Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature
Skip Navigation Links > >

Minnesota Agencies

Information on Minnesota State Agencies, Boards, Task Forces, and Commissions

Compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Highway Department

Also known as:
Minnesota Department of Highways
Active dates:1917-1976

Creates and maintains a network of highways in Minnesota; oversees the entire network of roadways within the state; conducts state highway safety programs.


The State Highway Commission of Minnesota was organized January 12th, 1906, under the provisions of chapter 163, General Laws of 1905.

"Abolishing the Highway Commission in 1917, the Legislature created a Department of Highways. Charles M. Babcock of Elk River was chosen to be the first commissioner and was empowered to employ a support staff and a deputy commissioner who must be an engineer as well as road builder.

A constitutional amendment adopted in 1920 allowed for the creation of a system of 70 trunk highways. Legislation was passed in 1921 to make such a highway plan possible. This legislation required the commissioner of highways to carry out the provisions of the trunk highway amendment. The mandate for the Department was to acquire right of way, locate, construct, reconstruct, improve and maintain the trunk highways, let necessary contracts, buy needed material and equipment, and expend necessary funds. The same legislation authorized the commissioner to appoint two assistant commissioners, one of whom was to be an experienced highway engineer. The commissioner was also authorized to employ skilled and unskilled employees as needed.

Later in the 1920s, Babcock fought for and won an amendment to the state constitution to use taxes on gasoline solely to build and maintain roads. The organization of the Highway Department reflected the need for a roadway system able to handle the growing numbers of motor vehicles. There were 920 motor vehicles registered in 1903 and 324,166 in 1920.

The 1920s and 1930s brought growth to the Railroad and Warehouse Commission. The Commission's jurisdiction steadily grew to regulating street railways, regulating common carriers with regular routes and regulating carriers on irregular routes.

Created on April 22, 1933, the Minnesota Aeronautics Commission focused its efforts on two main goals: to make aviation in Minnesota safe and to promote interest in aviation throughout the state. In 1943, the Aeronautics Commission became the Department of Aeronautics. An amendment to the constitution was proposed by the Legislature that the state be permitted to construct airports, issue bonds, levy excise taxes and tax aircraft. This amendment was submitted to and accepted by the voters in the general election of 1944.

The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944 authorized funding for the postwar programs to improve secondary rural and urban roads. As a result, the State Aid Division was created in 1945 in the Department of Highways to work with Minnesota's cities and counties.

In 1956, Congress enacted laws that set up funding for the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Also in 1956, the voters of Minnesota approved a constitutional amendment to provide for the orderly distribution of state road user funds. The percentages established were 62 percent state, 29 percent county and 9 percent municipal.

The Department of Public Service was created in 1967 and the functions of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission were transferred to it. And in 1969 the Legislature established the Department of Public Safety. The Highway Patrol and Drivers License Bureau, both formerly a part of the Highway Department, were transferred to this new Department.

MnDOT, or the Minnesota Department of Transportation, was created in 1976 by the Legislature to assume the activities of the former Departments of Aeronautics and of Highways and the transportation- related sections of the State Planning Agency and of the Public Service Department." (From: The Minnesota Department of Transportation website 2/4/12, see link below to history)

Agency heads:

Charles M. Babcock, 1917-1932; N.W. Elsberg, 1933-1938; M.J. Hoffman, 1939-1957; L.P. Zimmerman, 1957-1961; James C. Marshall, 1961-1965; John R. Jamieson, 1965-1967; Nils Theodore Waldor, 1968-1971; Ray Lappegaard, 1971-1974; Frank Marzitelli, 1975-1976

Internet resource:
Note: The Legislative Reference Library may have additional reports on or by this group available through our catalog.
News clippings and documents. Agencies Notebook Collection, 1957-1976.
Record last updated: 03/05/2021

All information on this group from the Library’s collection of agency notebooks has been digitized. These materials are incorporated into the “documents/articles” section of the record. Please contact a librarian with any questions. The Minnesota Agencies database is a work in progress.

Agencies image