Exhibit: Appropriate, Curious, & Rare: Montana History Object by Object

Montana and the Nation

Since Thomas Jefferson’s Corps of Discovery entered Big Sky Country in 1805, Montana’s history has gone hand-in-hand with that of the United States as a whole. From baseball to celebrating our country’s founding, Montanans hold many traditions in common with other Americans. We also shape the nation we share, contributing iconic members to countrywide social movements and our creativity to World’s Fairs. And, when the nation is at war, Montanans exhibit their patriotism on the home front and overseas. We also cooperate with those outside our state’s borders to address issues of mutual interest on a national and international level. The greater United States has shaped—and continues to shape—Montana’s history while Montanans have also changed the nation.

Promotional pin

The "Montana Nail," ca. 1893, MHS 1992.46.01

Americans viewed the World’s Columbian Exposition—held in Chicago in 1893 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the New World—as an opportunity to assert the country’s increasing prominence on the world stage. Likewise, each of the nation’s forty-four states vied to surpass the others in terms of the grandeur of its contributions to the fair. Among Montana’s many offerings was a solid gold nail, used for the ceremonial completion of the Women’s Building. Subsequently, the gold nail was removed and incorporated into a brooch made of precious Montana metals by Butte jeweler J. H. Leyson and given to Bertha Palmer, a Chicago socialite and President of the Exposition’s Women’s Department. This “Montana Nail” is one of a small number of copies of the pin given to associates of the Women’s Building. It is made of stamped brass, with a nail overlaid in rose gold, and adorned with a lone rhinestone.

USS Montana silver service

Pieces from the USS Montana Silver Service Set, 1907, MHS 1997.81

Following the Spanish-American War, a spirit of nationalism—combined with the recently realized need for a stronger navy—encouraged Congress to appropriate money for a new fleet of warships. An armored cruiser, the U.S.S. Montana was one of twelve resulting vessels. In 1907, Montana’s legislature appropriated $6,000 to fund the creation of a silver service for the new ship that would be sufficiently grand to “enable the officers of the vessel to entertain official guests in a manner befitting the dignity of the State [of Montana].” Dillon’s Huber Brothers jewelers secured the commission to have nineteen pieces hand-wrought by the Massachusetts firm of Reed and Barton. When completed, the highly ornate silver service was adorned with decorative motifs depicting both nautical themes and emblems of the Treasure State, including flora and fauna like bitterroot and buffalo as well as artworks by Charlie Russell and E. S. Paxson. 



Shoe Worn by Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, ca. 1914, MHS 2006.01.01

Montanans have made notable contributions to the larger American story in arenas ranging from politics to entertainment. One notable example is Jeannette Rankin (1880–1973), whom historian Joan Hoff Wilson described as “one of the most unique figures in American political history.” A suffrage activist and unyielding peace advocate, Rankin became the first woman elected to the US Congress in 1914. She gained renown for voting against the United States’ entry into both World Wars I and II. Although her stance was far from popular, many still admired the courage with which she adhered to her convictions. Consequently, in 1985 she was inducted as one of Montana’s two representatives to Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. Artist Terry Mimnaugh (b. 1955) referred to Rankin’s singular shoe, now in the Society’s collection, when she created the life-sizes bronze of Rankin that now resides in our nation’s capital.

Miss Ishikawa

"Miss Ishikawa" Japanese Friendship Doll, 1927, MHS X1928.01.01

Miss Ishikawa is one of fifty-eight Friendship Dolls presented to the children of America by the children of Japan in 1927 in response to a similar gift from the United States earlier that year. Miss Ishikawa and her companions were issued passports and first class tickets for their voyage to San Francisco, and each traveled with a trunk packed with miniature lacquered furniture and personal items meant to make the dolls comfortable in their new homes. Each doll—known as tôrei-ningyô in Japan—had her own personal crest, which adorned her silk kimono and lacquered accessories. After arriving in the United States, however, many of the dolls, including Miss Ishikawa, were separated from their accessories, including the bamboo platforms which bore their names etched in English. Consequently, her accessories now bear one crest while her kimono bears another.


Autographed Baseballs, 1956, MHS X1969.14.27

America’s governors convene semi-annually at meetings of the National Governors’ Association to discuss issues of mutual concern. While Montana Governor J. Hugo Aronson (1891–1978) was quiet at 1956’s summer gathering—making only one comment recorded in the Conference’s proceedings—he served on the Resolution Committee, guaranteeing that Montana’s voice was heard when it was needed. Conversely, with the Democratic National Convention only two months away, New York’s voluble governor Averell Harriman hoped to gain support for his struggling presidential candidacy. He gifted baseballs signed by each of his state’s three professional teams to the other governors in attendance, commenting that “there are a lot of ball games being won in the ninth inning this year.” Harriman lost the nomination, but signed by legendary players like Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays, the baseballs serve as unique reminders both of America’s national pastime and of Montana’s role in politics beyond the state’s borders.

Montana: A Buried History

Montana: A Buried History by Jim Todd, 1976, MHS 1984.63.01

The Executive Council of the Montana Federation of Teachers (MFT) commissioned Missoula artist and educator James Todd (b. 1937) to create this mural in observance of the United States’ bicentennial. Todd noted that the painting “concentrates largely upon what I believe to be some of the major events and transitions in the labor and corporate history of the state.” It includes pictorial references to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the fur trade, the discovery of gold, the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the coming of the railroad, cowboy artist Charlie Russell, Butte’s Speculator Mine disaster, the hanging of Wobbly organizer Frank Little, World War I’s Sedition Act, suffragist Jeannette Rankin, the establishment of federal military bases and missile sites in the state, political and social movements associated with Indian rights and protection of the environment, and the plight of struggling family farmers. Click here for more detail on the events depicted.