• Category Archives SCHS Blog
  • Scandinavian Immigration and Influence in Minnesota

    Scandinavian Immigration and Influence in Minnesota

    by Hannah King, Curator

    More Norwegians live in Minnesota than any other state in the U.S. Just over 20% of people in Stevens County have Scandinavian ancestry. Many of us grew up with Johnsons, Andersons, and Olsons and came to love treats like sandbakkel and krumkakke. How did the Midwest, and Minnesota specifically, come to be the center of Scandinavian American culture?

    Minnesota has been an immigration destination since the early 1800s. Norwegians began to flee overpopulation and poor farming conditions in the mid-1800s. They first settled in Wisconsin and Illinois, both of which had rich and plentiful farmland. From there, they moved west into Minnesota and the Dakotas. Other Scandinavians and Nordic immigrants followed suit. In 1850, Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer wrote, “What a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.” That dream essentially came true, with many important historical figures, cultural practices, and even regional dialects influenced by Scandinavian immigrants.

    Governors Knute Nelson, John A. Johnson, Floyd B. Olson, John Lind, and Adolph O. Eberhart were all of Scandinavian descent. The strong presence of cooperatives for everything from fuel to telephone services is largely due to Scandinavian influences. The same can be said for the widespread nature Lutheranism, agricultural communities, and hotdishes.

    Even the way people speak in the Upper Midwest has been affected by all those Scandinavians. Linguists have given the regional accent that you hear in Minnesota, eastern North and South Dakota, western Wisconsin, and northern Iowa its own name – Upper Midwestern English. Most residents in these areas know that things like the long ‘o’ (such as in Minnesooota) and the phrase ‘uff da’ aren’t something you hear elsewhere. However, even our phrasing is different. The Upper Midwest is the only area in the U.S. where people say ‘come with.’ John M. Spartz, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on the “come with” construction, said the phrase is basically a direct translation from the German and Scandinavian languages — languages once spoken frequently in states such as Minnesota and Wisconsin during a period of heavy German and Scandinavian immigration. “I would say, ‘Come with,’ and people would look at me like I’m crazy,” Spartz said. He added that it sounded to the person like he had not finished his sentence. People in Minnesota and Wisconsin also sometimes use the word “borrow” when they mean “lend.”

    It turns that all Midwesterners, even those who don’t have a drop of Norwegian blood, still carry the mark of Scandinavian immigrants who started to arrive over 150 years ago. Throughout this newsletter and upcoming exhibit, we’ll be exploring Scandinavian culture and heritage. We hope you come with.


    This Norwegian dish set is part of a collection donated by Agnes Gaarder Steiler and was owned by her aunt, Andrea Ihler. Andrea lived on the Korsmo farm in southeastern Norway before immigrating to Minnesota. The largest container is a butter dish and was brought over from Norway. The second largest dish is a sugar bowl. The two small pots with spoons are for salt and pepper. The bowl lid and the spoons all have “Norge” (Norway) burned into the wood – this part of the design and the lack of wear imply that these items may have been souvenirs rather than practical objects.

    All the dishes are made out of wood and have designs painted in red, yellow, and green. The two larger dishes are made in the style of a tine (pronounced tee-nah), a traditional bentwood box where the lid fits into the prongs on each side. While the dishes have a traditional top, a true tine would have a base made out of a single piece of bent wood. This style of container dates back over 1000 years in Norway.

  • Selfies: Egocentric or Authentic?

    Selfies: Egocentric or Authentic?

    Our previous post discussed the long history of the snapshot and how early trends in camera use reflect popular use of camera phones today. But that was a broad overview. In this post, we dive into the most controversial use of photography in our time: the selfie.

    Much like the snapshot, the selfie has a history dating back to some of the first cameras. The earliest known selfie was taken by Robert Cornelius in 1839.blog-post-7a He used a daguerreotype, which is an early form of photography that took a long time to develop. One theory is that he was able to set up the exposure and get into place, sit for the exposure time, and then rush to close the aperture. Since the exposure was so long, he was able to move quickly without ruining the photo. However, most early photographers preferred the classic mirror selfie. You can visit Mirror Portraits from the Early Days of Photography to see a gallery of such photos.

