Category Archives: Object of the Week

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.

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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.

Red, White, and Blue… and Gold: The Many-Faceted Life of Alfred Lindley

This blue, red, and white sporting sweater carries with it a lifetime of memories. Owned and worn by Wayzata resident Alfred Lindley, this sweater was donated to Hennepin History Museum by his sister, Mrs. Ward Burton. Mrs. Burton was a supporter of the museum, and thought that this sweater was the appropriate item to tell her brother’s story. And a dramatic story it is!

Alfred Lindley was born in Minneapolis in 1904 and spent his childhood at a home at 1920 Stevens Avenue (just a few short blocks from Hennepin History Museum.) After graduating from Blake School in 1920, he left for the east coast, first for a year at Phillips Academy, followed by Yale University. At Yale he quickly gained a reputation as an accomplished athlete; while at Yale he played football for four years, rowed for four years, and spent three years playing hockey. It was in rowing, however, where he made his largest mark: in 1924, Lindley served as stroke for the Yale rowing team and helped his team to bring home an American gold medal in rowing in the 1924 Paris Olympics. (Among his teammates was fellow Minnesotan, Wayzata resident Alfred Wilson.)

After graduating from Yale, Lindley returned home to Minnesota and took up residence in Wayzata. He attended law school at the University of Minnesota but squeezed out time to pursue his sporting interests. In addition to rowing, football, hockey, and boxing, Lindley was an avid mountain climber. He had climbed the Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps at age 16, and now as an adult, he joined the first expedition to scale both the north and south peaks of Mount McKinley, now Denali, in 1932. He also competed in the 1936 Olympics in skiing!

“By inheritance he might have led a life of comparative ease and devoted his spare time to his great interest in the field of sports, in which he was so proficient; but desire to be of public service was inherent in his character”

So wrote his friend and fellow mountaineer, Henry Kingman, upon Lindley’s death. Indeed, in addition to his sporting life, Lindley became politically active, first campaigning for Harold Stassen for Governor of Minnesota, and eventually in 1940 winning a seat in the Minnesota legislature himself.

Lindley’s dramatic and action-packed life ended in an equally dramatic way. In February 1951, Lindley and his friends Edmund Pillbsury and Dexter Andrews were on their way to Aspen, Colorado, when their plane tragically crashed in Nebraska after encountering heavy fog and freezing rain.

This sweater, which his sister reported was worn by Lindley for both rowing and for hockey, is a tangible connection to an accomplished local man. And even if his story doesn’t inspire you to head for the mountains or to the lake, this bit of advice offered up by Lindley himself stands the test of time: Everyone, he said, “should indulge in some sort of exercise daily because it develops character as well as physique.”

Thank you to our members and donors for your support of Hennepin History Museum! Your contributions help us to preserve and to share local history. To make a contribution please click here

SOURCES

Harry Kingman eulogy, American Alpine Club 

Ben Spock on 1924 Olympic Eight

“Alfred Lindley, Edmund Pillsbury, Dexter Andrews Die in Plane Crash,” Star Tribune, February 23, 1951 p.1

A Century of Mountaineering 

Bertha’s Black Blouse

This week’s object of the week is an unassuming black blouse that donor, Ms. Hyacinth Easthagen, called, “not beautiful,” and “not well finished.” Although Hyacinth, the great-granddaughter of the woman who owned the blouse, was not impressed with its appearance, she recognized its historical significance. When telling history through objects, this is a common theme. An object may appear to be rather plain or ordinary, but its connection to historical places or events gives it significance.

This blouse was worn by Bertha Kehn, wife of August Kehn, also spelled Kuhnn or Kuehne. The Kehns immigrated from Germany and settled in Hennepin County, part of one of the first waves of pioneers to settle in Minnesota. Mrs. Kehn, wrote Hyacinth, was “a large woman about five feet seven or eight inches tall, with a full bosom.” As a farm woman, she likely made the blouse herself, just as she made clothing for the rest of her family. Considering she went on to have fifteen children, sewing that many outfits would not have been a small feat.

Although Hyacinth believed that the Kehns settled in Hanover, Minnesota, the book History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, published in 1923, wrote that they settled in Greenwood. Today, Greenwood is known as Greenfield, and is just south of Hanover. Whether the Kehns lived in Greenwood or Hanover, it’s certain they called the northwest corner of Hennepin County their home for many years. The homestead property was “large enough to be divided into five farms, for his five sons,” wrote Hyacinth, although one of their sons passed away before reaching adulthood. Their ten daughters were all married, and all of them had children.

Bertha passed away in Greenwood Township in 1907, and her husband in Hanover in 1917. While their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren spread out to other areas of Minnesota and the United States, Bertha’s black blouse still lives at Hennepin History Museum.

Museums collect some objects for their beauty or artistic value, and others for their ability to tell a story; in this case, the story of a large family of early Minnesota immigrants. It begs the question: in a hundred years, what objects do you own that could be used to tell your story?

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

Sources

Donor letters from Hyacinth Easthagen

History of Minneapolis: Gateway to the Northwest, Volume III, Minneapolis: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1923.

Reverend Edward D. Neill, History of Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis Including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota, Minneapolis: North Star Publishing Company, 1881.