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collections up close Blog

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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Zero Morning

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 22, 2017

An oil on canvas painting titled "Zero Morning" made by Minnesota artist Henry Holmstrom in 1940.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this painting in our collections database.

New Zealand Military Insignia - May 21, 1917

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

The bulk of military engagements of the First World War took place in Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa. Still, since countries from around the globe entered the conflict, casualties were by no means exclusive to nations located within military zones. New Zealand is just one example of a far-removed nation that entered the First World War at great cost to itself. When Britain declared war on Germany in June 1914, the government of New Zealand quickly followed suit. Between 1914 and 1918, New Zealand sent nearly 100,000 soldiers to war, an impressive feat given their total population of just over one million. Importantly, the First World War also marked the first time that indigenous Maori soldiers served alongside white New Zealanders. Today’s artifact references this chapter in WWI history. A brass military insignia that reads “NZR,” it was worn by a member of the New Zealand Rifles Regiment circa 1918. (Note data taken from an NZ Government websitem "New Zealand History":


Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. PUID 1981.38.16

David Backus Arrives in France, Anticipates Work with Ambulance Corps - May 20, 1917

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

In an undated letter from May 1917, David Backus, a St. Paul native and recent recruit to the French Ambulance Corps, notifies his mother that he will soon be sent to training and then to the front. He begins the letter on a rather whimsical note, with a long list of his Paris adventures that reflect more of a tourist’s diary than a World War I soldier’s letter home. Evidently, Backus was determined to enjoy himself before heading to the front. He describes meeting fellow soldiers from the Twin Cities, travelling with them to Versailles, and enjoying local food while taking in the beautiful scenery.
Backus then transitions to more serious matters of war. He tells his mother that he’ll be sent for training within the week, and when that is completed, he’ll be sent to the Champaigne region, approximately 30 miles from Verdun. While Backus considers himself lucky to be sent so soon to a region of such importance, he confesses to his mother that he may not be satisfied with his choices. Had he still been home, considering joining the war in Europe, he would have enlisted in the French Air Service for the higher pay, and presumably for the greater honor.


Dearest Mother:
[...] There are fifty or sixty fellows here with our Corps waiting to go out[,] some of them have been here two or three weeks. They are going to send them or us all out to a hunting Chateau about 35 miles from Paris. English officer to give us training – driving different cars etc[.] [...] There will be six drivers in section eleven. He has chosen me for one and I leave Thursday or Friday. Was I not lucky I shall be in the Champaigne region about 30 minutes from Verdun[.] Well, dearest Mother, give my love to all the family. If I had not already signed up I should be strongly tempted to go into the Lafayette Escadrille as I can get in and it will pay big money you know flying. [...] Your son, David

Citation: David Backus and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [123.D.10.6F]

"Payroll Of Army" and "Assails U.S. Democracy" - The Appeal. May 19, 1917

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

Baseball Bat Inspection

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 19, 2017

A photograph of St. Paul Saints player Jim Pendleton, Milwaukee Brewers players George Crowe (center), and James "Buzz" Clarkson (left) discussing batting before a September 7, 1951 baseball game.

This image forms part of our Minneapolis and St. Paul Newspaper Negative collection. Additional photographs in this series may be available in the library, please view the finding aid.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database.

Women's Suffrage Pamphlet - May 18, 1917

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

When America entered the Great War in Europe in 1917, a different battle had already been raging for decades here in the states: women's suffrage. Across the nation, women were demanding their right to vote in elections, with varying degrees of success. The territory of Wyoming gave women the right to vote in 1869, and when it became a state in 1890 the citizens made sure their constitution preserved that right. While many other states adopted women's suffrage in the coming decades, women in Minnesota were not granted the right to vote until the passing of the 19th Amendment in 1919. Because of this, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association was very active during World War I, often combining their pro-suffrage message with helpful tools and suggestions for making wartime life easier. This pamphlet was produced by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Company in New York and distributed by the Hennepin County branch in Minneapolis. It offers suggestions for managing a household budget, cutting out waste, and even recipes using left-over food. It also states that if women had the right to vote they could put an end to the high cost of living by demanding transparency in the food supply market. The back of the pamphlet states plainly: "The price of food is woman's business. Give her the vote so she can attend to it."


Citation: Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association papers, P1518. Minnesota Historical Society.

Centennial Tumblers

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 18, 2017

A set of six identical clear glass tumblers from the Minnesota Territorial Centennial in 1949.


For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view these glasses in our collections database.

