Our Favorite Things
Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
[Click above to enlarge cartoon]
One of my favorite things in the Collection is this political cartoon from 1858. I’m sure I don’t get all the points (155 years is a long time and well, one probably just had to be there) but it is a beautiful, large drawing containing many funny details, such as the devil as pied piper, the gin barrel, and the small figure reminding people that they “develop the resources of the state.” This cartoon answers the age-old (okay, actually 155 year old) question – why are we the Gopher state? This very cartoon started it all.
One of the first acts of the first legislature of the new state was to amend the brand new constitution, enabling them to issue credit and loan $5 million (or $ 137,000,000 in today’s dollars) to railroad interests. While some were against this, most people supported the amendment: it passed with 25,023 votes in favor and 6,733 against.
This cartoon is clearly in the nay column. It shows a railroad car full of bond holders being pulled by nine striped rodents with human heads, representing the legislators (many of whom also had a stake in the railroads). The issue of business looking for money never gets old, does it?
The artist is R. O. Sweeny from Saint Paul, and it was originally published as a broadside when the issue was being debated. So, from the messy ordeal of state development we got both the railroads and our nickname. The original drawing of this cartoon is currently on display in the Library Lobby during Library open hours.
Lori Williamson, Acquisitions and Outreach Coordinator
Anyone that knows anything about Prince’s Purple Rain (1984 film) or the First Avenue & 7th Street Entry music club knows that the latter features prominently in the former. Here we find an interesting piece of correspondence documenting the genesis of how these two famous Minnesota institutions became forever linked in the minds of pop culture enthusiasts everywhere. This letter from Purple Rain’s production company to the club’s manager outlines arrangements made for filming to be done at the venue. Among other details, the letter includes an agreement to close First Avenue from “Friday, November 26th to Tuesday, December 20th  for dressing, filming and strike during our filming of ‘Purple Rain’” in return for a $100,000 location and rental fee. The letter can be found among the 22 boxes of First Avenue & 7th Street Entry Band Files and Related Records, 1977-2004, held in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections. Those interested in viewing the collection may wish to look at its electronic inventory before visiting the MHS Library.
Please click on image of letter below to enlarge it.
The Society holds a number of related items, including concert ephemera and publicity materials such as this Purple Rain movie brochure (below).
Prince’s original Purple Rain costume is also part of the Society’s collection. The costume, like Prince’s music, is a synthesis of various periods and styles. Learn more about the costume at our PunkFunkRockPop webpage. The outfit also can be viewed in the MN150 exhibit at the Minnesota History Center, which is open through the end of December, 2011.
John Knauss, Reference Associate
When Captain William G. LeDuc, of Hastings, Minnesota, reported for duty to the Union Army Quartermaster’s Department in 1862, he brought with him a bit of insurance: a vest made from jointed steel plates. Made by the Atwater Armor Company of New Haven, Connecticut, the vest consisted of eight separate plates connected by slotted rivets and hinges, worn over the shoulders with cotton web straps that fastened at the back. It certainly wasn’t physically comfortable, but it brought some psychological comfort – for a little while, at least.
Steel vests were not standard issue during the Civil War, but were sold by private sutlers that followed the armies on their campaigns. While they were wonderful in theory, the vests had a few drawbacks in practice. First and foremost, they were heavy. Everything the soldier took with him had to be carried on his person. A 10-pound vest – in addition to the required 50 pounds of standard equipment – became a burden very quickly on a long march in the summer sun. Likewise, in the heat of battle a steel vest restricted a soldier’s movement. (LeDuc, as an officer, could have transported his vest by wagon on marches, but that wouldn’t have helped him in battle.)
Second, the vests were of dubious value. They were produced by any number of manufacturers, to various levels of quality. Undoubtedly some of the vests did protect against bullets, but others were shot clean through when exposed to gunfire. There are stories of vests being damaged by bullets, and their resulting jagged edges tearing into wounds, making them worse. There were a few, too, made of “steel” that was nothing more than flimsy tin.
Third, a soldier with an armored vest was liable to be labeled a “shirker” by his comrades, scared to face the enemy. An armored vest might stop a bullet, but it was useless protection against any of the coward’s thousand deaths. (It should be noted that LeDuc’s vest only has plates in the front. Coward or not, any soldier wearing it certainly wasn’t planning on being shot in the back.)
