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.
In Twenty-First Century Minnesota, the term “doughboy” is probably more often associated with the Pillsbury mascot than the First World War. But during that conflict, the slang term “doughboy” in fact referred to army soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. Leonard W. Melander wore the 1917 Model helmet while serving in the 351st Field Artillery Headquarters. Its design is simple: a shallow, olive drab bowl with a small, symmetrically flared brim. Its liner consists of black oilcloth sewn to a supporting band of leather, and the interior features a course felt pad and a leather strap.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 66.78
Still behind the Front, ambulance driver David Backus continues to enjoy himself and to report on the happenings within the Norton-Harjes ambulance division. On this particular day, Backus and others found time to play two full baseball games between their assignments. In his diary, Backus happily reports that he scored the winning run in the ninth inning of both games. Later that afternoon, the Norton-Harjes received word that multiple celebrities are to join the division as volunteer ambulance drivers. These new recruits include the leading actor from the 1915 play Fair and Warmer, two unnamed actors, and a “famous dancer” named Maurice. Backus likely refers not to the dancer, but rather to the French ballet composer Maurice Ravel, who is known to have volunteered as an ambulance driver during the First World War. Whatever the exact identities of these new celebrities, David Backus doubts their ability to perform in combat, noting slyly that it will be “fun to see how these chaps act under fire.”
Sunday June 24
Out nine - shaved - cleaned up. [...] played 2 - 9 inning games of ball. in both games we were tied with two down in the ninth & fortunately I was lucky each time and brought in the winning run. [...] There are eleven new men coming out here [...] & among them - Maurice - the famous dancer who has given 30 thousand francs & six cars to this Norton-harjes. Also - Vernon Castles brother-in-law, the leading man Hill from Fair&Warmer & two other actors. [...] Will be fun to see how these chaps act under fire. [...]
Citation: David H. Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]
"Teuton Offensive is Broken Down by Advance of Allies" and "Volunteers in Demand to Aid Red Cross Work" - The Daily People's Press. June 23, 1917
"Intense Attacks Continued by German Artillery after Infantry Fails to Advance" and "Six Big British General Field Hospitals are Taken Over by American Units of Red Cross" - The Duluth Herald. June 22, 1917
The American Red Cross held a substantial presence overseas during the First World War, eventually establishing over fifty hospitals and sending nearly 20,000 nurses to active duty. Meanwhile, on the homefront the Red Cross mobilized an extensive network of 8.1 million volunteers, who solicited donations, provided entertainment to wounded veterans at military hospitals, and assisted in the production of garments and medical supplies. Today’s artifact, a 1¾-inch button which reads “Collector” and features a Red Cross symbol in the center, was likely worn by a Minnesotan Red Cross volunteer soliciting donations in their community. The button was worn approximately one hundred years ago today, during the week of June 18-25, 1917.
(Statistics from the American Red Cross website, “WWI and the American Red Cross,” http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/WWI. Statistics are likely reproduced from Henry P. Davison, The American Red Cross in the Great War. New York: Macmillan, 1919.)
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 8581.67
After a particularly dangerous military engagement at Chemin des Dames the week prior, ambulance driver David Backus thankfully worked a few unexciting shifts. He used this time for two interrelated purposes: to chat with fellow soldiers and drivers, and to report on the larger state of the war. From his interactions with French soldiers, Backus learns that the French Army is waiting for approximately one million American soldiers to arrive, and similarly, the British Army is waiting for a half million. Backus anticipates that these new soldiers will greatly increase the morale of the French Army upon their arrival, scheduled in approximately one year’s time. Moreover, these new troops will enable the French army to launch a new offensive against the Germans. After reporting this crucial information on the state of the war, Backus transitions to less weighty anecdotes, describing how he ate an entire cup of fresh strawberries and discussed various delicious foods with Mr. Wilcox, presumably another ambulance driver.
Wednesday, June 20 17.
