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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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Red Wing Jug

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 21, 2017


A Red Wing white glazed stoneware shoulder jug with adverting for the Sterling Wine House, in St. Paul, MN. Promoted as "The Celebrated Red Wing Jugs, " these popular products were sold in dozens of different shapes and sizes. With a nearly unlimited amount of uses, from the liquor trade to perfume storage, the jugs remained in production from the late 1870s to 1947.

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

David Backus Awaits American Troops - June 20, 1917

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

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]

Ice Harvest

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 20, 2017

A stereographic photograph showing the ice harvest on a Minnesota lake. Photographed by Whitney and Zimmerman in the 1870s.

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

"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

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

Brave Looey

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

This is a watercolor painting on paper titled “Brave Looey,” made by Minnesota artist Bob Brown in the 1940s or 50s.

American Red Cross thimbles - June 17, 1917

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

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

U.S. Intelligence Officer Infiltrates IWW Picnic - June 16, 1917

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

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

Defeat of France

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 16, 2017
Two men standing and reading the same newspaper

A photograph of two men at a Kiwanis convention reading about the fall of France to Germany in WWII on June 17, 1940.

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.

French Chauchat light machine gun - June 15, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 15, 2017

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.

Salt and Pepper Set

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 15, 2017


A tombstone shaped salt and pepper shaker set that reads, "Here Lies / Salt" and "Here Lies / Pepper". Probably from the 1960s.

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