Sherburne History Center

Sherburne History Center
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Friday, October 23, 2020

Labor Shortages in WW II Sherburne County

 

Labor shortages, in World War Two the phrase commonly referred to necessary work in the factories and armament industry.  Often associated with Rosie the Riveter, the phrase suggested a shortage of workers to man the factories and build necessary war machines.  Yet, the phrase carried a tragic and not often considered meaning in Sherburne County.  Although the federal government exempted most farm workers from the draft and created programs to provide more farm workers, the area around Sherburne County witnessed a severe shortage of labor during the war years of 1943 to 1945.  These labor shortages in farming caused more than a few farm failures and forced auctions.

            With the opening months of 1943, a new phase of the war developed.  The conclusion of the North Africa campaign signaled success for allied troops.  Plans for invasion of Italy continued.  And the offensive against japan showed measured success.  All of this demanded more war material.  Rationing and increased production placed greater stress on farming communities like Sherburne County.  Some farmers found it impossible to carry on their work.  In particular, farm workers seemed impossible to hire.

            The federal government created programs to train teen age boys to work on the farms during summer months.  Still later, the government enlisted prisoners of war, from Italy and Germany, to work in the food processing plants and in some of the larger farms.  Yet, the programs fell short for Sherburne county farmers.  The Sherburne County Star News, in April 1943, reported on a program to train young men in the Twin Cities to work on farms throughout the state.  Other reports noted Italian POW’s working in the potato warehouse in Princeton.  Yet very few of the programs and workers made their way into Sherburne County.  The government efforts fell significantly short.  

This inadequate effort led to farm failures and forced auction liquidations around Sherburne County.  Several advertisements for auctions appeared in the newspapers, beginning in 1943 and continuing into 1945.  Many of the ads explained the inability to find workers as the cause for the auctions. 

Labor shortages remains an unusual phrase in exploring World War Two and farm production.  Yet, the newspaper columns during those years reveal a series of unfortunate farm failures as a result of labor shortages and the lack of manpower in the rural counties like Sherburne County.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Charles M. Schulz--Another Minnesota Artist

 

A few weeks ago, I wrote of artists from Minnesota.  I failed to mention perhaps the most significant artist in Minnesota history: Charles Monroe Schulz, (1922-2000).  A master illustrator and creator of the widely read and enjoyed comic strip of all time: Peanuts. 

Schulz, born in Minneapolis, lived in the twin cities for nearly forty years.  The exceptions to this, was during his service in World War Two and a brief time spent in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Ripley’s Believe it or Not published his first original illustration.  A 1937 drawing featuring the family dog, a hunting dog that ate unusual household items such as pins and tacks.  This illustration he signed as “Sparky” a family nickname for the young Schulz.

Seventy years ago, October 2, 1950, seven newspapers published the first Peanuts comic strip.  The syndicated comic grew to the point 2600 newspapers in 75 countries carried the daily antics of the Peanuts gang.  Schulz instated on doing the drawings and lettering himself.  In the end he produced an estimated 17,897 strips.  The comic also outlived the creator.  Schulz died on February 12, 2000.  The last Peanuts strip published the next day.  

Although the comic syndicate owned the strips, they agreed with Schulz that no other artist be allowed to carry on with the Peanuts strip.  Since his death, until today, the Peanuts strip reruns remain a popular segment of local newspapers. 

Although lived outside of Minnesota for the last forty some years of his life, Charles Monroe Schulz remains a significant artist in Minnesota history.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Visual Artists in Minnesota

 

Minnesota Artist Anton
Gag (1859-1908),
self portrait

This past week, at the Sherburne History Center, the annual Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase exhibited work from several local artists.  With art history playing around in my mind, I wanted to take a moment and give mention to a couple of Minnesota visual artists.  I want to acknowledge there is a force within the state that inspires painters, illustrators, photographers, and other visual artists.  Here are four artists born or lived in Minnesota and played a significant impact on the national art world.

Sarah Louise Judd (1802-1881) born in Farmington, Connecticut.  She came to Stillwater, Minnesota in 1845 as an educator.  She also produced daguerreotypes and later, other portrait images.  She is regarded as the first photographer in the state of Minnesota.

Perhaps the best known of all Minnesota visual artists, Wanda Gag (1893-1946) trained under the tutelage of her father, artist Anton Gag (1859-1908).  Anton immigrated to Minnesota, settling in New Ulm where seven children, including Wanda, were born.  Anton worked as a photographer and painter, best known for his oils depicting events of the Dakota War.  Wanda trained at the Minneapolis School of Art and became a major illustrator and artist.  Perhaps, best known for her published work, Millions of Cats.

Another Minnesota artist, Adolf Dehn (1895-1968), worked closely with Wanda Gag.  As a lithographer, Dehn gained fame in the school of Regionalism and Social Realism.  Although a brief period of artistic expression, Regionalism gave focus to views and images from the Midwest.  As a significant artist in the school, Dehn received two Guggenheim fellowships to pursue and expand the influence of the period. His work appeared in a variety of popular magazines in the 1940s through 1960s, including: Vogue, New Yorker, and Life magazine.

Adolf Dehn, Anton and Wanda Gag, and Sarah Louise Judd serve as significant reminders of the many visual artists to develop in Minnesota.  And, with the Sherburne Area Visual Arts Showcase, we continue to explore the artists and their imagination from Minnesota.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Women Going to War

 

WAAC recruitment poster, 1943

During World War Two, young men receive a significant amount of attention in joining the service or being drafted to serve.  Rightly, we need to recognize their service to the country.  Yet, many young women also served in the military.  Their service also warrants recognition.

