Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Toboggan Craze in Grand Forks


Wintertime brings cold and ice and snow, but North Dakotans have endured the worst of it, often embracing the best of winter’s weather.

One of the best ways to enjoy the frigid air has been sledding, and today’s Datebook chronicles the toboggan craze of 1886, which swept the Northern plains like a swiftly-swirling blizzard. It was on this date that year that a Grand Forks Herald article explained how the new toboggan craze had captured the attention of Dakotans.

A toboggan is like a sled, but it has no runners. They’re typically made of half-inch-thick ash, are four to six feet long, two feet wide, with the front curled up like a dashboard. With a smooth underside, a toboggan can zip down a slope while fully loaded with boys and girls.

Toboggans came from French Canada, from Montreal, and spread south to Saratoga, New York, and thence to St. Paul and throughout the northern U-S where winter’s cold and snow predominated. Every up-to-date city caught the epidemic of building toboggan slides. Such a slide was a heavy wooden framework covered with planks, then iced to form the slickest-possible surface. A toboggan slide in Grand Forks was built on a slope that descended towards the Red River. The run ended, abruptly, at the riverbank on the Minnesota side.

The North Star Toboggan Club built its first toboggan slide on Division Avenue in February, 1886. It included a warming house nearby. Club members had to wear official blue uniforms. Non-members paid five cents per trip.

Tobogganing was a glorious winter activity for sheer excitement. The newspaper article reflected on the “seeming recklessness in dashing away at breathless speed, yet the freedom from real danger” by staying on the icy trackway.

In December, the toboggan club built a better slide, claiming it to be the “longest artificial slide in the world,” – a tall, 900-foot-long trestle in Captain McCormack’s back yard on North Third Street.

The frosty frolicking fad spread across the state as Bismarck, Wahpeton, Dickinson, and Fargo also built toboggan slides. Bismarck, naturally, bragged about having the steepest natural slope.

The tobogganing craze snowballed for several years and then slowly melted away before the next winter-crazes – skating rinks and hockey.

Dakota Datebook written by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSU Moorhead History Department.

Sources: “Crazes,” Grand Forks Herald, January 12, 1886, p. 4.

“Those Who Remember,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, January 14, 1887, p. 4.

“Toboggan Slides are All the Rage,” Stevens Point [WI] Journal, January 2, 1886, p. 5.

“The Toboggan Fever is Spreading,” Wilkes-Barre [PA] Record, January 4, 1886, p. 2.

“Points About Tobogganing,” Topeka [KS] Daily Capital, January 15, 1887, p. 6; “Sunbeams,” New York Sun, December 21, 1886, p. 2.

W.P. Davies Newspaper Columns, Grand Forks Herald, December 30, 1932, U.N.D. Special Collections Library online database, accessed on December 21, 2014.

“North Star Toboggan Club,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 1, 1886, p. 1.

“City Council,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 3, 1886, p. 1.

“Toboggan Suits,” Grand Forks Daily Herald, February 18, 1886, p. 1.

“North Stars Ahead,” Grand Forks Herald, December 17, 1886, p. 1.

“Dickinson,” Bismarck Weekly Tribune, February 18, 1887, p. 5.

“Wahpeton,” Wahpeton Times, December 2, 1886, p. 1.