For any or all of these reasons, most Civil War body armor simply was abandoned along the way. Complete, surviving pieces are somewhat rare today, making LeDuc’s vest a particularly special piece in our collection. Not surprisingly, the vest shows little sign of use. LeDuc didn’t need it, in any event. He survived the war (having been promoted to Brigadier General along the way) and returned to Hastings. He served a term as U.S. Commissioner of Agriculture in the Rutherford B. Hayes administration and involved himself in various business concerns – to mixed results. LeDuc passed away at age 94 in 1917.
Hair work jewelry originated in France and England in the 1700’s, evolving from the craft of wig makers. Initially, the jewelry functioned as a mourning memento and was a common funeral gift in the 18th century. Rings, brooches, necklaces, watch fobs, earrings and much more were crafted from the lock of a loved one. In the mid-1800s, the craft found its way to the United States including the growing metropolitan centers of Minnesota. Often, jewelry stores would have an in-house hair weaver while the jeweler would create the gold fittings. As the jewelry became more popular, it was also created at home as a woman’s parlor craft similar to knitting and crochet. In 1867 Mark Campbell, a hairwork distributor with outlets in both Chicago and New York, published the Self-Instructor in the Art of Hairwork, which advertised instructions on how to make hair jewelry of every description. Campbell’s book helped make hair jewelry an accessible craft. With a few home-made tools such as a braiding table with a rotating disc, lead weights, and simple forms such as a rod or pencil, anyone could make hair jewelry. Today, many excellent examples of hair jewelry are preserved in the Minnesota Historical Society’s collections. A few were made from the hair of, or worn by, such well known Minnesotans as Josiah Snelling, Alexander Ramsey, and William Watts Folwell.
The above watch chain is made of brown human hair in a square chain braid and twist chain braid. First, the hair is cut, massed in a bundle, and washed with soda to remove the grease. Groups of hairs are separated to make strands that are attached to metal weights to prevent tangling. The hair strands are then braided in a pattern around a form. This watch chain was probably braided around a wire, tubing, or a pencil. Once braided, the hair was boiled for 10 minutes to set it. After drying and cooling, the form was carefully removed and gold findings were attached.
This brooch is crafted with blonde and brown hair in an open lace braid.
This is a loop and button clasp bracelet made with blonde and brown hair. The blonde buttons and beads were made by rolling scrap paper into a form around which hair is wound.
Laura Marsolek, Collections Intern
The Minnesota Historical Society houses a small but important collection of Richard Bresnahan pottery including these two early teapots. Bresnahan has been artist-in-residence at St. John’s University outside St. Cloud and now operates the largest wood-fired kiln in North America. After apprenticing to Nakazato Takishi Pottery in Japan, Bresnahan returned to Minnesota in 1979 to run the St. Johns pottery program. He is well known for combining sensitivity to nature and a commitment to using local, renewable resources. This is reflected in all his pottery; the clay is gathered from an old abandoned road-bed, the fuel for the wood-fired kilns is collected in a sustainable fashion from the St. John’s grounds or obtained from the waste of local manufactures, and even the glazes are made from local straw, sunflower hulls and quartzite dust.
Bresnahan’s teapots are his signature work. Derived from traditional Japanese shapes and techniques they often have rattan handles made by Minnesota artist Paul Krueger.
A classic shape for both traditional Japanese pottery and Richard Bresnahan, this Double-Gourd teapot features a spiral decoration made of blue slip. The serendipitous nature of a wood fired kiln is seen in the differing coloration on the left side view.
This flat teapot was fired in a kiln configuration called Tagnegashima which reaches 2500° F and gives the pot a soft brown/black color. It also features unusual Silicon Dioxide stone feet and lid handle.
The Minnesota Historical Society also has cups, platters, bowls and jars by Richard Bresnahan in the collection. They will be available for viewing using Search Our Collections soon.
Jason Onerheim, Collections Assistant, Minnesota Historical Society
Today, the “Penguin” golf shirt may be Munsingwear’s most recognized creation, but underwear was the company’s foundation. From 1890-1980, Munsingwear produced innovative undergarments, including the union suit and silk plated wool, for men, women, and children.
