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Collecting pieces of Minnesota's past for the future


The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.

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WW1 Daybook

"Double Air Raid Made Over England by Zeppelins and Airplanes; Fifteen Killed" and "American Soldiers in France Want Tobacco Like They Had at Home" - The Duluth Herald. September 25, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 25, 2017

US Army Trench Whistle

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 24, 2017

Trench whistles were often used for signaling at the Front. This whistle was used by Norman F. Claussen of St. Paul, Minnesota, during his service in the Field Artillery in both the Mexican Border War and World War I. This type of U.S. Army whistle was used widely by commissioned and non-commissioned officers alike. It is somewhat simply designed, made from brass and covered with a layer of brown finish, then attached to the carrying ring by a brass chain and hook. A cork ball inside allows it to produce noise, and an engraving of “Horstman, Phila” specifies the company and location in which it was produced. The Claussen arrived in Liverpool, England, to begin his military service on September 23rd, 1917.


Trench whistle

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 1999.74.12

Letter from Flight School: David Backus's Progress

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 23, 2017

David Backus wrote a letter to his mother from Tours, France, where he was continuing his Aviation training. He comments on his oldest brother's enlistment at Fort Snelling and his other brother's disapproval of the war. He also mentions his training, the weather (a constant topic for the pilot), and his progress in flight school, (explaining why landing is the most difficult skill to master). Finally, Backus talks about his likely plans once his training in Tours is finished.


Tours-France Sept.23
Dearest Mother:
[...] Am awfully glad to hear that Clinton got into the O.F. Camp at Fort Snelling and especially that he has gone into artillery rather than Infantry. The artillery is a good game. Received a letter from Romayne this morning. He does not approve of fighting and hopes he gets into the Quartermaster department as he wishes. You know by now that I am in Avaitation. [sic] [...] We have been having beautiful weather lately and have been flying everyday. Yesterday I got 3 10 minutes Hops - that is flights. Ought to be in the Sols Class before you receive this letter, and will be out of here inside of 4 weeks with good weather. It will be great sport when I get into the Sols Class, take several small voyages thn we take two triangles, make 3 good sized tours, stop at an English Avaitation [sic] Corp & report. it is a trip of about 70 miles.Go over to English School 30 miles away in 23 minutes, not so slow. [...] From here, (that is unless the big U.S. Aviation school is open by the time I leave here, in that case I will go there.) I go to Avord to take Perfection work on Newports & Spades - they make from 140 to 150 metrs [sic] an hour are very small one man machines. of course I go up in a double one with a Monitlier at first. Then after having gotten accustomed to flying one of them and landing (that is the hardest part and the most difficult of all flying and where most of the accidents occur. you have to land going about 40 or fifty meters an hour & make what is known as a 3 point landing. you see two wheels & the tail of the fusilage [sic] or body. Sounds easy, does it not well some men can never learn how to do it as it requires a very delicate touch and exact sense of distance to land at the right moment with correct amount of speed and machine at just a certain angle. From there I go to the Pou - for Acrobatics - yes just what the word implies learn to loop the loop, side, slip, [verroy?], with motor shut off, tail slip, falling, leaf, twist, nose dive, etc. There to Plessy-Bellview about 30 miles out of Paris for machine gun practice then to the Front. [...]

Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F

Shell Holes and Sea Sickness: William W. Dean Crosses the Atlantic

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 22, 2017

As William W. Dean's journey across the Atlantic on the RMS Carmania continued, he described the other boats in their convoy, including one with many visible repairs from shell holes. Tensions on the ship are began to mount as the convoy neared more dangerous areas on the sea, and the constant worry about the threat of torpedoes inspired extreme caution for the submarine watch.


Dean letter
Dean letter

Our convoy consists of 14 ships filled with troops. Our escort is one armed cruiser way up at the head of the procession, one torpedo destroyer capable of 35 knots an hour, which they say is just out of sight on the starboard side, and the strangely camouflaged boat (previously described as looking 'like a futurist picture with black, yellow, and sky blue stripes all over it'), with 8 6 inch guns. I thought if any boat in the fleet was torpedoed it would be this one. The Germans have been trying to get her for a long time because she sank the Cap Trafalgar and another German raider. This boat had 360 shell holes in her, some of which the patches are clearly visible. [...] I sure will be glad when we hit the other side and this little game of sunning ["running"?] the gauntlet is over. Everybody is so crabby and in such nervous tension that an exchange of blows is not far off. The "submarine watch" goes on, which consists of 6 men stationed at different parts of the boat with high powered field glasses, They are forbidden from taking the glasses from their eyes while they are on watch.