    PBS Art Assignment host and former art curator Sarah Urist Green believes that self-portraits were sometimes more of a necessity that conscious choice in the early, experimental days of photography. It was easier to practice on oneself than have other people pose for so long. But even when ignoring practicality, people loved having photos of themselves. In 1925 DH Lawrence lamented that “each of us has a complete Kodak idea of himself”. Though Lawrence probably saw the “Kodak idea” as evidence of humans’ selfish, narcissistic nature, he also pointed to another interpretation of selfies. Do selfies help us get a better grasp on our identity?

    The Guardian interviewed Rebecca Brown, a 23-year-old graduate trainee from Birmingham, who sees selfies as a form of self-exploration. “It’s almost like a visual diary,” she says. “I can look back and see what I looked like at a particular time, what I was wearing. It’s exploring your identity in digital form…People think if you take pictures of yourself, you’re self-obsessed but that’s like saying if you write a diary or an autobiography, you’re self-obsessed. Not necessarily. A selfie is a format and a platform to share who you are.”

    blog-post-7bMost arguments against selfies point to the fact that they are different from a diary because they are made for public display. However, there are layers of privacy and publicity involved. Some people take selfies as a personal record, much like a diary. Some are taken to show a new hairstyle or cool pair of shoes, shared only with friends. And some are taken to show the world and hear its response. Brown finds that need for feedback normal. “Before I go out, I’ll take a couple of pictures almost to see how I look in other people’s eyes. In the same way that if you wrote a really good piece of work and had people commenting about how good it was,…if people start liking your selfie, then obviously you’re going to get a natural buzz. It gives you a nice boost and you can walk with that little bit more confidence.”

    Urist Green also sees significance in a selfie. She finds that “the basic motivations and potential for expression have stayed the same. I am not saying all selfies are art. Dear god no. But I am saying that there’s not really a difference in nature between a photographic self-portrait made by an artist and your run of the mill selfie.” There is no shame in wanting to see yourself and to see how the world views you. So “go forth and selfie. Just try to do it well.”


    Further reading:

    A Brief History of the Selfie, Huffington Post, 10/15/2013 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/selfie-history-infographic_n_4101645.html

    Mirror Portraits from the Early Days of Photography, Michael Archambault, 6/2/2015 http://petapixel.com/2015/06/02/mirror-self-portraits-from-the-early-days-of-photography/

    Why Snapchat is Valuable: It’s All About Attention https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140321152822-79695780-why-snapchat-is-valuable-it-s-all-about-attention




    Before the Selfie: A Brief History of Looking at Ourselves, KQED Arts, Carly Severn, 6/9/2016, https://ww2.kqed.org/pop/2016/06/09/before-the-selfie-a-brief-history-of-looking-at-ourselves/

    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian.com

    PBS offers a surprisingly artsy history of the infamous selfie, Joe Blevins, 6/3/2016 http://www.avclub.com/article/pbs-offers-surprisingly-artsy-history-infamous-sel-237702



  • Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part two

    Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part two

    Not everyone was pleased by the rise of the snapshot. Professional photographers disparaged the haphazard, often out-of-focus shots from amateurs. Alfred Stieglitz, an art photographer, predicted that “Photography as a fad is well nigh on its last legs.” Still others complained about “Kodak fiends,” people who always had their device on hand, constantly taking pictures. Sound familiar?


    Most people used their cameras to have fun, whether it was preserving family memories, chronicling vacations, or making jokes. There were trends (like modern mannequin or plank photos) that included breaking the news, where people broke their their heads through holes in newspapers. Some amateur camera users considered themselves to be more serious photographers than these Kodak fiends and their crazy snapshots. In the early 1900s, they formed several organizations to promote photography as art rather than a hobby. The most prominent was the Photo-Secession, founded by the previously mentioned Alfred Stieglitz in 1902. To these serious photographers, snapshots lacked aesthetic and technical expertise. Within a few decades, however, some artists returned to snapshots, considering them as a form of American folk art. As time passed and cameras became embedded in American lifestyles, artists became more comfortable with the continuum between everyday snapshots and high art photography.

