Posts Tagged ‘1890s’

American Pikelhaube, 1890s

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

Today’s Dakota Death Trip has a striking soldier in uniform for the Sunday photo; he may seem like the wrong sort of image to post for Memorial Day weekend.  Thick mustache, guns stacked to the side, and the kind of helmet the Kaiser would praise a solder for keeping in good shape.

That iconic helmet induces people of the 21st century to remember trench warfare, the earliest of tanks crushing everything in its path on the Western Front, and America’s mortal enemies wearing little close-fitting helmets with spikes on top.

Looking back at an earlier time through the filter of modern day has its pitfalls: it seems like every couple days the internet realizes the swastika wasn’t originally a symbol of fascism and genocide.  We see the above photo as the enemy, because one of the most destructive wars ever fought was against an army of helmets like this.  However, that was all in the 1910s, due to political strife of the time, the terrorism of anarchists fighting against the empire swallowing their smaller nations, triggering a war that spanned a continent.  When this photo was taken, America wasn’t shipping our doughboys ‘over there.’ German immigrants were flowing into the midwest, inspiring the railroad to name a fledgling frontier town after German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, eventually becoming the state capitol.

The spiked helmet is known as a pikelhaube, and while it did have its origins in the Germanic regions of central and eastern Europe, there’s nothing sinister about its origins.  Today’s military uniforms are plain and functional, and that change was slow and started in the 19th century.  Military uniforms were a symbol of power, a demonstration of a country’s military strength, and the pikelhaube was an iconic part of those uniforms.

As is with other aspects of fashion, various designs similar to the pikelhaube spread through other militaries around the world, including South America, Russia, and Scandinavian countries.  The British Horse Guard still wears them, in polished metal, and the design is still present, if you know what you’re looking for, in the traditional bobby helmet. And, as a young country not wanting to buck popular fashion trends, the US military adopted it as well.

The pickelhaube first was worn during the Civil War, by German militia regiments; the militias were self-contained units, not affiliated with the standing US Army, so they were able to design their own uniforms.  The militias also pulled from their local communities, which were often of similar ancestry, so a more German region would choose to base their uniforms on the ones they would have work back home.   In this case, they adopted the pikelhaube.

This wasn’t a one-off uniform for the Civil War, honoring the homeland; as the pikelhaube spread around the world, the US Army also adopted it as part of the standard uniform through the 1870s and 1890s, although most modern document credits the British calvary as the inspiration for the American helmet, rather than anything German.  Let’s take a closer look at our man’s helmet insignia:

Detail of American  pikelhaube

That is clearly the traditional American eagle: shield on its chest, holding an olive branch of peace in one claw and arrows of war in the other.  This looks like the M1881 helmet (as opposed to the M1872, which does look more British), and the braid would seem to indicate an officer.

I couldn’t definitively identify the coat our helmeted gentleman has on, it doesn’t look standard nor does it show any rank to indicate an officer.  The standing collar has a number “1″ on it, which could indicate either the 1st Cavalry or 1st Infantry — or, this is possibly a militia uniform, designed after the US Army uniform but given their own unit personality.

So, Dakota Death Trip’s photo today isn’t one of the enemy, or of a German fighting for his empire — but an American soldier, the kind of which we honor on Memorial Day.

Antarctica, 1890s.

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

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It is usually left off of world maps, but in this one Antarctica is the guest of honor. Most flat map projections, even if they do include Antarctica portray it as a wide band of white, with little visualization of how it actually appears. Above is a map viewing the spherical Earth from a southerly position, providing the least distortion to Antarctica, but giving a very different view of where South America, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia lie in relation. The map’s purpose is to show various expeditions to locate the South Pole; the map was reduced such that the labels are almost unreadable even in the original. From the multivolume The Book of History, 1890s.

Dorothy Raddatz, 1890s.

Wednesday, April 15th, 2009

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The back of the photo, in a childish pencil script, is the name “Dorothy Raddatz”. Appears to be late 19th century. From a bunch of random photos acquired recently.

Red River Flood, 1897.

Thursday, March 26th, 2009


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Today, Fargo-Moorhead is readying itself for an unbelievable 40ft+ crest of the Red River on Friday, and are preparing, around the clock, by filling sandbags and building dikes. Twelve years ago we had another huge flood which filled some neighborhoods with water, a hundred year flood so to speak. In fact, a hundred years before that hundred-year flood was the 1897 flood, seen above: floods of this type weren’t completely unusual — urban renewal cleared out the most flood-prone neighborhoods during the 1970s on both sides of the river, which had been routinely inundated whenever the river got high. The area of Moorhead in the photo above, however, is still on high ground and is residential: the building on the left seems to still exist, while the one on the right does not. The USGS believes the 1897 flood hit the 40-foot mark as well.

Father and Daughters, 1890s.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009


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Father and two daughters, 1890s.

Dakota City, North Dakota, 1890s.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009


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Greetings from scenic Dakota City, North Dakota! It took a little research to figure out what the cartographer was going off of, but the issue may be the result of lazy mapmaking. The full-sized map comes from the Harmsworth Self-Educator, a British encyclopedia from the 1910s. On closer examination, it’s odd to see a river called the “Yenne” running curling around the eastern half of the state — that is actually the “Sheyenne River”, which had at some point lost the first part of its name. The mapmaker who produced the map during the 1890s was copying off a map about 40 years older. “Dakota City” was a small settlement, just north of the Sheyenne/Red River confluence about ten miles north of Fargo, north of Harwood’s current townsite, established in the 1850s. According to Origins of North Dakota Place Names by Mary Ann Barnes Williams, “In 1895, one log cabin stood at the crossing of the Red River, just opposite LaFayette, Minn., on the Dakota side…known as Dakota City.” That one lone log cabin was occupied in the 1860s by “Monsieur Marchaud, a French Canadian, his Chippewa wife and twelve children,” according to Seat of the Empire by Charles Coffin. Dakota City, its neighbor Lafayette, and numerous other small townsites never succeeded in reaching actual town status, disappearing well before this map was published.

Three Boys, 1890s.

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Three boys, dressed and posed nicely, 1890s. Cabinet card by “Wm. Canfield,” location unknown.

Farm Insurance, 1895.

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

A hundred and thirteen years ago, R.U. Titus stood in his farmyard and looked upwards, wondering what sort of terror might plunge out of it — lightning, tornadoes — and decided he should buy some insurance on him home, horses, and farm equipment. Today, whoever still lives at the farmstead on the NorthEast quarter of Township 140, Range 55, Section 35 looks up and wonders just how much resolution those terrain sattelites can get:


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Chivers’ Jellies Window Display, 1890s

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008


The caption reads, A good example of high-class window dressing with a proprietary article. That proprietary article is Chivers’ Jelly, preserves from a UK company that still happens to be around — albeit now part of an international conglomeration and located in Ireland.

Confirmation Class, 1890s.

Monday, September 15th, 2008

Unmarked cabinet photo of unusual proportions. Appears to be a confirmation class from the late 19th century, but I was unable to find any explanation for the white, candle-like ribbons on the men.