Weatherball

Minnesotans, like most Midwesterners, love to talk about the weather. What else do you say to someone while standing in line at the post office?

WeatherballIn Minnesota, we made it an institution when Northwestern National Bank installed the 157-foot-tall Weatherball atop its building in downtown Minneapolis in 1949 (celebrated with fireworks and balloons, no less). The Weatherball broadcast the weather in a time before Doppler Radar and the Weather Channel with a simple color code. A snappy jingle made the code easy to remember. (The original jingle was updated in 1956—that’s the one most people remember. You know, “When the weatherball is shining white, colder weather is in sight!”)

The largest bank sign between Chicago and the West Coast, the Weatherball and its 1¼ miles of neon tubing could be seen from more than 15 miles away. Originally a bank employee set the color each day at 4:15 p.m., but in 1977 a direct line to the National Weather Service allowed it to be updated four times a day.

Mr. WeatherballThe Weatherball was so popular that it became the bank’s symbol. In 1950 “Mr. Weatherball” was introduced. The “jolly creature” gave some life to the big steel sign and took on a life of his own. The Weatherball Dining Room was on the top floor of the original bank building with Weatherball silverware, placemats, and match books. That same year, smaller versions of the Weatherball appeared at nine other Northwestern National Banks in neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. Beginning in 1959, customers opening a savings account with a deposit of $25 or more could receive the collectable Weatherball coin bank.

The Weatherball could withstand winds up to 140 miles per hour but not a fire. On Thanksgiving Day 1982, a fire destroyed the Northwestern National Bank building in Minneapolis, putting out the light atop the Weatherball for good. The following year, the Weatherball was donated to the Minnesota State Fair with the intention of it being rebuilt on the fairgrounds. Instead, it languished in storage for 17 years until it finally met its fate at the scrap yard.

But never fear—the memory of the Northwestern National Bank Weatherball lives on at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Minneapolis, where visitors can bask in its glow. Let’s check the weather: Yes! “It’s glowing red—warmer weather is ahead!”

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18 Responses to Weatherball

  1. CJ says:

    Oh my gosh – how cute is the weatherball on the beach?!

  2. Patty says:

    That gorgeous gal with ‘Mr. Weatherball’ is my mother, Maureen when she was in her twenties. The photo shoot was done at Lake Calhoun in the early 1950′s! She’s thrilled to have such a neat photo of her on-line! Thanks for posting it!

  3. William Gronberg says:

    I was a second generation employee of Northwestern National Bank. Between my father and I we had 70 years of being employees there so we saw the complete life of the weatherball. We depended on it when planning what to wear or where we would go. When the bank burned it was the end of an era. We all lost a friend.

  4. Curator Megan Schaack says:

    Mr. Gronberg,
    Thanks so much for contributing to our history of the Weatherball. That photo of your mother is one of my favorites and I love knowing that it was shot at Lake Calhoun.

  5. gary white says:

    I wish someone could tell me who made the NW weatherball banks in 1959. I have one of the original banks and I would like to repair it. I need a new dioir for it

  6. Charles Riggs says:

    Hi gary:

    We checked what info we have — nothin’ on it. No idea who made the banks in 1959.

    Best of luck!

  7. Jay says:

    My family lived in Minneapolis from 1954 to 1959. I seem to remember a blue color being used on the weather ball as well. Is that true, or is my mind going?

    • Gail Lofdahl says:

      I think what you thought was blue was actually white. I seem to remember it had a bluish cast over distance (or if you were looking at it during a snowstorm, since white forecast snow). Hope this helps.
      I was stationed at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, and my parents had flown in to spend Thanksgiving with me. I remember all of us sadly watching footage of the fire on one of the cable stations. The Northwestern National Bank building was a beautiful building itself. I was sad to see the weatherball go; it is a very clear memory of my childhood.

  8. Pat says:

    I remember the weather ball on the Norwest Bk off 494, can you tell us when that one was taken down… I think it must have been sometime in the 90′s.

  9. Doug Meade says:

    My dad was a janitor at the old bank for years…many great stories and memories. Raised a family with that job.

  10. Neal De Jesus says:

    I remember Northwestern National Bank change its name to Norwest on August 1st 1983 in 1991 First Minnesota merge with Norwest in 1998 Norwest with Wells Fargo the weatherball on top of the NW in Minneapolis was there since 1949 Northwestern National Bank in Minneapolis/Saint Paul in Downtown,Calhuon Isles,University/Midway/Old Saint Anthony/Central Avenue,Nicollet-Lake,Macalester/Groveland/Higland Park and East Saint Paul.

  11. Janice Storebo says:

    I was searching on the web for information about the date of the fire in the Northwestern National Bank Building and found this site. At the time of the fire I worked in the Marketing department on the 11th floor of the building. I learned of the fire at my mother’s home (this was Thanksgiving Day in 1982) two hours north of Minneapolis. Late the next week I was able to go up to the area where I worked. The fire had not touched that area but it was covered in nasty black soot. I took personal objects that I could find in the dark with one flashlight. Our department as well as others were moved into a building that was being finished across the street from the burned building about a week later, to a floor that had no inner walls. Old desks lined up side by side with windows on all four sides. What a time that was!! We could look out the southern window and see the burned building along with the Weatherball that was no longer lit.

    I remember my 18 years with Northwestern/Norwest fondly.

    Jan Storebo – Afton, MN

    • sam says:

      I wonder if you remember my grandfather, Stanley Rude, who was publicity director of the bank for many years until his retirement in the early 80s…
      There are still plastic weatherball penny banks lying around the house…

  12. BEN Ludke says:

    Someone should focus on putting an “on line” working weather ball and make an app for mobile devices and have someone change it at 4:15PM

  13. Brian Johnston says:

    My Father worked at NorthWestern for about 30 years. He started as a teller and worked his way up to VP. At the time of the fire he was VP of Security and the moment he was notified that the building was on fire he rushed downtown. Our family still has a few relics from the fire, one of which is a melted desk phone.

  14. Goldie says:

    The weatherball that I remember most was the one atop the Uptown Theatre. I understand that the downtown Mpls one was damaged by the fire, but why were the rest of them taken down? Do you know when and why the Uptown one was taken down? Thank you.

  15. Theresa Rokusek says:

    I sang in the Northwestern National Bank Weatherball Chorus during Aquatennial and the Christmas season 1968-1970. WCCO news announcer Howard Viking would MC sometimes. I still have my NW Weatherball lapel pin from my singing days and one long playing album that was recorded of one of the performances. Many fond memories of those times.

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