Collections Up Close

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.

See Collections Up Close Blog Archive

All MNHS Blogs

Subscribe by e-mail:

Railroad Rail and Spike

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 10, 2017

This segment of a railroad rail and an iron spike mounted to a wooden block is marked as being the first rail, St. Paul to Duluth, 1866-1942.

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

"Fighting on the Eastern War Fronts Growing in Intensity" and "American People Face Most Extensive Line of Taxation Ever Known" - The Duluth Herald, May 9, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | May 9, 2017

“A” Mill Grain

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 9, 2017

A group of charred wheat grains collected after the explosion of the Washburn "A" Mill, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 2, 1878.

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

French Military Issue Helmet - May 8, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | May 8, 2017

While the U.S. Senate’s official declaration of war came on April 6, 1917, it was not until mid-1918 that the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) first joined their European allies overseas. Led by General John Pershing, their first military engagement coincided with the last major German offensive of the war. At the Battle of Chateau-Thierry on July 18, 1918, the AEF joined Ferdinand Foch’s French forces in mounting a successful counteroffensive against the German army. Today’s artifact comes from that military engagement. An unidentified American soldier brought back a French-issue military helmet from that battle. The steel helmet is painted gray, and it features a leather strap and liner. The front of the helmet bears an insignia of the French army, a stylized version of a flaming grenade with the initials “RF,” which signified the French Republic (République Française).

Citiation: Minnesota Historical Society Collection. PUID 64.71.1.J

ERA Scarf

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 8, 2017

A maroon and white silk scarf printed "ERA / ERA / ERA / ERA / ERA / JOAN" on one end with "ERA" repeated on the opposite end. The scarf demonstrates Joan Mondale's support for and involvement with efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. See references to this work in Joan Mondale's personal papers in the MNHS manuscripts collection.

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

Seventeen-Year-Old Luella Anderson Wishes to Be a Red Cross Nurse - May 7, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | May 7, 2017

One month after the declaration of war, U.S. citizens from all walks of life were already volunteering their time and money to the war effort. During this time period, the Minneapolis branch of the American Red Cross received a letter from a particularly determined young resident of Crosby, North Dakota. Seventeen-year-old Luella Anderson, then a high school student and an assistant to her local dentist, wrote that she would “like nothing more than to be a Red Cross nurse.” She gives a brief description of her background, portraying herself as young but hardworking, and she asks the Secretary of the branch to send more information on how she might enter training. Despite Luella Anderson’s enthusiasm, it is unclear whether she was ultimately permitted to serve as a nurse overseas.

Crosby, N.D.,
May 4, 1917.
Dear Madam:
I have just received your favor of May 1st, with circulars, for which I thank you very much. I have read it all and feel that feel that I should like nothing better than to be a Red Cross nurse. I am not quite seventeen but am willing and ready to learn. I have three years of High School and at present I am assistant to the dentist here. I have only myself to offer but you may rest assured that I should do my utmost if accepted. Could you be so kind as to send me information regarding the course of training, as to requirements and cost? Could you do so immediately it would be very much appreciated by
Yours sincerely,
Luella Anderson

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

Early Trouble with Recruiting in Fairfax, Minnesota - May 6, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | May 6, 2017

Early recruiting of soldiers was not going so well in Fairfax, Minnesota, at least according to Chas Hopkins of the Grant Army of the Republic. In a letter to Minnesota Senator Knute Nelson, dated May 5, 1917, Hopkins complains that the Recruiting Officers sent to Fairfax had been “failures as public speakers,” and recruitment had been unimpressive despite the high attendance at each of their three Patriotic Meetings. Hopkins offers two potential solutions to this problem. First, he suggests passing a law that allows for the Army to commission Civil War Era soldiers to serve as recruiters alongside their younger counterparts. Second, he recommends using the Populist politician William Jennings Bryan as a recruiter. Hopkins believes that Bryan’s earlier resignation as Secretary of State had conveyed weakness and division to America’s enemies abroad, and that potential recruits would be inspired to military service if Bryan were to express full devotion to the war cause. While Hopkins is fully aware of the impending draft, he believes that volunteer fighters are essential for maintaining high morale and for demonstrating the nation’s conviction in defending democratic principles.


Fairfax, Minn. May 5, 1917.
Honorable Knute Nelson.
Senate Chamber.
Washington D.C.
My Dear Friend and Comrade:
We have had three Patriotic Meetings in Fairfax, and have sent out six Recruits, but the Recruiting Officers sent here ,were failures as public speakers, which is a bar to helping to line up the eliment [sic] that have been favoring Germany. The thought occurred to me thast it might be the proper thing to have a Law passed to commission any old Ex Soldier of the Sixties that had the abillity and physical abillity to an Army Office, and wher they would make good recruiting Officers let one go with each young Officer, and they would be a geater [sic] force to build up enthusiasm. [...] I know we are to have a Draft, and was very much in favor of it; and am glad that you so elected, but beleave [sic] that many more will enlist on account of the draft, and that the more that will volunteer, will tend to cement a stronger feelinng for the principles that we are wageing this War for. [...]
I am very Respectfully Yours. C.H. Hopkins

Citation: Knute Nelson Papers, 1861-1924, Minnesota Historical Society. 144.I.13.2F Box 25 May 5-11


"League asks for Full Manhood Rights" and "Chance to Serve Your Country" - The Twin City Star. May 5, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | May 5, 2017

Roller Derby

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | May 5, 2017

A photograph of a Roller Derby race in progress on August 5, 1937.

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.

David Backus Receives Passport - May 4, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | May 4, 2017

A little over one month after the declaration of war, the U.S. had not yet deployed any of its own units overseas. The only soldiers abroad were those who had volunteered to fight. David H. Backus, a 24-year-old man from St. Paul, was one such celebrated volunteer. Backus had spent one year at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri, and had been following the conflict in Europe since it began in 1914. As he put it years later, he “got hot pants to get overseas and do something about the War.” He joined the American Red Cross as an ambulance driver and applied for a U.S. passport, which was approved on May 4, 1917. Backus then paid for his own travel to London, thinking he would work alongside the British forces. However, through the boss of a family friend, Backus became acquainted with the head of the French Norton-Harjes ambulance division, and he enlisted with them instead. For 89 days, David Backus would work as an ambulance driver near the strategically important Chemin des Dames ridge on the Western Front.


Citation: Backus, David H., David H Backus and family papers. Minnesota Historical Society. 102.I.4.7B-2