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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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"Great German Attack is Believed Impending" and "Lull in Battle on the Asiago" - The Duluth Herald. December 11, 1917

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 11, 2017

Father of the Green Revolution

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 11, 2017
Photo of Norman Borlaug

On this date in 1970, Norman E. Borlaug receives the Nobel Peace Prize for his research in hybridizing wheat to increase crop yields in order to feed more people.  He was known as the Father of the Green Revolution, an University of Minnesota alumnus, and a crop researcher.

Learn more in our Library.

"Not Gas Proof"

By: Lori Williamson | WW1 Daybook | December 10, 2017

Head coverings were a common knitting project for women who wished to donate materials to soldiers serving abroad, as they provided much needed warmth. Unfortunately, if the soldiers tried to wear the head coverings underneath their gas masks it often led to disasterous results. This note was sent to the Saint Paul Red Cross detailing the trouble, and requesting that knitting patterns be changed to better accomidate a gas mask. They reccomend leaving a larger space for the face and ears. This design might not be as warm, but it would allow the masks to properly seal over the face in the event of a gas attack.


Not Gas Proof When Placed Under the Mask Necessary for Protection
CAMP FUNSTON, Kas., Dec. 10.-- The kindness of American mothers and sisters who are making knitted helmets for the sons and brothers going over will provide one of the serious risks the soldier boys will have to face, according to the French officers who are instructing the Eighty-ninth Division in the use of the gas mask. "A knitted helmet is fine," one of the officers said, "but the form of construction makes them a deadly aid to the enemy in their gas attacks. And unless the American women make the proper changes they will be courting death for their own boys whom they have meant to befriend. When the woman knits the helmet she thinks only of the cold weather, and in her desire to protect the more of the boy's face she leaves only a small triangle for his eyes and nose and mouth. Then when the gas mask is put over the helmet the edges of the mask press the helmet down tight and seem to be sufficiently snug to keep out the poisonous fumes. But after a few hours' exposure in an attack we have found that almost all of those who succumb have the woolen helmets beneath the edges of the gas masks. Gas is certain to filter thru in small quantities, if not sufficient to cause death at least enought to run the man's health." The French instructor lays great emphasis on the need of the women changing their plan of knitted helmets to conform to the gas mask, which covers the face one inch above the eyebrow, within one inch of the ears and midway between the point of the chin and the neck. Knitted helmets must not extend beyond those points of the face or the danger far exceeds the comfort gained by the wearer.

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

Army and Navy Elevens on Edge for Battle

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

Alfred E. Livingston, a native of Winona, Minnesota, served at the U.S. Naval Air Station, North Island, San Diego, CA. He was a member of the navy football team on the west coast. This newspaper article from The San Diego Union on an upcoming Army-Navy football game was included in Livingston's Gold Star Roll file. He is listed in the Navy lineup as number 10, Left Tackle. He died on November 19, 1918 from disease.


Citation: "Livingston, Alfred E." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota 114.D.4.4F

"Women Great Help in War" and "War Declaration To Come At Once" - The Twin City Star. December 8, 1917.

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

Holiday Ornaments

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

These felt holiday ornaments were designed by Uno Hispanic Branding, Minneapolis, 2010.

See them in Collections Online.

United States Army Model 1917 Trench Knife

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

This United States Army Model 1917 trench knife and leather scabbard was used by Emil B. Thompson of Saint Paul, Minnesota, during World War I. Trench knives were used in hand-to-hand combat encounters, which often included trench raids. This model, with its triangular blade, could be used primarily as a stabbing weapon. The knife is stamped "U.S. / L.F. & C. / 1917" on the forward force of the upper guard and scratched on the back of the grip is "Thompson" and on the front "351st". The olive drab scabbard has an iron throat and tip, each stamped "MS", and has two tabs at the mouth of the throat which would attach it to a belt with hooks.

Trench Knife

Citation: Minnesota Historical Society Collections. 65.155.2.A,B

Pearl Harbor & the U.S.S. Ward

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 7, 2017
painting of a boat

On this day, outside of Pearl Harbor, the destroyer Ward with its crew primarily of reservists from St. Paul attacks and sinks a Japanese midget submarine. These were the first shots fired on the date of infamy, December 7, 1941.

See it in Collections Online.

Target Practice and a Plane Crash

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

As his military training continues, David Backus describes a day of still and moving target practice. The days seems fairly uneventful, except for the description of a plane crash and injuries sustained by one of his comrades. Lewis, he says, will live, but this incident highlights the danger these men faced even before seeing combat.


Backus diary page

Thursday Dec. 6-17.
Cold again. Well we; that is french waiting for 18 meter & 15 meter- Solo went down to the Rifle Range in trucks. Glorious autumn day- crisp & clear as a hell. Well I was high man (out of the 22 of us) 31 - out of 47 - at moving targets, shooting 2 to 5 shots at a time. Lewis Gun Vernon in aerobatic class got smashed up - in hospital. wing slip at 100 meters on turn. Cut about the head, ribs etc. will live - not dangerous[.] in the afternoon we went to the traps and shot clay pigeons. Got a good start 5 out of 8 then blew up - first score 7 out of 25 at that was third high out of 17 men, but that was rotton shooting should have broken ten to 12 anyway. Walked up to village got my laundry- had omlet and chocolate.

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

Jane Grey Swisshelm is born

By: Lori Williamson | Item of the Day | December 6, 2017
Portrait of Swisshelm

On this date in 1815 Jane Grey Swisshelm was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While she only lived in Minnesota for six years, she left a lasting and complicated mark on the state. She founded a newspaper in St. Cloud which she used to advocate for women's rights and argue for the abolition of slavery, yet she also promoted violence against the Dakota after the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. During the Civil War she moved to Washington, D.C. and became a nurse, dying in 1884.

See this portrait in Collections Online.