A Brief History of Hannibal
Hannibal's Historic Districts
Mark Twain's Hannibal
Molly Brown's Hannibal
Other Historic Sites
Hannibal Cavemen Baseball
Living in Hannibal Today
Kids: Magical History Tour
Parks and Nature Trails
Plan Your Visit
Educators: Lesson Plans
Hannibal Links and Info
By the turn of the twentieth century, the lumber industry in Hannibal had faded away. The white pine forests of Wisconsin and Minnesota were completely exhausted and many firms moved to the Pacific Northwest to continue business. Hannibal's businessmen quickly began to attract new industry to the area to stave off economic decline.
The newly formed St. Louis shoe company Roberts, Johnson and Rand began operating in Hannibal in 1898. By 1904, the company’s “Star” brand shoes boomed to the point that a second building was constructed on the property. Combined, the twin factories occupied an entire city block and boasted a manufacturing capacity of eight thousand pairs of shoes daily. As a whole, the Hannibal facility was considered one of the largest, if not the largest, shoe manufacturers in the country at the time.
Construction on the Atlas Portland Cement Company, billed as “the largest cement plant in the world", was completed in 1901, with the facility located just a couple miles south of the Hannibal city limits.
[Visit "Ilasco/Monkey Run" on this website for more information.]
New Century, New Industries
Roberts, Johnson and Rand Shoe Factory, 1904
The 1920s saw the dawn of a cultural revolution in America, and Hannibal became “under the influence.” The genteel, Victorian days of the Gilded Age and Chautauquas gave way to a new generation, one that had suffered through World War I and was ready to seek new thrills and adventures. Young women, in particular, underwent a transformation: they won the right to vote, bobbed their hair and shortened their skirts. They embraced a new sense of personal freedom. The Roaring Twenties had arrived.
Sometime just after the turn of the century, North Main Street began to be known as the town’s “Red Light District”. A men’s store that sold hats and tobacco on the east side of the street was rumored to house a notoriously serious card game in the store’s back room every night. Bootleggers set up stills behind their houses on North Street. "Blood Alley", which ran behind the saloons that dotted the west side of Main Street, was named for the numerous brawls that took place there.
And, of course, there were the brothels. One such establishment, on the east side of North Main just a block away from the hat and tobacco shop, was a restaurant owned by a lady named Pauline. Her main source of income, however, was upstairs above the restaurant. Her girls would stand in front of the lace-draped windows on the second floor to advertise their services, and Pauline herself was frequently seen stepping outside to sweep the front stoop of her building wearing nothing more than her shoes!
By the mid-1950s, members of the clergy in Hannibal were successful in ending the era of the Red Light District. Today, the buildings that used to house the taverns and brothels in downtown Hannibal are now ice cream parlors, antique stores, museums and souvenir shops. All that’s left of the Prohibition-era speakeasies and gambling dens are the stories that were left behind.
Do You Know:
John Dillinger paid a visit to Hannibal in 1934
On January 9, 1934, Dillinger and his gang were in Hannibal. They crept into the Murphy Motor Company building at 210 Center Street and jumped into an Oldsmobile. As Dillinger attempted to steal the car, Hannibal police gave chase. Headed northward on a dirt road, the police and the Dillinger gang exchanged gunfire. The police, unprepared for the situation, ran out of ammunition and had to drop their pursuit. They returned to the station.
Officers Schneider and Barker pose with their bullet-riddled police car after exchanging gunfire with John Dillinger, January, 1934
Soon, the police were tipped off that Dillinger had been spotted at the Willard Cruser Farm. Two officers, W.J. Schneider and J.O. Barker, jumped into the police car and headed west on Highway 36. Somehow, Dillinger had anticipated their actions and ambushed the officers, riddling the police car with machine gun blasts.
The two officers huddled below the dash. Dillinger, who apparently did not want to injure the police, shot high and aimed with the intention of only hitting the upper windshield and top of the car. The police officers survived the encounter unscathed; Dillinger and his gang were able to escape into the night.
Bobbed-haired ladies visit the doctor c1920
By the mid-1910s, Collier Street was loaded with factories that produced everything from buttons and cleaning machines to railroad car wheels and cast-iron stoves. Due to the influx of new jobs and annexed land, Hannibal’s population grew over 40 percent between 1900 and 1910, rising to 18,341 residents.
When America fell into the depths of the Great Depression, Hannibal suffered as well. Banks closed, neighbors moved in together to save money and wages dropped. In 1935, President Roosevelt initiated the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which brought badly needed jobs and civic progress to Hannibal. WPA projects scheduled for Hannibal in the mid- to late-1930s included the paving of county roads; the construction of the fire department; the building of the Coontz Armory, dedicated in the name of Admiral Robert E. Coontz from Hannibal; a new high school stadium; stone walls around Clemens (baseball) Field and the Hatch Experimental Farm; a new rock quarry; sewer installation; the removal of old streetcar lines; and Hannibal's Lighthouse, built to celebrate the 100th birthday of it's most famous resident, Mark Twain.
Above: Depresson-era WPA workers install a stone wall around Clemens baseball field, c1935
Left: One of the 35 Saloons listed in the 1901 Hannibal City Directory
Do You Know:
After ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, the first vote cast by a woman in the United States was in Hannibal
Early on the morning of August 31, 1920, rain was falling in Hannibal. A determined twenty-six-year-old woman set out to walk fifteen muddy blocks. She was on a very special mission. Accompanying her was her husband, Morris Byrum, Hannibal’s city clerk.
When the couple reached their destination, they were met by Morris’s father, Lacey Byrum. A special election was being held that day, and Lacey Byrum was serving as the Democratic election judge. It was his suggestion that Marie Rouff Byrum appear at the polling place by 7:00 a.m. to cast her ballot. The election was being held to fill a vacancy on the Hannibal City Council.
As Marie slipped her vote into the ballot box, she became the very first woman to vote after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment had been ratified just five days earlier. Her vote fulfilled the dreams of women suffragists across the country and ushered in a new chapter of American history.
Left: Mark Twain Memorial
Lighthouse, dedicated in 1935