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?
In 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.
The 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!”