Citation: William Blake Dean and Family. Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1444 Box 3

"Aid Germany; Then Starve" and "British Smash Flanders Line" - The Daily People's Press. September 21, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 21, 2017

"Great Battle is On Again" and "'British Troops Plowing Through German Lines" - The Duluth Herald. September 20, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 20, 2017

Bertha Dahl Laws of Appleton is Impressed with the State Fair First Aid Demonstrations

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 19, 2017

The Red Cross’s recent First Aid demonstrations at the State Fair had been a success, and one prominent woman of Appleton, Minnesota wished to replicate the demonstrations in her hometown. Bertha Dahl Laws acted as the Superintendent of Appleton’s Red Cross Women’s Work, and she had attended the earlier demonstrations at the Minnesota State Fair. Laws was rather impressed with the display, and she expressed her positive impressions to Mrs. Lowry of the Minneapolis Chapter of the Red Cross. In her letter, dated September 19, 1917, Laws noted that the Red Cross demonstrations gave an “atmosphere” of “gentleness and courtesy” to the entire Women’s Building, something she had never encountered before. Laws wondered if the Red Cross Women of Appleton might borrow some of their demonstration materials, especially their dressed dolls. Appleton’s upcoming October 1st fair would be more enjoyable and impactful with the help of the Minneapolis branch of the Red Cross.


Red Cross State Fair

September 19th 1917
Mrs. Horace Lowry
Minneapolis Minnesota
Dear Mrs. Lowry : -
Now that the 1917 State Fair is a memory only I find myself reviewing the work done by the different organizations of women, under the direction of the Department of Woman's Work. As I look back to the strenuous week of the State Fair I realize what a great big place the Red Cross filled. Your exhibit was beautiful, ofcourse, [sic] but it was more than that - it gave an "atmosphere" to the entire building - there was an air of gentleness and courtesy noticable, even among all the concessionares, which was new. I want to thank you and your committee, not only as the head of the department but personally - you made my work so much easier, so much pleasanter and so much more effective. I persume [sic] that there is little chance of our borrowing any of the exhibits of the State Fair booth for our local county fair to be held here at Appleton the first of October ? I am the chairman of our local Red Cross organization and have promised our secretary - Mrs. Sloss - that I would mention this matter to you. If it is possible for you to send us any material ( I believe the women are particularly anxious to procure the dressed dolls ) we would all appreciate it and I particular, as I am very much interested in my home fiar, of course.
Again thanking you for your help and appreciation, I am
Gratefully yours
Bertha Dahl Laws

Citation: American Red Cross, Northern Division, records, 1915-1921. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P781

William W. Dean Departs Aboard the RMS Carmania

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 18, 2017

The grandson of a railroad magnate, financier, and Minnesota state senator, William W. Dean left the United States to serve in France on September 17, 1917. His ship, the RMS Carmania, was a former British merchant ship turned armed cruiser, which left New York Harbor with a total of 3,000 people on board. In a diary entry dated September 18, 1917, William Dean described the worried and poor conditions onboard the ship. That day, the "scared bunch" of officers had spent two hours planning emergency procedures in case of a torpedo impact. And when Dean travelled below deck to check on his twenty-three enlisted men, he was struck by the unpleasant smell and crowded conditions. Upon his arrival in France, Dean would serve as an officer in the American Field Service and later the American Red Cross. The Minnesota Historical Society has copies of Dean's letters and diaries. The original materials are located at the Yale University Library in Connecticut.


Dean letter

"In the evening we had an officers conference that lasted two hours and they certainly seem to me like a scared bunch. Precaution personified is what the officers are and we spent two hours making out a plan we were to follow if we were hit by a torpedo. I am in charge of the Hdq. Det. of 23 men and am responsible for them. Gee but I feel sorry for the enlisted men. I go below 3 times a day to inspect the mess of my men and they are jammed in like rats in a hole. It smells terribly down there and there is very poor ventilation."

Citation: William Blake Dean and Family. Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1444 Box 3

"County's First Quota Leaves Friday" and "German Guns in Trenches Worn Out" - Bemidji Daily Pioneer. September 17, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 17, 2017

American Red Cross Knitting Pattern Book

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 16, 2017

The Red Cross continuously received letters, from people all over the country, asking how individuals at home could contribute to the war effort. In response, the Red Cross created resources like this book of knitting patterns, produced September 10, 1917. People could order one of these pattern books, produce the patterns inside, and contribute their work to the war effort. These pattern books ensured that home-produced items were standardized and allowed those who wished to contribute their time and talent to produce items that were useful and needed on the front lines. Patterns in this book include socks, scarves (or "mufflers"), hoods (or "helmets"), and sweaters.

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections, 67.29.7

Knitting instructions


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