    It is easy to see the parallels with today’s camera fiends. We see young people and other early adopters using the latest photo apps, from Instagram to Snapchat. Again, we see people mock these amateurs, with their poorly lit pictures of food or of goofy faces. But everyone taking photos with their phones is continuing a tradition started with Kodak fiends, a tradition of documenting the everyday lives of ordinary people.



    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian.com

    Kodak and the rise of amateur photography, http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kodk/hd_kodk.htm

  • Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part one

    Snapshots to Snapchat: Why amateur photography matters, part one

    People have long kept diaries, family records, and legal documents to keep track of their lives and commemorate people, events, and important information. As new technologies become available, people change the way they keep those records and memories. We moved from handwritten records to printed books to digital files. Photography is another way that people record and remember. Photographs can capture a particular moment in time as it happens, with relatively little change between what a person sees with their own eyes even if the person behind the camera is not a skilled photographer.

    Amateur photography explores home and private lives and captures its subjects in the moment. Pictures taken by amateur photographers create one-of-a-kind records that preserve memories and give a glimpse of the everyday lives of regular people. The National Gallery of Art notes that “Any American who takes a snapshot contributes to a compelling and influential genre…[that has] also affected the ways in which we represent ourselves and mark life events, preserving and even creating memories.” How did the photograph become such an important part of our lives?

    The first snapshot camera was introduced by George Eastman in 1888 – the Kodak. It was a small hand-held box that cost $25 (about $600 today) and was very easy to use. The Kodak camera came with 100 shots preinstalled. When all the negatives were used, the photographer would send the whole camera back to the Eastman factory, which would send back the developed photographs along with the reloaded camera. It is easy to see where Kodak got its first slogan: You press the button, we do the rest.


    However, the cost meant that many people could not afford to have their own camera. So, in 1900, Eastman released the Brownie, which cost only $1 (about $30 today). The new price made all the difference and one third of American households had a camera by 1905. Cameras continued to become more popular and easier to use. The Polaroid was invented in 1948, creating developed black and white photos in 60 seconds. Instant color film was available by the 1960s. Digital cameras were already in development by the 1970s and camera phones were on the market by 2001.

    Today, almost every American has access to a camera, often right in our own pockets. Most people treasure the ability to capture and preserve memories. Some people even see snapshots as a form of American folk art. But what about the people who fail to appreciate the ease and ubiquity of snapshot photography?


    The Art of the American Snapshot 1888-1978, National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/2007/snapshot/

    The Invention of the “Snapshot” Changed the Way We Viewed the World, Smithsonian Magazine, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/invention-snapshot-changed-way-we-viewed-world-180952435/

  • “You Press the Button – We do the Rest”


    You Press the Button – We do the Rest

    Erica Selly, UMM studentblog-post-4a

    In 1888, what began with George Eastman’s commercial production of dry plates in a rented loft in Rochester, New York, expanded into the birth of modern snap-shot photography, that all amateur photographers are versed in today. In 1888 the Kodak brand was officially titled and their first camera was placed on the market. From then on, Kodak was one of the leading companies both in production and innovation of camera technologies.  In 1889 they made transparent film available for public cameras. In 1891 they introduced the first “daylight loading camera,” eliminating the need to change film in a dark room. And in 1900, the first of the beloved Brownie series camera was introduced. These cameras could be purchased for one dollar, with rolls of film going for fifteen cents, which put the ability to snap photos into nearly everyone’s financial capability.