The Hollywood Vassarette division, established in 1958, specialized in women’s fashionable coordinated undergarments. This colorful sales promotion kit represents Munsingwear’s commitment to producing undergarments to complement a season’s trends and to create a desired silhouette. The 1964 sales promotion kit folder contains four full-color advertisements, a full-color foldout with merchandise display suggestions, and an illustrated booklet, “A Re-cap of Our Fashion Notebook for Spring-Summer, 1964”, describing the current trends.
Sales Promotion Kit: Hollywood Vassarette, 1963. Munsingwear, Inc. Records. Minnesota Historical Society.
An online inventory for the Munsingwear collection is available at http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00206.xml
Sehri Strom, Collections Assistant
One of the first times in my career that I asked myself A) do I really get to do this for a living? and B) will I get my butt fired for buying this? was when I purchased a Bob Dylan manuscript. The item in question was Dylan’s lyrics to “Temporary Like Achilles.” Dylan recorded perhaps his best work ever on the double album Blonde on Blonde and when he was finished he handed his manuscripts, including this one, to the Nashville studio engineer Charley Bragg. Bragg later auctioned off the work through a London house and the Historical Society picked up “TLA” from a rare book dealer in Hollywood, CA in 1988. A thing of beauty, isn’t it? (Click to enlarge.)
Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian
This 8 ½ foot tall traffic signal was used in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota and is manually operated. The signal was made circa 1900 and used until approximately 1930. A movable rod handle on the side of the pole operates the rotation of the signal. The signal has two arms painted green and marked “GO” and two arms painted red and marked “STOP”. A black cloth collapsible umbrella is mounted beneath the sign for use by the traffic controller in inclement weather. The metal pole is bolted to a slatted base platform where the controller would stand. The platform has two iron wheels at one end to facilitate moving the signal from one location to the next.
Traffic signals like this one were used across the United States beginning around 1909, when the first United States Patent was issued for a traffic control device. Police officers were in charge of traffic control until signals became fully automated in the late 1920s-1930s. A variety of illuminated traffic signals were first implemented in the late 1910s, but were not commonly used until the 1920s and the signals were not standardized until the 1940s.
On this day (April 12th) in 1923, St. Paul’s first automatic traffic signal, on a pedestal about ten feet high, began operating at Fifth and St. Peter Streets.
Sondra Reierson, Collections Assistant
This Wildman brand rotary knitting machine was used for knitting tubular knits at the Munsingwear Corporation, which was a Minnesota knitwear manufacturer for nearly 100 years, circa 1890-1980. It was on exhibit at International Market Square, which is the former Munsingwear headquarters. Originally belt-driven, at some point perhaps in the 1950’s it was apparently converted to run on a 220 volt General Electric brand motor.
The MHS Conservation Department, in particular Objects Conservator Tom Braun, put a great deal of work into this piece to bring it back to its current state. It needed to be cleaned overall but more importantly a broken leg needed to be repaired. Now it is whole, clean, and ready to be exhibited. Even the needles on top perform their intended action now! A quote from Tom: “I am very excited that when the hand wheel on this unit is turned (clockwise only please!) the whole machine moves as it was designed to. Most exciting is that the needles can be seen to move in and out in a knitting motion.”
While we initially assumed we’d find synthetic fibers, analysis of lint found in the gears showed that this machine worked with 100% cotton fibers. To learn more about its operation, Dick Kaminski and Ted Mommsen, former Munsingwear employees responsible for customizing and operating this machinery, visited the Conservation lab and spoke with Tom and Linda McShannock, curator, about their experience with the machine.
This is one of our favorite things for what it tells us about the company, the direct link it establishes to the products it made, and the beauty of the object. Wildman machines were in use as early as the 1920s and continue to find use in the knitwear industry. It created the raw material from which the majority of Munsingwear products were made. This knitting machine will be a key piece in the upcoming exhibit “Underwear – A Brief History” at the Minnesota Historical Society.
This chart tracks when the ice went out on the Mississippi River between the years 1844 – 1887. It shows the date the ice broke; the name of the first boat arrived; its Captain; date; the name of the last boat to depart; number of days the river was open; date the river closed; and the number of winter days.
Surprisingly this was found in the Episcopal Church, Diocese of Minnesota, Correspondence and miscellaneous papers, 1870 – 1891, P1035. This goes to show how all Minnesotans throughout time have been obsessed with the weather!
Lori Williamson, Acquisitions & Outreach Coordinator, with special thanks to Marcia Anderson and Matt Goff