Senator Nelson is Criticized for Supporting Wartime Restrictions on the Press - May 17, 1917

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

In May 1917, Senator Knute Nelson supported the wartime Johnson Resolution, which would have imposed certain restrictions on the press. He received numerous complaints from citizens and journalists alike, one of which was H. V. Jones of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Apparently affiliated with a Minnesotan newspaper, though he does not specify which one, Jones is gravely concerned that the new censorship would amount to an undemocratic “gag law” on the press. Senator Nelson disagrees. In a letter dated May 15, 1917, he responds to Jones’ concerns and argues that the censorship legislation is very reasonable, meant only to prevent the distribution of sensitive information such as the movement and number of troops at the Front. He also encloses a letter from Mr. Mitchell of the Duluth News Tribune, which expresses support for certain wartime restrictions on the press. Senator Nelson hopes other newspapers will follow the Duluth News Tribune’s example.


May 15, 1917.
Mr. H.V Jones,
Minneapolis, Minnesota.
My dear Mr. Jones;
I received a telegram from you yesterday, a copy of which I enclose. I am greatly surprised at the tone of it. No general censorship of the press was proposed, and there is no gag law about it. [...] The object of it is to prevent "information with respect to movement, numbers, description, and disposition of the armed forces of the United States" reaching the public and through them to the enemy. How any patriotic newspaper, having the welfare of our army and navy and our soldiers and sailors at heart, can object to such an amendment as to this, is beyond my understanding. I enclose you a copy of a letter I have received from Mr. Charles S. Mitchell, of the editorial force of the "News Tribune," of Duluth, [...]. Mr. Mitchell, in my opinion, takes a saner view of this proposed legislation than you do. [...] Yours truly,

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers, 1861-1924, Minnesota Historical Society. 144.I.13.2F Box 25 May 11-16

F. Scott out for a walk

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 17, 2017

A cyanotype photograph of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his mother, Mary (McQuillan) Fitzgerald, in front of their apartment on Laurel Avenue in 1897.

For more information or to purchase a photograph of this item, view this photograph in our collections database.

Beer Labels!

By: Lori Williamson | May 16, 2017

Grain Belt Beer sign, as seen from West side of Hennepin Avenue bridge, Minneapolis (01278-5, HF1.1 p9)

One of Minneapolis’ most recognized landmarks is a huge sign next to the Hennepin Avenue bridge advertising Grain Belt Beer. The red diamond shape is taken from one of the original beer labels. The small “M” at the top is the logo for the original brewer: the Minneapolis Brewing Company, which was founded in 1890 and began brewing Grain Belt three years later. In an assortment of labels found uncataloged in the Minnesota Historical Society’s Collection, a timeline of Grain Belt beer and its competitors emerges.


1940s Grain Belt Beer bottle label (2017.37.3)


By the early 20th century Minneapolis Brewing Company was the second largest brewer in Minnesota, just behind Theodore Hamm Brewing in St. Paul. Another competitor, Cold Spring Brewery located near St. Cloud, brewed the Red Star Tonic, which was the oldest label found, dating to sometime between 1906 and the start of Prohibition in 1920.

Cold Spring’s Red Star Tonic label, c. 1910 (2017.37.8)


Cold Spring Brewery opened in 1874 and survived Prohibition by producing mineral waters, soft drinks, and “near” beers, but changed hands several times after the 1940s. The brewhouse was used to produce a variety of products (including beer after Prohibition ended) and eventually came under the ownership of Gluek Brewing until 2010. Today the brewery is the home of Third Street Brewing.


Trucks loaded with cases of beer waiting to leave Gluek's Brewery after prohibition repeal, Minneapolis (K4.2 p5, 15807)

Meanwhile, in 1967, Minneapolis Brewing Company purchased a brewery in Omaha, Nebraska known as Storz, and changed their own name to Grain Belt Breweries. The Storz family had been brewing since 1891. The Omaha brewery was closed by Grain Belt in 1972 and used for other business until it was bought back by a descendant of the Storz family and reopened in 2013.


Storz beer label from 1960s (2017.37.7), and the Grain Belt Beer label from 1960s-70s (2017.37.11)

Grain Belt followed a similar path, being bought by G. Heileman Brewing Co. in 1975. Heileman also bought Gluek and Schmidt, among twelve other old name breweries between 1959 and 1980. Under this new ownership, Grain Belt was brewed at the Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul. Just fifteen years later the Schmidt brewery was purchased by the Minnesota Brewing Company, but the company lasted only ten years before failing financially. The Grain Belt brand was revived in 2001 when the August Schell Brewing Company of New Ulm began brewing it, keeping this classic Minnesota tradition alive in its home state.

--Anne-Marie Card, Curatorial Assistant Intern