, assessed, equalized and/or market valuations. The real property sections additionally give the legal description (location) and size of the property; and the values of acreage and lots, structures and improvements, machinery, and other items, including homesteads and non-homesteads, timberland, and recreational property. The personal property sections additionally give the post office address and the quantity and/or valuation of various categories of personal property, including household goods, personal possessions, vehicles, agricultural products and livestock, farm machinery, manufacturing and business products and property, financial assets, and privately owned structures on railroad and government lands. There may also be information on things like mortgages and other real estate securities; tree bounties; real property exempt from taxation; reserved mineral rights; lands taken under the Homestead and Tree Claim acts; and data on grain handled by elevators, warehouses, and mills.
    MNHS call number: Search the catalog for "Assessment Rolls"  and the name of the county

Federal Taxes

Federal tax records are generally held at the Federal level, by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  However, MNHS has copies of a small set of tax records dating from 1862 to 1866.  
  • United States. Internal Revenue Service. Assessment Lists for Minnesota, 1862-1866
    Tax assessment lists for the two collection districts established for Minnesota by an executive order dated, August 2, 1862. The lists were created in the offices of the assessors and assistant assessors of Internal Revenue during the period 1862-1866, and give information about individuals, business firms, and partnerships, and their liability under excise and other taxes levied on certain goods and services by the federal government, particularly under the authority of the Internal Revenue Act of July 1, 1862.
    MNHS call number: An inventory, historical sketch, and reel contents list that provide additional information about these materials are available in library (M545).

Non-Population Census: Manufacturing and Agriculture

Several types of non-population census records can provide information about a business, most notably:

  • Minnesota manufacturing schedules are available for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880, with the quantity and quality of data varying by year.  The amount of detail increased in 1870 and 1880, and in 1880 supplemental forms were used to capture information about specific industries.     
  • Minnesota agricultural schedules are available  for 1850, 1860, 1870, and 1880.  Smaller farms were excluded from these censuses, and the questions changed over time.  However, most years included information on the livestock, machinery, and--most interesting to business researchers--"homemade manufactures."  

For more information on Non-Population Census Records--including advice on how to access these records--see the Federal Non-Population page of our Census Records Research Guide.

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