Category Archives: From the Collection

From Stove to Pieces and Back Again: Reuniting a Dismembered Stove at HHM

Sometimes the most interesting part of an object is the mystery surround it.

We don’t know much about the origins or history of the caboose stove that is today’s Object Lesson, but up until very recently, we didn’t know that it even was a caboose stove!

Chimney with Agitator

Part of the caboose stove as we found it in the garage.

While cataloging the garage at HHM, we encountered several pieces of cast iron, each weighing over a hundred pounds and barely moveable. While we could see that the pieces clearly went together somehow, we couldn’t assemble the pieces in any coherent way because of their size and weight—and because they were impossible to make heads or tails of!

The domed chimney with a door clearly suggested oven, but the bottom of that piece was open which didn’t seem right. The disc piece could have covered the bottom of the domed piece, but it didn’t sit snuggly on the bottom, so that wasn’t right. The other three pieces, though they had the same heft and color as the dome and disc, but didn’t seem to neatly make any logical whole.

In my work at HHM (and in life more generally), I have learned that the smartest move you can make when you aren’t sure about something is to surround yourself with smart and/or creative people then shut up and listen. Our breakthrough on the caboose stove came when our very clever intern, Floris, theorized it was indeed a stove and, since one piece was stamped with Central Railway, tried googling “train” and “stove.”

A few minutes later, she had a picture of a similar-looking artifact on her phone. From there, puzzling out how the stove fit together was a piece of cake and suddenly a mystery of the collection was solved!

This caboose stove was once used in a caboose that traveled the Iowa Central Railway, probably around the turn of the 20th century, judging by images of similar caboose stoves.

Caboose Stove in Use

These stoves were bolted directly to the train floor and featured other design features that make them specially adapted to use on a moving train. A lip on the top to kept pots and pans from sliding off the stove, and a double-latching door prevented an accident involving the coals that would move as the caboose rocked back and forth on the rails.

Author Bio

Heather Hoagland is the Collections Manager at Hennepin History Museum. She has a Masters in Museum Studies from George Washington University. Before joining the staff at HHM, she worked at Ford’s Theatre and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.

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From Luxury to Lot: The West Hotel

The history and demise of the West Hotel and the Tiffany urn that was created to honor the founders

The West Hotel was known to be a destination of luxury in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was built with funds of Charles W. West, and subsequently, he gave the new world-class hotel to his nephew and then manager of the Nicollet House, John T. West. Charles West spent an exorbitant amount of money building the hotel with ornate detail and making it particularly extravagant for visitors. As a result, the building became well known, and was the perfect addition to the then new state’s aspirations for success. The opening night banquet and celebration in November of 1884 was highly anticipated, although sadly approximately two months before the evening, Charles West died.

Silver urn

This large urn stood in the West Hotel’s lobby before coming to Hennepin HIstory Museum. 

Even after the death of Charles West, the building of the hotel continued and opening night was still a major success. It was a night of recognition and appreciation to the two people who made the building possible, Charles and John West. Around 500 guests attended the ten dollar a plate banquet, and many famous Minnesota leaders were among them. This large silver ceremonial urn, believed to be by Tiffany & Co. Silver,  was given to John West who accepted it in honor of Charles West. The 5,000 dollar urn was made in New York specifically for Charles West as a thank you gift from the city of Minneapolis.

Following the opening night banquet, the hotel started off with success as many wanted to experience the extravagance of the West Hotel. In fact, the West Hotel hosted the 1892 Republican National Convention, and famous people such as Winston Churchill and Mark Twain were among the hotel’s visitors. However, after the hotel caught fire in 1910 and more competitors popped up in the area, the hotel lost its luster. In 1940, its owners  decided to raze the building to make way for a parking lot.

West Hotel selling off goods in 1940s

Auctioning West Hotel items before the building was razed. 

The West Hotel ceremonial urn features an image of Charles W. West and the West Hotel as it looked in 1884. The cup sat in the West Hotel for guests to view. It was donated to Hennepin History Museum by Nathaniel DeLue Jr., who acquired the urn after the hotel closed.

