For the past several years the Minnesota Historical Society’s staff have been digitizing our World War I related artifacts. This collection comprises approximately 1,800 objects including United States military uniforms, equipment and supplies, as well as foreign military items (most of which were brought home as souvenirs), trench art, Red Cross materials, and more. The project was undertaken in anticipation of the centennial of the Great War and two major World War I programs planned for spring of 2017: an exhibit focusing on the home front currently in development; and the World War I daybook blog launching in April, 2017.
With the digitization project now complete, all World War I artifacts in the MNHS Collection are available to view on the Collections Online database. Here are some highlights from this incredible collection:
Victory medal awarded to Tela B. Burt, an African-American from Minneapolis who served as a supply sergeant with the 809th Regiment of Pioneer Infantry in France, circa 1919. After the war ended, Burt returned to the Minneapolis and had a career with the post office, played music for several dance bands, and eventually became one of the first African Americans in the Twin Cities area to enter the real estate field.
A length of barbed wire from Verdun, France, found by Miss Frances Rogers of Minnesota, who was part of the American Fund for French Wounded.
German military field telephone inside oak case, circa 1915.
A United States Army Model 1917 steel helmet. This classic World War I “doughboy” helmet was worn by Private Clarence Ervin Ohmann of Saint Paul, Minnesota.
A ditty box owned by United States Navy Seaman Edward R. Stensrud of Minneapolis, Minnesota. It contained souvenirs relating to Stensrud’s WWI service, including postcards, German and Swedish matchboxes and an address book. Railway tags have been pasted on each end of the box.
Coat for an American Red Cross overseas uniform, worn by Margaret MacLaren of Saint Paul, Minnesota, while serving in France circa 1918.
British military issue gas mask and cloth case, circa. There were many types of gas masks used during the war, and this is known as a Small Box Respirator.
French Croix de Guerre medal awarded to Minnesotan John Bowe. When the war began Bowe was the mayor of Canby, Minnesota. He abandoned his position and went to Canada to join the military, where he was rejected due to age. He then went to England and tried to enlist, but was informed he would have to renounce his United States’ citizenship. He then went to France where he joined the French Foreign Legion in 1915.
Minnesota service flag created for the Victory Liberty Loan Campaign in April, 1919. The approximately 1,200 gold stars represent the servicemen from Minnesota who died during the war. It is 18 feet high, and 28 feet long.
Stephanie Olson, Collections Assistant