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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

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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

A Royal Wartime Romance

Hennepin County’s famous Aquatennial has been part of the Minneapolis summer since 1940. So, too, have been its royalty, including the festival’s Queen of the Lakes. Young single women representing cities and companies across the state gather in Minneapolis each year to compete for the opportunity to serve on the Aquatennial royal court. Here at Hennepin History Museum, our extensive historic Aquatennial collection has extensive files filled with historic photographs, scrapbooks, coronation gowns, and crowns associated with the Queen of the Lakes. Their stories are part of the Aquatennial story, but also provide a glimpse into broader historical trends and experiences. In the case of Queens Margaret Cary and Nancy Thum (above), the collection and its stories provides a peek at what it was like to be a young adult in World War II-era Minnesota.

During the 1940s, the Aquatennial Queen of Lakes rules were clear: married women were not eligible to run for or to hold the title of Queen of the Lakes. In 1944, this led to an unexpected situation when in that December, not one but two current reigning Aquatennial Queen of the Lakes were “conquered  by Cupid in uniform!” With the advent of World War II, American marriage rates skyrocketed. The average age at time of marriage also dropped. Perhaps no surprise, the eligible young Aquatennial royals also found love and chose marriage.

In early December 1944, with the war still raging, Queen Margaret Cary chose to give up her crown to marry her fiance, recently returned army flyer Charles Sandberg. Nancy Thom, shown above, took over the royal duties. But just weeks later, Nancy announced her own engagement! Her fiance remained stationed in California, however, and Nancy’s wedding did not take place until after she had served out the rest of her reign and crowned her successor.

Hennepin History Museum is home to the historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to make a financial contribution to help us to preserve and share this important local historical resource.

Uptown Girl

In the summer of 1955, the life of a “summertime shop girl from Uptown” was changed forever. Judy Penney, a 19-year old language student at the University of Minnesota and a retail clerk at the Purple Door gift shop (then located at Lake Street and Holmes Avenue), was crowned the Aquatennial’s 1956 Queen of the Lakes. While representing the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis as the Uptown Commercial Club’s official Miss Uptown Aquatennial candidate, Judy lived with her parents in nearby St. Louis Park.

Being chosen as Aquatennial Queen was often a major life-changing event for young women like Judy. Suddenly plans to find a full-time job or return to school were placed on hold; being a queen was a full-time commitment itself! All the hard work came with exciting perks and opportunities, however — including a tour through Spain with Minneapolis journalist Barbara Flanagan.

The photo here, part of our extensive historic Aquatennial collection, was taken during a hot week in August. The members of the Minnesota Apparel Industries had provided Judy with an entire wardrobe suitable for such international royal travels. Selected by a stylist with air travel in mind, the wardrobe “features the type of packable and versatile clothes that make the American girl’s apparel the most envied in the world.” (Picture, September 4, 1955) During this extensive, multi-day photo session, Judy patiently tried on and modeled the extensive contributions from the state’s apparel industry; a month later, she took her new ” special air-travel wardrobe” with her to Europe.

We will be featuring materials from our Aquatennial collection throughout July! Please check back often (and follow our InstagramTwitter and Facebook pages) for more #HistoricAquatennial.

Hennepin History Museum is home to an extensive historic Aquatennial collection. Please click here to help preserve and to share this valuable local historical resource. 

From the Archives: 25th U.S. Infantry at Fort Snelling

Many people today have heard of the famous African American Buffalo Soldiers, but did you know that the Buffalo Soldiers were based here in Minnesota during the 1880s?

This photograph, part of Hennepin History Museum’s archival collection, shows a group of men from the 25th U.S. Infantry. The 25th Infantry was an African American regiment then based out of Fort Snelling. These soldiers were among the “Buffalo Soldiers,” a term referring to the United States’ segregated African American Army regiments. The soldiers shown here were musicians and NCOs (non-commissioned officers).

Army historians describe the time spent at Fort Snelling as “the most uneventful in the regiment’s history,” and suggest “the soldiers probably spent more time practicing, drilling, and parading than ever before.” Meanwhile, in contrast, Hennepin County was changing rapidly around the Fort; the city of Minneapolis was one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation during this period, and the downtown skyline was changing and expanding rapidly.

In 1888, the 25th was transferred from the the Minnesota to Montana.

In July 1948, President Truman signed Executive Order 9981 mandating the integration of the armed forces and promising “equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

Sources

Historic Fort Snelling 

“Buffalo Soldiers.HistoryNet 

Executive Order 9981

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, A Historic Context for the African American Military Experience. 1998.

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