Author Bio

Lindsay Simmons is an art history and museum studies graduate student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. She is currently an intern at Hennepin History Museum working on the museum inventory project. She spent the summer assisting in rehousing and cataloging some of the museum’s 15,000 objects. This urn was one of the first objects she cataloged for the collection. She enjoyed researching this object as it is an important piece in HHM’s collection, and as a resident of Minneapolis, she finds learning about the history of the city fascinating.

Resources

West Hotel, Minneapolis

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part One.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 3 (Fall 1978): 3–9.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Two.” Hennepin County History 37, no. 4 (Winter 1978-79): 13–21.

Thorstenson, Ruth Zalusky. “The West Hotel: Part Three.” Hennepin County History 38, no. 1 (Spring 1979): 3–11.

An Unconventional Convention Desk

By Evan Walker

This desk was made by students in the industrial arts class at South High School for the 1892 Republican National Convention. The chairman of the Republican Party, James S. Clarkson, sat behind it during the first and only major political convention ever held in Minneapolis.

The year was 1892. It was a wild and exciting time. Benjamin Harrison was the sitting president, running in the primary against three other candidates, including William McKinley, who would later be elected president in 1897. Though Harrison won the primary, his results were underwhelming and he would go on to lose the national election to Grover Cleveland, old Tippecanoe, who still stands as the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms.

The Republican National Convention in Minneapolis, drew over 35,000 people and was the first convention where women were allowed to be delegates, but our citizens were more jubilant about the opportunity to show the politicians and visitors that Minneapolis, the “Prairie Queen”, was no frontier town full of barbarians. People advertised in the newspapers about fabulous deals on flags and banners to decorate the city, and there was even a contest where one could guess the nominee and the date and time of the vote for a chance to win $87.50 in gold.

The Convention took place in the newly remodeled Exposition Building. The building was designed to “appear artistic but not gaudy, patriotic and grand but not overdone, and the whole design was made subservient to the vision of the visitor sitting in the farthest corner of the gallery.”

The desk once had three silver plaques commemorating how and when it was used, but only two remain today. The smaller plaques indicate that it was used again in the 1896 convention, held in St. Louis, and the 1900 convention in Philadelphia.

Plaque Detail 1

Plaque Detail 2

About the Author

Evan Walker recently completed a summer internship at HHM. He enjoys walks on the beach and sharing stories about people and events from the past. Evan will be going into his sophomore year at Luther College in the fall, studying history.

From the Office of the President: William Watts Folwell’s Desk

By Evan Walker

Today’s Object Lesson might be one of the most exciting objects so far–at least to photograph. At almost 5 feet wide by 3 feet deep, the only way to fit the entire desk in the camera frame was to turn it on its side. Then one of us stood on either side of the desk and held up a white sheet in order to get a clean background.

If you ask me, the photos of the photo shoot are almost as fun as the final artifact photo!

Taking the Photo - Evan

Above: The author demonstrates the many duties of a museum intern!

Taking the Photo - Layne and Heather

Taking the photo - Mike

 

This desk once stood in the office of William Watts Folwell, first president of the University of Minnesota. Born in New York in 1833, he served as an engineer in the Civil War. When he became president of the University, it had eight professors and 100 students, but he was an instrumental figure in expanding the college and making it more useful for all Minnesotans. By the time he stepped down in 1884 the U had about 960 students, and he continued as a professor and librarian for several years.

Folwell raised a few eyebrows by advocating for a full graduate program and the establishment of museums and libraries at the U, rather than only the more traditional undergraduate program focusing on Greek and Latin. He was described as “a knight errant of the new education… interested in everything from Plato to hog cholera.” Students were more familiar in their descriptions, apparently calling him “Uncle Billy”.

Another of Folwell’s accomplishments was his four-volume history of Minnesota, which he wrote over the course of nine years.