    The Brownie Camera series was such a hit with the public that many styles were produced, each with their own distinct feature and update in photo-technology. One such product was the No.2A Brownie camera. It was introduced in April of 1907 and its production was discontinued in 1936. Throughout the years of its production it underwent some changes; these included fitting the eyelets to the lens, changing the location of tension springs, adding a metal nameplate to the back of the camera, and even available colors (red, grey, brown, green, blue and black were available in America, while the United Kingdom offered brown, blue, claret, green, as well as black). One of their top sellers was the Brownie Target Six-20, which was a metal box type with two view finders. Perhaps one of its most popular features was that its 620 film size was easily respooled. One of their cameras, which had a lower production period (1930-1933), was the No.2A Beau Brownie. It incorporated a doublet lens rotary shutter and a specially made cable release. Even after creating these fairly small and convenient models, Kodak continued to pursue advancement their photographic technology; this included foldable cameras, the addition of color, instant cameras, and the ability for non-professionals to produce their own motion pictures – even in color. In 1975 Kodak was able to produce the first digital camera, though it was the size of a toaster, and then “decision-free” “disc photography” in 1982.blog-post-4c

  • The Blacksmith’s Spear

    The Blacksmith’s Spear

    by Dave Jungst

    Blacksmiths made use of what they had. Years ago, resources were not as abundant as now. They were from a time when people couldn’t afford to throw things away. Good blacksmiths were highly valued members of a local community. They were relied upon to keep things going. Since they needed to make the most of what they had, they were often inventive and sometimes ingenious.

    The fishing spear in the museum’s collection is a good example of that ingenuity. If you look closely at the spear, you can still see the cross-hatch markings of the teeth of the farrier’s rasp that it was fashioned from. A rasp is a big file that has large, coarse teeth to remove material faster. Many blacksmiths were also farriers. A farrier is someone who trims horse hoofs and fits horse shoes. It makes sense the blacksmith might have some old dull hoof rasps laying around. An important characteristic of a rasp is that it’s not made of ordinary iron, also called mild steel. It is made of tool steel which has a higher carbon content and can be tempered or hardened so that it holds an edge longer and stays sharp. Tool steel can be heated and softened, re-shaped and then tempered again to hold its new form. That way the spear made from the rasp would have points that would not dull easily if they hit something hard, like a rock on the bottom of the lake or stream.

    SCHS Collection
    farrier’s rasp and handle
    SCHS Collection
    farrier’s rasp close-up
    SCHS Collection
    SCHS Collection
    Spear-close up

    Tempering steel is done by heating the metal to a cherry red. As it is heated, steel will go from being black, to dark red, to cherry red, bright red or orange, then white. When steel reaches a white heat, it will begin to throw sparks which indicates the metal is burning away. Blacksmith shops are often depicted in movies and paintings as dark places. They were dark on purpose, so the color of the heated steel could be seen more easily than in bright daylight. Once the steel reached cherry red it was quickly quenched or cooled in water or oil. If tool steel is cooled slowly after heating, it will be as soft as mild steel. The quick cooling sets up the crystalline molecular structure of the carbon in the iron, causing it to be much harder.

    Nowadays, heat for metal working comes from compressed gas such as acetylene or using high voltage electricity. But before the second World War, and even up to the 1960’s, many blacksmiths used coal to heat up metal for their work. Blacksmiths use a high quality low sulfur coal for greater heat while avoiding contaminants getting into the steel and weakening it. The coal was heaped in a tray with legs called a forge. It had a throat that would allow air to be blown from below to turbo-charge the fire. This achieves temperatures that can melt steel.

    My Grandfather, Walt Jungst, was the blacksmith in the town of Kandiyohi, east of Willmar Minnesota. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman. So naturally he made much of his own sporting gear. He also made fishing spears and sold them as a sideline in his shop. He got the steel for his fishing spears from old trip springs on farming plows. They were coil springs so he would heat the springs, un-coil and straighten them, fashion them into spears and then temper them to harden the points. Pictured is one that I have that was passed down to me. I’ve speared many fish with it.

    Walt Jungst spear

  • Tap: An American Original

    Tap: An American Original

    by Hannah King, Curator

    Tap dancing originated in the United States sometime in the 1800s. The style is most likely a combination of several ethnic dances, including Scottish, Irish, and English clog dances and African tribal dances. The integration of diverse practices is an American tradition. This specific mixture could have happened two ways: African slaves and Irish indentured servants may have shared dance steps on Southern plantations or tap may have developed in jumbled New York neighborhoods where there were many points of contact between a variety of ethnic groups. As tap evolved, it continued to be a style that crossed racial borders. Various styles developed, such as Juba, rhythmic, soft sole, and ballroom. The duets between Shirley Temple and Bill Bojangles Robinson are an example of rhythmic tap. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers most often performed ballroom tap. Even the type of shoes used changed with time. Early tap used bare feet, clogs, and wood-soled shoes. True tap shoes with metal plates on the soles did not become popular until the 1920s. Soft-soled tap was popular in the 1940s. Tap performances were a popular form of entertainment in many setting. It was a standard part of minstrel shows and vaudeville acts and carried into nightclubs and Hollywood films.

    Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple The Littlest Rebel 1935
    William Henry Lane a.k.a. Master Juba 1848
    Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

    Throughout its history, tap dancing evolved to keep up with widespread social changes and cultural fads, as well as the influence of individual trendsetters. Tap traces almost all of American history, from forced immigration caused by slavery and indentured servitude to the birth of Hollywood to modern reality TV. Cultural exchange and respect for innovation, regardless of its source, created tap dancing and has kept it vital. And the remarkable fusion of cultures and the willingness to accept that mixture is not just a hallmark of tap, but of American society in general.

  • COLLECTIONS SPOTLIGHT- 1940’s Tap Costume

    This tap dance costume belonged to Dona Wolking Agosti. Dona attended Alberta High School her freshman and sophomore years (1939-1940) and was a member of the tap dance team along with her sister Dottie. They performed at basketball games, assemblies, and pep rallies. Dona wore this particular costume while dancing to “Downtown Strutters Ball.”

    The costume is one of two given to the museum and was made by Dona’s mother. The dress and accessories are made from white and royal blue satin-weave fabric. The main body of the dress is a simple sheath with puff sleeves. Snaps along the collar and down the bodice allow the coordinating dickey to be securely attached. The colors are switched on the dickey, and again on its bow, to contrast with the layer beneath. Four yellow plastic stars are sewn to the front of the dickey and the name Dona Mae is written on the reverse side. Additional parts of the costume include white high-waist shorts, flared blue wrist covers, and a blue hair bow. The leather tap shoes are still in good condition, despite the wear on the bottom (they are dancing shoes, after all).

  • Kodak’s Creator: George Eastman (1854-1932)

    blog-post-3George Eastman was born in 1854 in Waterville, New York, the same year that his father, George Washington Eastman, established Eastman’s Commercial College in Rochester. In 1860, the family moved to Rochester, but two years later, George W. Eastman died suddenly. George Eastman left school at age 14 to support his mother, Maria Kilbourn Eastman, and two older sisters, Ellen and Kate. He worked at a local insurance company and then as a junior clerk for the Rochester Savings Bank.

    When Eastman was 23, a coworker suggested that he buy a camera for an upcoming trip. Though he never took that trip, he became intrigued by photographic processes and equipment. Eastman sought to simplify and improve what he saw as clunky, expensive equipment. He spent three years in the kitchen experimenting with gelatin emulsions and had invented and patented a dry-plate coating machine by 1880.

    In 1881, with the financial backing of Rochester businessman Henry Strong, Eastman formed the Eastman Dry Plate Company, which was later reincorporated as the Eastman Dry Plate and Film Company in 1884 and as Eastman Kodak Company in 1892. Eastman built his business on four basic principles: a focus on the customer, mass production at low cost, worldwide distribution, and extensive advertising. He eventually realized “that what we were doing was not merely making dry plates, but that we were starting out to make photography an everyday affair…to make the camera as convenient as the pencil.”

    The company created easy-to-use cameras that made photography widely accessible, established the practice of professional photofinishing, and developed a flexible film that was a critical contribution to the launch of the motion picture industry. Eastman had revolutionized how America thought about and used cameras. In the late 1920s, he was diagnosed with a progressive and irreversible spinal disease. He ended his life on March 14, 1932. In a note to friends, he wrote, “My work is done. Why wait?”


    To learn more about George Eastman, visit:

    Eastman Museum, https://eastman.org/about-george-eastman, Eastman Museum

    Kodak website, http://www.kodak.com/corp/aboutus/heritage/georgeeastman/default.htm