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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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Uncle Sam Army Recruitment Poster

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | August 26, 2017

While the Home Front of the First World War featured a great many posters for motivation and recruitment, perhaps none is so famous as the following. This poster features Uncle Sam, an older, bearded white man made to represent the United States, who is shown wearing a star-studded top hat and pointing his index finger toward the viewer. The lower part of the poster reads, “I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY,” in capital letters with the word “YOU” emphasized with a larger and brighter red typeface. In smaller print at the very bottom of the poster, it reads, “NEAREST RECRUITING STATION,” and space is left to write the address of a local U.S. Army Office. This poster was published by the Leslie-Judge Company in 1917, and it was used for Army recruitment all over the United States.


Uncle Sam poster

Recent Acquisitions Library Lobby Exhibit

By: Lori Williamson | August 25, 2017
Pronto pup photo

Come see the exhibit of engaging, surprising acquisitions to the collection we have made over the last year!

We are always excited about new acquisitions because they are top of mind. But we want to share these with you for three reasons:

  • Show what we collect and why
  • Demonstrate how history is being made every day and how we are trying to document both the past and present
  • Because these items are so cool!

Some of the items here are old but new to our collection; others are just a few months old.

Visit the exhibit during Library hours until the end of November.

"Single Men for the Army Recommended by President Wilson for First Draft" and "French Round Out New Lines" - The Duluth Herald. August 25, 1917

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

Trash Talk

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | August 25, 2017
Wrestling match photo

This photograph is of a referee getting trash thrown at him by fans during a 1949 wrestling match.

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.

David Backus Runs Errands in Paris

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

Back in Paris after the most recent French offensive, David Backus took advantage of the opportunity to run a few errands. In addition to visiting a bank and a fine clothes shop, Backus bid farewell to the distinguished 25-year-old captain of the 51st Highlanders, who would travel to “the big show” at Ypres. What Backus called the “big show” was in fact the Third Battle of Ypres, or the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the deadliest military engagements of the First World War. Additionally, David Backus’s August 24th diary entry lends the impression that his days as an ambulance driver were numbered. He reported travelling to the U.S. Aviation Headquarters, where he qualified for the U.S. Army’s physical exam and filled out an application to become a pilot. And when he visited the American Red Cross Headquarters at Place de la Concorde, Backus received a letter of recommendation from Mr. Harjes, which would, ideally, secure him a place as a pilot in the First World War.


Backus diary page
Backus diary page

Saturday, Aug. 25, 17
[...] Went to U.S. Aviation Headquarters. Qualified for physical exam put in my application. Meet Mark & Stan Metcalfe, we went to the tipperary for lunch thence to Cafe. [...] Saw Mr. Harjes, nothing as yet so got a letter of recomdation [sic] from him for Aviatation [sic]. [...] Took Capt. Steward to Continental, got his hat from Brad. Went down to Gau du Nord & saw him off for Ypres for the big show. He is the senior officer in his battalion & only 25 years old [...] He is captain of 51st Highlanders, the chaps that took Vimy Ridge. [...]

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

Surgical Clamp

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | August 24, 2017
Surgical clamp

This surgical clamp was used for resection of the intestine, designed by Doctor Owen Wangensteen, Chief of Surgery at the University of Minnesota. Used by Doctor Palmer Peterson in his Minneapolis medical practice from 1952-1998.

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

"New Offensive is Begun Near Ypres by British Forces" and "Next Army Draft Date Tentatively Set For New Year" - The Daily People's Press. August 23, 1917

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

Anti-Reagan Button

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | August 23, 2017
Anit-Reagan Button

This circular button reads "Nancy gets / red dresses; / We get / pink slips!", referring to the news that Nancy Reagan had accepted thousands of dollars worth of clothing, jewelry and gifts during her time as First Lady. Produced by the Rick Krueger Volunteer Committee of Staples, Minnesota, 1982.

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

Winsted, MN Conscript Advocates Censorship and Internment of "Disloyal" Citizens

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

Before leaving to fight in France, an American conscript from Winsted, Minnesota, sent this strongly worded letter to Senator Knute Nelson, in which he criticized the U.S. government’s excessive valuation of freedom of speech. According to this soldier, the principle of freedom of speech was “rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition” at a time when their consequences were extremely dire. The author argued that any American opposition to the war encouraged the German Army abroad, thus lengthening the conflict and resulting in more U.S. casualties. By this logic, those that criticized the United States in a time of war were “murderers by every law of Heaven and Earth.” In order to protect pro-American sentiment on the Home Front, the author would resort to extreme measures: shutting down all newspapers that were deemed anti-American and adopting the practice of internment or deportation for all disloyal citizens. In conclusion, the author promised Senator Nelson that he and his fellow soldiers could hold the Front, but it was Nelson’s duty to “keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing [them] in the rear.”


Letter from conscript

Winsted, Minn., Aug 22nd, 1917
Dear Sir:
The United States of America is at war with the German Government for the express purpose of thrashing hell out of the Kaiser and the Krupp gun works, to help make the world a fit place for human beings to live in. Unrestricted freedom of speech is rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition. Liberty has degenerated into license. The work of German propagandists is running rampant thru the land. Under the guise of socialism, or of anti draft meetings, or of peace councils, certain men are openly spreading anti American traitorous doctrines. Such agitation from the platform or thru the press is well calculated to breed discontent, and hinder our gorenment [sic] in every insidious and treacherous way in its supreme effort of carrying the war to a successful and speedy end. It seems that the honor of our country and our flag needs protection with the bayonet and the Lewis machine gun quite as much at home as it does abroad. Is there a single reason why disloyal citizens should not at least be interned or deported, -or why all seditious sheets should not be destroyed? Every man and woman who talks or writes at this time of non-support and obstruction of the duly elected and sworn officials of this government is aiding comforting, and encouraging the enemy. The more talk of this kind, the longer will Germany certainly hold out, and hence the more of our boys who will be killed and wounded in battle. Therefore, anyone expressing anti-American views are murderers by every law of Heaven or Earth. The chiefest of these are traitors like Bentall, Van Lear and Pfaender, - who when justice is done will be introduced to a stone wall and a firing squad. I am speaking as a loyal American conscript awaiting Uncle Sam's call to duty on the battle fields of France, and for all the boys there now, and soon to be there. [...] Before we go across the Atlantic, we would like to know whether or not all American citizens are going to give us a fair change. Are you going to think about us when we are gone and pray for us? Are you going to stand back of us ? We can take care of the front, but for God's sake, we plead, keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing us in the rear.
Very sincerely,
American Conscript

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26

Water and Rail

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | August 22, 2017
Water and Rail painting

This watercolor and gouache painting on paper is titled “Water and Rail” and was made by Minnesota artist Bob Brown in 1937 as part of the WPA Federal Art Project.

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