The desk itself is made from oak, with some poplar wood. Each of the 10 drawers can be locked, and there are holes on the top of the desk. These may have been used to attach more shelves or possibly other articles, like a lamp or inkwell.

 

About the Author

Evan Walker recently completed a summer internship at HHM. He enjoys playing tennis and sharing stories about people and events from the past. Evan will be going into his sophomore year at Luther College in the fall, studying history.

Sources

William Watts Folwell

Report of the University of Minnesota, 1884-1886

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Before There Were Paper Jams: A Brief History of a Little-Known Office Machine

 

Above: one of two copy presses in the Hennepin History Museum collection.

The letter copying press was invented in 1780 by the Scotsman James Watt, also the inventor of the steam engine. Watt’s machine eliminated the need for laborious hand copying of documents and provided the user with completely accurate copies of the original. He patented two versions of the device. One used two opposing crank operated rollers like a washing machine wringer, and the other used a screw press mechanism.

The process worked as follows. First the letter (or document) to be copied had to be written with a special soluble ink and allowed to dry without blotting to ensure that it would have a thick ink deposit.

Copies could be made for up to about 24 hours but the best were made within the first few hours. Next a copiest would prepare a “sandwich” to place in the copy press. It consisted of a sheet of oiled paper followed by a water dampened sheet of thin tissue paper, then the original document with the inked side facing the tissue paper and finally another sheet of oiled paper. The “sandwich” was then placed in the copy press and pressure was applied usually by turning a screw or using a lever. After a short time the pressure was released and enough of the ink from the original would have wicked into the tissue paper to make a copy. Thin tissue paper was used so the document could be read through the paper. The oiled paper prevented the ink from transferring to any other documents if multiple copies were being pressed at the same time.

Copies were often pressed in large quantities where a lot of correspondence was generated like in offices. Bound books of tissue copying paper were frequently used with originals and oiled paper inserted in them as described above. Special brushes or dampening reservoirs were used when copying large quantities at once. Small portable copy presses were also developed for use when someone was traveling. In early America they were quickly adopted by notable people including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who designed his own portable version. Calvin Coolidge was the last president to have his official correspondence copied on copy presses.

Hennepin History Museum has two of the screw style copy presses. One is closed with a wheel and the other is closed by spinning a straight handle with large, heavy iron balls on the end. The iron balls were used to create centrifical force so that a copiest could open or close the press with one good twirl. This would speed up the process in offices where a lot of copying needed to be done. The straight handles remained popular in England but were mostly replaced by wheels in US machines by 1860.

Although many more sophisticated copying machines and techniques have since replaced Mr. Watt’s invention, it was in common use for over 150 years. It is interesting to note that they were still being manufactured in 1950 and were used in Britain until the late 1950s.

2017.0512.108The iron balls on the ends of the handle allow the press to be closed with one good twirl.

About the Author

Mike Larson has been a volunteer working on the inventory project at Hennepin History Museum since January 2017. He has so far cataloged over a hundred objects, primarily large artifacts including a soap box derby car, big-wheel bicycles, a switchboard desk, and—of course—two 19th century copy presses.

Resources

The Early Office Museum

The Briar Press

The Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia

An Inedible Arrangement: Samples from the History of a Local Landmark

This appetizing assortment of biscuits sits in a frame that was once a display “window” on the outside of the Burch Pharmacy at Hennepin and Franklin Avenues in Minneapolis. It contains 22 different products, all made by Huntley & Palmers, an English brand. Passerby could look up from the street outside and see what options were available, including those on display in the other product windows.

When the Burch Pharmacy closed in 2010, it was the last of the 215 independently owned drugstores listed in the 1948 Minneapolis Directory.  Interestingly, the building, which is now Burch Steakhouse, was designed by Edwin H. Hewitt, who also helped design the Christian Family Residence, now the site of everyone’s favorite history museum!

The pharmacy had been part of Minneapolis ever since it was founded in 1913, and there are many fascinating stories tied to it, such as the string of robberies, including one by “stylish burglars” who drove a car through the window and stole a stamp machine. George Burch, owner of the store, chased off another thief in a running shootout, with Burch firing some sort of machine gun as he pursued the “Bearded Bandit”.

