The team was founded in Kansas City in 1894 as a Western League team and would move to Washington, D.C., in 1901 as one of the eight original teams of the American League, named the Washington Senators or Washington Nationals. Although the Washington team endured long bouts of mediocrity (immortalized in the Broadway musical Damn Yankees), they had a period of prolonged success in the 1920s and 1930s, led by Hall-of-Famers Bucky Harris, Goose Goslin, Sam Rice, Joe Cronin, and above all Walter Johnson. Manager Clark Griffith joined the team in 1912 and became the team's owner in 1920. The franchise remained under Griffith family ownership until 1984.
In 1960, Major League Baseball granted the city of Minneapolis an expansion team. Washington owner Calvin Griffith, Clark's nephew and adopted son, requested that he be allowed to move his team to Minneapolis and instead give Washington the expansion team. Upon league approval, the team moved to Minnesota after the 1960 season, setting up shop in Metropolitan Stadium, while Washington fielded a brand new "Washington Senators" (which later became the Texas Rangers prior to the 1972 season).