There were a few opportunities for young women to serve the country during the war.  The government called upon women flyers to ferry aircraft to Britain that had been manufactured in the United States.  Nurses served an equally important role in the military.  And a multitude of administrative duties put the efforts of women enlistees to the task.

The first of the women branches of service, other than nurses, organized as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.  Beginning in 1942, the Army recruited 150,000 women to serve in administrative duties and still later as mechanics stationed around the United States.  In February 1943, Carol Jean Briggs, of Elk River, joined the WAAC service.  Ms. Briggs taught school in Elk River for two years before enlisting, explaining her experience might be better utilized in the army.  At the same time, Betty Truman joined the Army nurse’s corps as a second Lieutenant. 

Later on, in 1943, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps reorganized as the Women’s Army Corps.  Their work proved so successful, the Navy created the WAVES; the Coast Guard created the SPARS; and the United States Marine Corps organized their Women’s Reserve.  General Douglas MacArthur described the WAC’s as “his best soldiers” because of they complained less and worked harder than most men.

Perhaps the most secretive of the women in war time service involved the code breakers and translators stationed along the west coast in the war against Japan.  Francis Scroggins Beck, of rural Elk River, served as a cryptologist for serval years during the war.  As a cryptologist she translated secretly intercepted communications from the Japanese. 

Although only three listed, a number of women in Elk River and Sherburne County joined the military effort to fight the war.  Sherburne County recognized the men drafted into service.  Women enlistees quietly went about the business of war with little or no recognition of their service.

Ladies, thank You.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Recognizing Labor Day

 

With the coming holiday weekend, we need to stretch outside of Sherburne County History to explore the origins of Labor Day.  Beginning in the late 1800s and continuing to the declaration of a national holiday, the day to celebrate workers remains important.  

Quarry workers in west Sherburne County

The commemoration of labor and working often associated with May 1, May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.  In the United States, in the late 1880s, May Day became more closely associated with radical philosophies often associated with socialism, anarchy, and communism.  A variety of more conservative labor unions and activists started promoting the first weekend in September as an alternative; a new Labor Day. 

The Haymarket Massacre, on 4 May 1886, further solidified May Day as a celebration of radicalism.  In 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize the Labor Day holiday in September.  Within 7 years, thirty states commemorated Labor Day.  Although the federal government recognized Labor Day as a holiday for federal employees, it wasn’t until the 1930s the holiday was recognized as an official holiday. 

In Minnesota, a number of significant activities revolve around the September holiday.  Many schools in Minnesota open after Labor Day.  Some suggest this scheduling allows young children to fully participate in the state fair, which closes on Labor Day.  In addition, fall sports activities schedule their opening based on the Labor Day holiday. 

Informally marking the end of summer, Labor Day emerges out of the more radical history of May Day to play a significant role in yearly life cycles in the United States.  It provides an exclamation point to end summertime activities and signals to Americans now is the time to develop plans for the fall and winter activities.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Nuclear Energy in Elk River

 

Newsletter advocating for
reactor in Elk River, 1955

A truly unique anniversary passed this week, 57 years ago, on August 24, 1963.  On that date, the Elk River atomic reactor generated the first nuclear power in Minnesota.  After eight years of campaigning and planning, the Elk River nuclear plant opened for business.  Unfortunately, the plant operated for only a brief time.  Yet, it served as a highly informative experiment in nuclear plant operations. 

Only ten years after nuclear power proved its strength, the Rural Cooperative Power Association of Elk River developed a campaign to introduce nuclear energy into the upper Midwest.  According to a proposal submitted to the Atomic Energy Commission in June 1955, a nuclear plant in Elk River could reduce electricity production costs by fifty percent in five years. 

The Atomic Energy Commission looked favorably on the Elk River proposal.  In 1958, they granted approval to the project and construction began on this unique project.  After five years of construction, the reactor first generated power and became the first reactor operated by a rural cooperative in the United States.

Unfortunately, the experiment at the Elk River plant failed.  After five years of operation, the plant closed in 1968.  Officials reported the plant lacked cost effectiveness.  By 1975 the entire reactor had been dismantled. 

Planning and construction took more time than the operation of the plant itself.  Although the operation of the plant failed, the experiment provided insight into the construction and operation of a nuclear plant in the United States.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Joseph F. Bean: Sherburne County Pioneer

Recent discussions of early settlement presented an individual to consider as a pioneer serving a significant, yet unheralded, role in the settlement of Sherburne County.  We need to look at the life and times of Joseph F. Bean of Livonia Township. 

Joseph Bean spent his childhood and early days in New Hampshire.  He made his way to Sherburne County, stopping first in Wisconsin before landing in Elk River.  Finally, in 1856, he and his new bride, Betsy, settled in an area of Livonia Township.

The Bean homestead located on the stagecoach road between Elk River and Princeton.  In addition to farming, Bean also provided rest to travelers along the road.  He also served the role of Postmaster, the mail for area farmers being delivered by stage and later by the early morning trains.  In addition, both Bean and his wife Betsy emphasized education.  Both worked as teachers before settling in Livonia Township.  Evidence suggests the Bean household served, for a time, as a school.

A fire, in 1891, destroyed the original farmhouse.  The family quickly rebuilt their home and continued to farm and provide services to the community of Zimmerman, that developed just east and south of the Bean farm. 

Comparing the Bean family history to other early settlers, a pattern becomes evident.  Much like the homestead of Orlando Bailey, Joseph Bean established a farm while providing a rest stop for travelers along the road.  In addition, he provided services as the postmaster and may have opened his home as a schoolhouse. 

With all of this work and community service, Joseph F. Bean and his family clearly contributed to the settlement of Sherburne County.  They were important, early, pioneers in the County.