George Burch sold the store in 1917 and ended up accidentally shooting himself through the heart in 1922, but the pharmacy continued on under Ben Cohen and Gene Johnson. Cohen opened the store’s second and more famous location in 1930.

Biscuits detail 2

Huntley & Palmers is less important in the history of Hennepin County, but it is full of incredible stories nonetheless. Captain Scott brought their biscuits along on his voyage to the South Pole. In 1904 the first Europeans to visit the holy city of Lhasa in Tibet were welcomed with Huntley & Palmers biscuits.

 

About the Author: Evan Walker is an intern at HHM. He enjoys walks on the beach and sharing stories about people and events from the past. Evan will be going into his sophomore year at Luther College in the fall, studying History. His main project is running the Facebook group for external research, so if you’re interested in seeing and researching some cool artifacts to help out the museum, talk to Heather Hoagland, the Collections Manager, about joining us to have fun researching and finding out all the secrets most people don’t know about Hennepin County. Contact Heather at heather.hoagland (at) hennepinhistory.org or 612-870-1329.

This item has recently been photographed and documented as part of a complete and comprehensive cataloging project. Eventually, all items will searchable online! Thank you to our volunteers for their hard work, and to our financial donors for supporting this project. To make a contribution to support local history, please click here.

Sources 

Vanishing Twin Cities: The End of Burch Pharmacy

Early Minnesota Medicine: Staying Healthy on the Frontier

The Minnesota frontier could be a frightening place to have an illness by today’s standards. Travel was slow, medical education was unregulated, and medicines were often limited to what you could make with the plants at hand. Many of these medicines that early white colonists in Minnesota used were remedies that had been learned from Native Americans, some of which were described in detail in “Home Remedies of the Frontier,” written in 1949:

The Chippewas learned that the pitch of the balsam fir would help a headache. The umbrella plant was applied as a poultice for a sprain, and wild sarsaparilla was good for the blood. […] Wild ginger was good for a pain in the stomach and the fern helped to relieve insect bites, of which there were many.

Some of these early medicines, including our object of the week, are part of the Hennepin History Museum collection. This particular photograph shows a two quart jar with strips of poplar bark, used as a medication for ulcers. The instructions on the jar read, “Steep a few pieces and drink in the morning before anything.” Another medicine acquired was a jar of quassia bark, used by the donor’s mother to create a “bitter concoction,” which her children dipped their fingers into to discourage nail biting.

In the early days of American pharmaceutical companies, these plant-based medicines were quickly capitalized, and rather than the long process of research and testing required for medicines to reach the market today, Madison writes that “unproved claims for efficacy provided the means of enticing consumers to buy the product.” The very first Minnesota newspaper devoted over three columns to drug and medical advertisements, and “there was no lack of enthusiasm in the claims for what a bottle or a pill would do.” (Home Remedies).

As the pharmaceutical industry blossomed, regulations became tighter and many of plant-based medicines, whose benefits could not be scientifically proven, were considered obsolete. Today, Hennepin History Museum is home to some of these old remedies, remnants of a bygone era on the Minnesota frontier.

Author Caitlin Crowley graduated this spring with a BA in history and a minor in medieval studies from Augsburg College. This fall she will be attending the University of Minnesota for a masters in Heritage Studies and Public History.

Resources

“Home Remedies of the Frontier,” The Saint Louis Park Dispatch, July 8, 1949, Medicine: MN: First Doctors and Early History Folder at Hennepin History Museum.

James H. Madison, “Eli Lilly: A Life, 1885-1977,” Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2006.

“Patient Was Classroom Before 1893: Medics Were Once a ‘Rough Lot’,” Minneapolis Star, November 2, 1965.

“The Sick on the Frontier,” The Hennepin County Review, June 9, 1949, Medicine: MN: First Doctors and Early History Folder at Hennepin History Museum.