The Root Beer Lady Museum

Dec 20, 2023 | 0 comments

By Dana Botz, Girl Camper Minnesota Chapter Guide

There is a museum just outside of Ely, Minnesota that provides history amidst peaceful surroundings. You can walk back in time at the Dorothy Molter Museum while you learn about the Root Beer Lady in her own surroundings. The Dorothy Molter Museum “preserves and interprets Northwoods wilderness heritage through learning opportunities inspired by Dorothy with a vision of inspiring the next generation of Northwoods stewards” (https://www.rootbeerlady.com/). Who was Dorothy Molter and why was a museum established in her honor?

Who Was Dorothy Molter?

Dorothy Molter, the Root Beer Lady, was born May 6th, 1907, in Arnold, Pennsylvania. Dorothy was born into a family of six children who were forced to split up and live with various relatives, and in an orphanage, due to the death of their mother when Dorothy was seven. Eventually, her father remarried and moved the entire family to Chicago.

While in Chicago, Dorothy was a good student who was very athletic. She didn’t follow the traditional gender role of her time. She chose to attend nursing school rather than get married and have children, which was expected at the time. On a school break in 1930, she accompanied her father, stepmother, uncle, and one of her father’s co-workers on a fishing trip to Knife Lake in northeastern Minnesota and immediately fell in love with the Northwoods.

After graduating from nursing school, she returned to Knife Lake, in the current Boundary Waters Canoe Area, in 1931 to help Bill Berglund run his resort. Dorothy inherited the resort when Bill Berglund died. Dorothy became widely known in the area for her nursing skills, her willingness to help others and her homemade root beer.

The Root Beer Lady

Dorothy’s root beer is possibly the most well-known part of her history. She began making root beer in the early 1950s due to the executive order issued by President Truman in 1949 that prohibited planes from landing on the lakes and from flights below 4,000 feet over the area. This meant that it would be a greater challenge for Dorothy to receive supplies—including soda. She had a large number of empty glass soda pop bottles and it seemed logical to reuse them for homemade root beer.

The popularity of her root beer, combined with her notoriety stemming from her dispute with the U.S. Forest Service, made her into a celebrity becoming “The Root Beer Lady.” The demand for her root beer grew each year to the point she had to enlist the help of friends and family to keep up. Between 1976 and 1986, Dorothy and her helpers brewed an average of over 10,000 bottles of root beer per summer ( https://www.rootbeerlady.com/dorothys-root-beer/).

Enjoy Her Legacy

Dorothy and lake trout

Today, the Dorothy Molter Museum coordinates the brewing of “Dorothy’s Isle of Pines Root Beer.” In addition to brewing root beer, the Museum has an extensive collection of Dorothy’s personal objects and memorabilia, photos, and three historic log cabins. Stop by to visit the museum and purchase a little bit of Dorothy’s legacy in a case of root beer.

Photos of Dorothy Molter were obtained from the Minnesota Digital Library (https://mndigital.org/).

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