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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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Bulletproof Vest

By: admin | Item of the Day | November 18, 2010
Bulletproof Vest

This bulletproof vest was worn by a Saint Paul Police Officer sometime between 1965 - 1993. The size 42-44 white vest was made with Kevlar material and has a Superman logo on the front. The vest was a prototype designed by the Aerospace Corporation for the Law Enforcement Alliance of America (LEAA).

Colin Kelly poster

By: admin | Item of the Day | November 17, 2010
Colin Kelly poster

Colin Kelly
Poster Collection, One-sheet poster 1942
Location no. E448.11 a71

Suede and mink trimmed shoes

By: admin | Item of the Day | November 16, 2010
Suede and mink trimmed shoes

As the weather cools, the search for warm clothing begins. From the Society’s footwear collection, these dark brown suede booties are lined with sheepskin and trimmed with mink. The donor purchased these boots from Dayton's in St. Paul, 1960-63.

"3 Merry Widows" Tin

By: admin | What's New | November 16, 2010
Sometimes the smallest objects are the most interesting. This little tin canister, measuring 1 5/8 inches in diameter and 5/8 inch deep, was discovered buried in a yard off of St. Paul's West Seventh Street. In fact, it was found along with nearly 70 other identical tins. Now, finding 70 of anything in a yard is unusual, but these are no mere containers. No, these tins once held condoms.

"3 Merry Widows" was a popular brand of prophylactic in the early 20th Century, and this aluminum container probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s. Latex condoms didn't take over the market until the 1930s, so the three "widows" once contained inside may have been of the older cement rubber variety. While the thicker rubber condoms had their disadvantages, they were more durable, and could even be reused.

The donor, having found so many of these items near her house, naturally wondered if her neighborhood once hosted a bordello. The location - half-way between downtown St. Paul and Fort Snelling - certainly would have been convenient. Unfortunately, a search through the Society's library was inconclusive. (But really, those businesses weren't the type to be listed in city directories!) We might speculate that the tin came from a brothel, but we won't state it as fact, just to be safe - like the tin's original owner.

Matt Anderson
Objects Curator

Homemade brass knuckles

By: admin | Item of the Day | November 15, 2010
Homemade Brass Knuckles

These hand-fashioned brass knuckles were used in a lumber camp near the settlement that in 1893 became incorporated as Rutledge in Pine County, Minnesota. The knuckles have four copper studs set in the front of the oblong band through which the hand fits. There is also a curved piece of metal in the back to secure the wearer's thumb. Brass knuckles can serve as a deadly weapon when used in hand-to-hand combat.


By: admin | Item of the Day | November 12, 2010

This unusual looking contraption is called a steelyard, and had you been alive during the late nineteenth century you probably would’ve already known that, as they were quite abundant. Steelyards are weighing devices that were most often found in rural areas, particularly on farms. They were used for weighing everything from household goods to grain to animals and even newborn babies. Although similar weighing devices date back more than 2,500 years, the most common version in America was sometimes referred to as a Scandinavian steelyard and resembled the one in this photograph. Steelyards were usually hand forged by a town’s local blacksmith, but two in the MHS Collection were brought to Minnesota by Scandinavian immigrants; one from Norway and the other from Iceland.

Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940

By: admin | Podcasts and Slideshows | November 10, 2010
On November 11th of each year, Americans celebrate Veteran’s Day, acknowledging the services and sacrifices of the men and women of the American military. But in the minds of many Minnesotans the day evokes an additional memory: that of a powerful winter storm that exploded over Minnesota in 1940 and is remembered today as the Armistice Day Blizzard. Collections Assistant Tony Krosschell discusses this tragic event that took over 150 lives and its impact on the National Weather Service's forecasting practices.


Scale model of the Edmund Fitzgerald

By: admin | Item of the Day | November 10, 2010
Scale model of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Scale model of the Lake Superior ore boat Edmund Fitzgerald. Upper bow deck includes observation cabin, horn, searchlight, and liferaft. Upper stern deck includes 2 lifeboats, ladders, crane, 6 barrels, and a smokestack. The smokestack has a painted yellow star on its side. A four-wheeled metal trolley straddles the top of the mid-deck. The lower deck is surrounded by a gate made of needle head posts and wire.

November 10, 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest boat on the lake at that time. All 29 members of the crew were lost. Although the Coast Guard conducted an extensive and thorough search, there is no definitive reason to date for its sinking other than the weather.

Additional pictures of the Edmund Fitzgerald can be viewed online at:

Swede Hollow Etching

By: admin | Our Favorite Things | November 9, 2010

Swede Hollow - George Earl Resler

Swede Hollow
by George Earl Resler (1882-1954)
Etching, circa 1915-1925

Swede Hollow was one of the oldest settlements in Saint Paul, Minnesota, occupied originally by Swedish immigrants in the 1850’s. The neighborhood also later served as a home for other groups of new Minnesotans, including Polish, Italian, and Mexican Americans.  George Earl Resler, a Minnesota printmaker, was exceptionally skillful at finding and conveying the beauty of routine, everyday scenes. As he does here, Resler often depicted tenement housing, back alleys, and even difficult labor conditions, realities that were often purposefully overlooked or ignored by many Minnesotans.

Benjamin Gessner, Collections Assistant

Japanese paper fan

By: admin | Item of the Day | November 9, 2010
Japanese paper fan

Japanese paper fan with carved wooden sticks, circa 1900.