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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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General Mills Microwave Popcorn, 1991

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | October 2, 2018

This photo shows what must be a "food scientist" testing out microwave popcorn at General Mills - with computers! 

Fears of Illness in Saint Paul

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | October 1, 2018

The wartime diaries of Mary T. Hill, wife of railroad magnet James J. Hill, give insight into the Minnesota home front of the First World War. She talks about illness the entry for this date, as those on the home front were worrying about illness just as the soldiers on the front lines were. Hill was worried about an epidemic of Spanish Influenza in Saint Paul.


October Tuesday 1st 1918
A clear sunny windy day- Went to town this morning to attend to several things. [...] Rachel has a cold and Tudie was not well. Every one alarmed at reports of influenza [...]

Citation: 1915-1920. Mary T. Hill Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 64. C.5.6

Ojibwe maple sugar candy

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | October 1, 2018

This is a piece of maple sugar candy that has been molded into the shape of a maple leaf. It comes from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and was made between about 1960 - 1985.

See it in Collections Online.

Minnesota Death in the Torpedoing of the U.S.S. Ticonderoga

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 30, 2018

Second Class Seaman Merton Kay enlisted into the Navy in April of 1917. Kay was serving aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga, which was torpedoed by a German submarine on this day. He was only seventeen years old. Of the 237 crew and passengers aboard the Ticonderoga, only 24 survived the attack.


[...] Made three trips to France and was 1700 miles out from New York on fourth trip. Attacked by enemy submarine 5:20 am September 30th, 1918. Sub first sighted 200 yard off port bow. Capt attempted ram submarine missing her by approximately 35 yds at which close range sub opened fire on the 2 guns of Ticonderoga sweeping her deck with shrapnel putting out commission forward gun and slightly disabling after gun. Interior firing caused sub to submerge, reappearing after an interval of 15 mins at distance of 2 mile on starboard quarter. At this distance firing continued until about 7:30 am when a torpedo struck Ticonderoga (illegible) ships sinking her about 7:45 am. [...]

"Kay, Merton E." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.4F


"Germans Staggering in Greatest Battle of War" and "Carrier Pigeons Prove Worth in Champagne Battle" - The Minneapolis Sunday Tribune. September 29, 1918

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 29, 2018

The Men are Required to Shower

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 28, 2018

This circular of regulations was given out by the Headquarters of the 88th Division, then stationed in France, with the purpose of reducing sickness among the men within the division. Measures that were to be taken involved trying to dry clothes and air bedding whenever possible, as well as provide warm bath water to a certain number of men each night. As the notice states, "It is reported that some of the men have not had a bath since leaving Camp Dodge [the training camp in Iowa]." These regulations having to be made entails that health and hygiene were not as high on the commanders lists for their men as other things were.


France, 28th Sept. 1918
Sanitary Regulations and Care of Health
The prevalence of sickness in this Division appears in many instances to be due in large measure to the lack of proper care on the part of organization commanders. For the purpose of eradicating this condition, the following steps will be taken at once throughout this command:
[...] It is reported that some of the men have not had a bath since leaving Camp Dodge. This condition will be remedied at once and will not be repeated. Organization commanders will personally see to the bathing of their men and will personally responsible [sic] for the cleanliness of thei [sic] their commands. [...]

U.S. Army, 350th Infantry Regiment, Co. G, records 1917-1919. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. BG6/.U584/350th


Loom and Weaving

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 28, 2018

This loom and weaving were made as an occupational therapy project by John Gurney while at the United States 29th General Hospital at Fort Snelling in 1919. Gurney was a member of the United States Army 32nd Division, 127th Infantry, Company K.

 It is currently on view in the "Weaving Wellness" display in the lobby of the Gale Family Library at the History Center.

Marion Backus Runs the Wards

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 27, 2018

Marion Backus was a Red Cross nurse from Minnesota serving in France. This letter she wrote to her family and friends on November 26th, 1918, mentions the events that started on September 26th ,1918 which brought her to where she is in France now. She described her very long journey from Paris to the front lines and arriving at the new hospital. Backus didn't know where she was, but was ready to help any of the boys who needed her. She explains how she is capable of running three wards of ether patients (with 30 to 45 patients per ward), a feat she never would have imagined prior to service.


Nov 26, 1918
Dear Family- And I might say and Friends-
[…] We started from Paris on Friday morning, I think Sept. 26- for some place- as usual we knew not where. […] When we got to the hospital, which is made up of about 50 long narrow barracks- such as they have built in the Cantonments,- part occupied by the French and the rest by us. Here the doctors and Corp boys with the aid of a few nurses from other hospitals were holding forth, for a rush had come and nothing of course was ready. […] The first week I ran one, two, or three wards as the case might be, all full of ether patients, with just the help of the corps boys, one to a ward. If anybody had told me that I could take care of more than two ether patients before I came here I would have laughed and thought them joking. But now I can watch 45 in one ward, 36 in the next (each separate buildings) and 30 in the next and never wink an eye. […]

Citation: Marion Backus Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. P1356

State Hospital, Fergus Falls, 1915

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | September 27, 2018

This photograph is of the State Hospital in Fergus Falls in 1915; it opened in 1890. The records from Fergus Falls and other state hospitals are heavily used in our research library, which is free and open to the public!

David Backus Goes Beyond the Call of Duty to Help Fellow Pilot

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | September 26, 2018

After flying with the French Air Squadron C. 21, Saint Paul native David Backus was recalled into the American Air Force. Upon completing yet another round of training, he was assigned to the 49th Aero Squadron and he re-entered combat in late March of 1918. During this second phase of combat, Backus completed two military actions for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the first of which occurred on September 26, 1918. That day, Backus and four other monoplanes were patrolling near Etain in northeastern France when nine German planes suddenly attacked Backus’s patrol. Knowing they were outnumbered, the patrol leader signaled for them to retreat. All nine enemy planes followed in close pursuit, and one of Backus’s patrol fell dangerously behind. Even though Backus himself was beyond danger, he turned around and attacked the enemy planes just as they dove upon his fellow pilot. He succeeded in destroying one and causing the others to flee. Due to Backus’s bravery, all five American pilots returned safely from their patrol.


Thursday Sept. 26th 1918
Well Big Show is ON. They called us at 4 a.m. Truck took us up to Camp breakfast. Went out on 6:15 patrol, awfully heavy fog could not see river or Verdun artillery sure was active could see very plainly. two small towns also on fire. [...] Hugh Bridgare and Jo Nazero to [Chattlion-Archer], near got us north of Verdun they sure were good shots[.] Nine Hun Follkens followed us - seven of us for six minutes had altitude waiting for a straggler. Cannot understand why they did not attack us, as we were fifteen kilometers in Germany. Three dropped out of our formation on way back after we passed North of Verdun toward Etain. E. of Chattlion seven Follkens came down. Hugh evidently did not see them, came nearer & nearer, tried to catch up to him, no luck. Mack [...] saw them wiggled wings they would not look around. Well three of them dove on poor Roth, down he went other four stayed up, a single dove on Mack. motor trouble he zigzagged down. I dove on the 3rd who went down on Roth. fired about 120 rounds both guns jammed chased him to 1500 meters jammed up. Well Hughie, [Hieben] & Huns were chasing the two farthest away, the top three dove on me both guns jammed made for the line they were shooting and darn near got me[.] [...] Landed at a French aerodome. Back to Camp. [...]

David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.5B