Historic Business Research

Secretary of State: Search Business Filings

Businesses who filed the proper paperwork with the Secretary of State's (SOS) Office can be searched in the online Business Record Search.  

This is a great first place to search because it is:

  • Fast and easy
  • Allows searching for both active and inactive businesses
  • Allows searching for names that "begin with" or "contain" search term

The information provided varies, but at minimum the results include the company's address and a list of filing-types with dates.   

Secretary of State: Records

The Secretary of State's Office kept a number of different types of records related to businesses.  Many of these historical records are available at the Library, including:

  • Corporations Division
    • Indexes of Active and Inactive Domestic Corporations
      Gives corporation name, location, date of record (i.e., date when incorporation papers were first filed), volume and page number in the incorporation record books, and the date and number of the affidavit of publication of the incorporation notice. Subsequent amendments to the articles of incorporation or bylaws are often noted, as well, giving date, volume and page number, and nature of action.  The index is believed to date to the 1850s; however, the majority of entries appear to be for the 1930s and later.
      MNHS call number: SAM 117 & 118; See reel list in the Library (Secretary of State: Corporations Division)
    • Record of Incorporations (Articles of Incorporation), 1858-1946 (bulk 1858-1936)
      Record of corporations created in the State of Minnesota. A corporation is legally created by filing its articles of incorporation with the Minnesota Secretary of State.
      MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid
    • Charitable Corporations Files, 1959-1968
      Articles of incorporation, registration statements, financial statements and reports, lists of officers, annual reports, and sometimes tax returns (IRS form 990) submitted to the Secretary of State by Minnesota charitable corporations or state or local branches of national organizations. This concept is broadly conceived; the files encompass a wide variety of service, advocacy, and other nonprofit organizations. 
      MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid
  • Official Letters, Communications, and Railroad Liens
    Records of and indexes to documents received for filing in the secretary of state’s office, including city charters, certificates of incorporation for villages, notices of village charter amendments, appointments and resignations of state officers, notices of election, oaths of office, attorney general’s opinions, governor’s proclamations and vetoes, reports of state officers, railroad liens, maps, services of process, and applications for trademark registration (1893-1900).
    MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid
  • Annual and Biennial Reports, 1860-1920. (includes lists of incorporations from 1860 to 1910)
    Published reports on the activities of the secretary of state’s office, reflected generally in lists and tables, including new corporations (articles of incorporation filed, 1860-1910)
    MNHS call number:  See finding aid in the Library (Secretary of State).

State & Local Licenses

Many types of professions and businesses require a license to practice, permit to operate, or some other type of registration.  Some were covered by state-level government, some at the local level, and some in both places.      

  • Restaurants, bars, and clubs may need to have a liquor or food license.  
  • Pharmacists were licensed and some had special licenses during Prohibition, so they could sell "medicinal alcohol."   
  • Physicians, nurses, midwives, dentists, masseurs, and other health care providers had to pass exams and be licensed
  • Barbers/cosmetologists, detectives, certain types of merchants and warehouses, etc. all were overseen by the government.   

Examples for state-level registrations/licenses:

  • Department of Commerce. Minute books, 1926-1968.
    The minutes record actions taken on requests for brokers’ licenses, issuance of stocks and securities by companies doing business in Minnesota, applications for bank and insurance company charters, and related matters.
    MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Commerce Department).
  • Minnesota State Board of Cosmetology, Minute books, 1927-1970.Sylvester and Pauline Young working at Young Brothers Barber Shop and Satin Doll Beauty Salon, Minneapolis.
    The minutes list persons passing the license examination, beauty shops granted licenses, correspondence received, and expenses and other financial data, and discuss routine business. The minutes also include transcripts of licensure hearings, inspectors’ itineraries, and license examinations with answers. Much of the correspondence and financial reports are stapled into the volumes.
    MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Cosmetology Board).
  • Railroad and Warehouse Commission of the State of Minnesota. Commission Merchants Licenses and bonds Records, 1899-1915.
    Information recorded: name of firm or corporation; address; kind of commission business (grain or agricultural); approximate amount of monthly business; amount of bond; name of surety company; license number(s) and issuance date(s); and remarks. The volume for 1903-1915 adds average amount due consigners; date the bond was executed, approved by the commission, and filed with the Secretary of State; and date of withdrawal of securities.
    MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Railroad and Warehouse Commission)
  • Governor. Detective License Records, 1914-1944.
    Correspondence (1937-1938) and testimony (1941) regarding the issuance of licenses to private detectives and detective agencies; a record of licenses issued (1923-1944); and a file on the revocation of the license of the Northwestern Detective Agency, Duluth (1914).
    MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Governor)
  • Board of Barber Examiners. Examination and License Registers, 1897-1976.
    License, license application, and examination registers for barbers and apprentice barbers.
    MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Barber Examiners Board)
Examples for County and Local Levels:
  • Itasca County Court. Registration and Certificate Records
    Registers of optometrists, massage licenses, physicians, dentists, osteopaths, chiropractors, veterinarians, and basic science certificates.
    MNHS call number: See finding aid in the library (Itasca County: District Court).
  • South Saint Paul. Miscellaneous Records
    Among other records is a license register, primarily covering restaurants and liquor licenses, with index, 1889-1933
    MNHS call number: Location # 108.G.18.3B-2 (Box 1 of 2)

Business Filings & Licenses Links

MNHS Reference Staff

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