It’s Almost Time for the Minneapolis Aquatennial!

The “Ten Best Days of Summer” are nearly upon us! Celebrated in locations and venues across the city, the Minneapolis Aquatennial is the largest parade and free outdoor concert in Minnesota. The event also boasts one of the largest fireworks displays in the U.S.! This celebration always attracts huge crowds. In fact, the festival is attended by nearly 800,000 people over the 10 days of the Aquatennial!

The Aquatennial is always held the third full week of July. The festival's founding fathers consulted weather forecasters who said that was traditionally the driest, warmest week of the year. This year, the event will be held July 18–27, 2008.

Just as Minneapolis celebrated its centennial in conjunction with the Aquatennial in 1956, this year the event will celebrate the year Minnesota achieves 150 years of statehood.

The very first Minneaplis Aquatennial celebration occurred in 1940. At the time, the entire Minneapolis police department worked twelve hours each day of the new festival. 92-year-old Chief One Bull, last of the great Sioux warriors and famous for his defeat of General Custer, was at the festivities. Celebrity Gene Autry was also an honored guest, broadcasting his "Melody Ranch" programs from WCCO Radio. In 1941, just one year after its inception, the Aquatennial was proclaimed to be the Northwest's greatest summer festival, one that should not be missed!

Back when the Aquatennial began, there were nearly 200 events. Today that number has been scaled back to just over 70 events. The goal is to make each event as spectacular as it can be.

Some of the other attractions and events include boat races, a sandcastle building competition, a beachside art fair, numerous neighborhood park BBQs, athletics competitions, live music, and entertainment. The first Torchlight Parade was held during the very first Aquatennial in 1940, but back then, it was called the "Illuminated Evening Parade". One of the more novel and memorable events is the annual "Milk Carton Boat Races," in which participants in various divisions race boats they have constructed from milk cartons.

So where does the most unique event at the Aquatennial, the Milk Carton Boat Race, have its roots? It began in 1971 with a local advertising agency trying to increase sales for its client, a milk distributor. Ad executives tried to think up the most outrageous idea and came up with milk carton boat races. The Aquatennial, a festival with a nautical theme, was the logical venue for the race. In 1993, Tetra Pak, a Minneapolis packager, used 25,000 milk cartons to make a one-hundred-foot boat in the shape of an aircraft carrier. This was to honor those who had served in Operation Desert Storm. Nearly 150 people rode on the boat.

The festival's relationship with Minnesota communities is apparent in the Aquatennial's Queen of the Lakes Program. Each year, 50 young women from around Minnesota are chosen by their communities to compete for the Queen of the Lakes and two Princess titles. These three young women will travel around the state, country, and globe to participate in festivals in San Antonio, Texas, Macon, Georgia, and Osaka, Japan.

One of the Aquatennial's most popular events, the Aqua Follies, ended in 1964. This event began in 1940 at Cedar Lake and eventually moved to Theodore Wirth Lake Park. The main attractions of the Follies were the "Aqua Darlings," a variety group, and the "Aqua Dears," a team of 25 synchronized swimmers. Also featured at the Aqua Follies were Olympic divers, comedians, acrobats, singers, dancers and a sound and light show unrivaled in its time. Aquatennial officials ended the Follies because the cost to replace the deteriorating staging area, bleachers and diving area would have been astronomical.

Throughout the years, the Minneapolis Aquatennial has been attended by many famous guests:

1951 - The Lone Ranger attended Children's Day events at the new Parade Stadium

1957 - Bob Barker hosted the TV game show "Truth or Consequences" with a live broadcast at the Southdale Shopping Mall in Edina, Minnesota

1958 - Vice President Richard Nixon served as the Aquatennial's Grand Marshal

1967 - The Aquatennial had its own Woodstock with "Happening '67" a three-day psychedelic band concert featuring rock stars like Jefferson Airplane and Buffalo Springfield.

1978 - Millionaire and philanthropist, Percy Ross, rode in the Torchlight Parade and threw $16,500 worth of silver dollars into the crowd (by the way, throwing things from a float is now illegal in Minneapolis).

1989 - Phyllis George, the former sportscaster, morning television show anchor, and Miss America was Torchlight Parade Grand Marshal

You can check out the full schedule of activities at the official Minneapolis Aquatennial website!

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