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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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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.

Volunteer Instruction Manual for Red Cross Fundraising Campaign - June 14, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 14, 2017

During Red Cross fundraising drives, women volunteers were given very specific instructions on the proper way to solicit contributions. One instruction packet, dated 14 June 1917, contains a lengthy script about the fundraising drive along with some reminders of etiquette. Women volunteers were to go from door to door in their neighborhoods, taking care to learn the name of each woman from their next-door neighbor before arriving at her home. Upon meeting her, they were to make pleasant conversation prior to asking for donations. At the time, the American Red Cross was in the middle of its campaign to raise one hundred million dollars, and St. Paul had been asked to contribute $300,000. The fundraising script entreats all women to give the Red Cross more than they can reasonably afford. Sacrifice by soldiers should, after all, be met with sacrifice at home. Interestingly, the Red Cross appeals to gender roles in order to raise more funds. If a woman wishes to consult with a man in the household before donating, volunteers are instructed to remind her that it is a woman’s duty to take care of the sick, and she should have more say in how much money is contributed.


[...] When your son, or your nephew, or your son-in-law, or your brother, or your neighbor's son are in the Red Cross hospital in France or elsewhere, suffering from wounds, or fever, or tuberculosis, or any of the other devastating pains of soldier life, and his pain and suffering is being lessened by the physicians and nurses of the Red Cross, he will be refreshed in mind and body by the thought that unselfish people back home have made sacrifices by contributing liberally and to their utmost ability to this Red Cross fund for the relieving of pain and suffering. [...]

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

Toiletry Set

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 14, 2017


A matching toiletry set from the 1950s consisting of a cup, soap dish, and tissue box, all made of glittery gold plastic. Owned by Beulah Oberg of White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

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

David Backus Takes Shelter in Wine Cellar - June 13, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | June 13, 2017

In a 9-page biographical document composed decades after the war, the former ambulance driver David Backus recalls a particularly gruesome episode from June 14, 1917. About three weeks following the Second Battle of the Aisne, Backus and his ambulance unit found themselves in an unspecified town near the Chemin des Dames ridge. They came under rapid artillery fire from German troops, and they were able to save themselves by taking shelter in a wine cellar. When the shelling stopped, Backus and his unit emerged from the cellar, only to be confronted with a disturbing scene of the dead and the dying. Though Backus's work as an ambulance driver required him to remain calm and collected under such circumstances, he was never completely immune to the suffering around him. The scene outside the wine cellar prompted him to reflect on the sheer destruction of war. He recalls writing to his mother, "if the people of the World could see and realize the devastation and the monstrosities of war that I have seen in the last three days of the war – war would end tomorrow and forever!"


Round of Golf

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | June 13, 2017


A photograph of Bing Crosby, Wally Mund, Harry Cooper, and Bob Hope playing golf at Midland Hills Country Club, Roseville on May 9, 1942.

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