Went to the Hans above[?] and they will only leave by force at the point of the bayonet - the Belgian Coast - the war will be over & not until. The French Army is waiting for the American troops before starting a big offense, in other words, about one year from today, by next spring, when we have one million men over here. The French morale will be vastly improved by the effect of our troops being here. The English will have another half a million and we will be in shape to start a real Drive. What a gorgeous day. Several out on journeys. Had tea cakes & a cup full of real strawberries – delicious – in Wilcox’s room. [...]
Citiation: David H. Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]
"Heavy Attack by Enemy in France Forces Haig Back" and "Housewives are Asked for Help in Conserving Food" - The Daily People's Press, June 19, 1917
Since so many women volunteered to sew clothing and blankets for soldiers, it is fitting that the American Red Cross would produce its own branded thimbles. Twelve of these thimbles, which were originally used in the Minneapolis Area during World War I, are housed in the MNHS 3D Collections. Each is made from aluminum and features a red band around its base, which reads “AMERICAN / RED CROSS / NEUTRALITY / HUMANITY.” Two Red Cross logos are also embossed on the red band.
Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. 6430.6.1-12
Opposition to the war took on a variety of forms, and U.S. intelligence organizations worked to gain information on those oppositional movements that appeared most dangerous. On June 10, the Northern Information Bureau (NIB) sent an agent to infiltrate a Minneapolis picnic held by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). In response, the organization received a complaint from the Federal government, which argued that it was unacceptable to “surreptitiously” send a plainclothes agent to the IWW picnic. In a June 16 response to the federal complaint, an official of the Northern Information Bureau disputed the use of the word “surreptitiously,” saying sarcastically that he was confused and would need to consult a dictionary to clear things up. More importantly, the NIB official implies that the IWW’s violent tendencies justify espionage. One member of the IWW, Mr. Sugarman, used his speech at the picnic to predict the assassination of President Wilson, characterize war with Germany as an act of treason, and assert that Liberty Bond campaigns were government theft meant to target the poor. In light of this, the NIB official believes that any government officer would act as he did.
June 16, 1917.
I am still pondering deeply as to the possibly meaning of the word "surreptitiously" as used in the complaint and as to what it might imply, although I have not yet consulted Webster regarding the problem. Now, if "surreptitiously" means that I have at times gone out or sent out an agent and secured information regarding some person or persons without telling the said person or persons that I was going to do this, then in my estimation "surreptitiously" is the word, but if that word means that either myself or my agents have burglarized anyones office or bribed any of their employees to secure information, then "surreptitiously" is not the word. On June 10th the I.W.W. organization held a picnic within the city limits of Minneapolis and said picnic was attended by about 400 members of this splendid organization. A member of the Socialist party and also a member of the I.W.W. organization, one Sugarman, quite well known in Minneapolis, made a speech at this picnic before this assembled body, in which he freely predicted the assassination of President Wilson [...] we had a representative there in the interest of the community at large and we did not feel that we were conspiring with anyone when we sent him there, and we presume that it might be said that he went surreptitiously inasmuch as we did not tell any of the officials of the I.W.W. organization that we were going to send him because this man is, in our estimation, a valuable Operator and we did not want him killed. [...]
Citation: Northern Information Bureau, Organization Records, 1909-1933. Minnesota Historical Society. St. Paul, Minnesota. 143.B.15.5 B
The First World War saw a significant increase in the range of artillery fire, as new machine guns allowed for bullets to be shot longer distances. Some of these machine guns, like the French Light Machine Gun C.S.R.G., were designed for easy transport during battle. This particular machine gun, a 1915 Chauchat 8 mm model, is comparatively lightweight, and it features a folding bipod that allows for soldiers to adjust the machine gun’s position. Its crescent-shaped magazine could be detached and refilled with up to twenty rounds. In order to prevent overheating, manufacturers drilled air-cooling perforations in the barrel of the gun. Additionally, since the flash of a firing machine gun could be very bright, this gun was outfitted with a cone-shaped flash suppressor on its muzzle in order to protect the eyes of the soldier operating the weapon.