Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

Road to the North Dakota Blue Book: A “Treasure Trove” of State Information

When the 2023-2025 North Dakota Blue Book is unveiled in a ceremony this Wednesday at the state Capitol, the event will mark the culmination of a two-year effort by the secretary of state’s office, other state employees, and volunteers to compile what Gov. Doug Burgum has called “a treasure trove of information about all things North Dakota.”

An orange book cover titled Legislative Manual

Double Ditch Indian Village State Historic Site outside Bismarck is featured on the cover of the new North Dakota Blue Book.

Secretary of State Michael Howe said the biennial Blue Book, published by his office, depended on “a multitude of folks that care about the history of North Dakota.”

For Audience Engagement & Museum staff at the State Historical Society, our involvement began in October 2022 when Clearwater Communications, which coordinates the effort, contacted department director Kim Jondahl to let her know the Blue Book Committee had selected North Dakota state historic sites as the featured chapter topic.

Over the next three months our team got to work. Kim put in countless late nights researching and writing the chapter with input from our state historic site managers and supervisors. Editor Pam Berreth Smokey and I condensed and edited text. Meanwhile, New Media Specialist Supervisor Angela Johnson sourced images to accompany our contribution.

The result, a 50-page chapter providing an up-to-date overview of the state’s 60 state museums and historic sites, underscores the “power of place … [to connect] us to the world around us,” according to State Historical Society Director Bill Peterson, who will speak at the Blue Book launch. The chapter traces the agency’s evolving relationship with these sites, from the purchase of the first state historic sites in the early 1900s to the ways the state continues to steward and develop these significant locations today.

In addition to the featured chapter, the Blue Book, the 38th since statehood, includes a wealth of reference material on North Dakota’s branches of government, elections, natural resources, educational system, tribal-state relations, and key industries. A concluding chapter, penned by State Archives Head of Reference Services Sarah Walker, explores 150 years of Bismarck history in commemoration of the capital city’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2022.

All 141 state Legislators, cabinet members, elected officials, university presidents, the State Library, and contributors will receive copies. Blue Books are also sold in the ND Heritage Center & State Museum’s store, with past editions accessible via the State Historical Society website.

The 2023-2025 Blue Book, which clocks in at over 600 pages, has come a long way since the slim 180-page inaugural 1889-1890 edition. That roughly pocket-sized volume comprised an array of political and official statistics, the North Dakota Constitution, and founding national documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. It followed a similar format to Long’s Legislative Hand Book and Rules of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Dakota, produced in 1887 and 1889 by Mandan attorney Theodore K. Long.

An orange book cover titled Legislative Manual

The inaugural, not so blue, Blue Book. SHSND SA 353 N811 1889/90

Interestingly, that first edition wasn’t even blue, nor was it called a blue book, a term adopted from the British who printed government reports and diplomatic correspondence in blue covers at least as early as the 1600s. The copy housed here in the State Archives has a salmon-colored cover—it wouldn’t go blue until 1897—and was known as the Legislative Manual. In the 1920s and 30s, the book was published under the title, the Manual for the State of North Dakota, before becoming officially known as the North Dakota Blue Book in 1942.

For much of the 20th century, the Blue Book was produced sporadically—about once every decade. But in 1995, Howe’s predecessor as secretary of state, Al Jaeger, began publishing it biennially. “All the credit I think goes to Al understanding the value of having that history in book form and also looked at every two years,” said Howe, a former state legislator who was elected secretary of state in November 2022 and in this role also serves on the State Historical Board. “Al since 1995 has been a part of every Blue Book including this current one that’s coming out.” Moving forward, the secretary of state’s office is exploring ways to expand the book’s digital format. They also plan to continue the tradition of printing the Blue Book (although exactly what that will look like is under consideration).

A tan book cover with an American flag on it titled Manual for the State of North Dakota 1930

In the 1920s and 30s, the Blue Book sported a distinctly patriotic cover. SHSND SA 353 N811 1929

Over the years, while state government statistics and reference material have remained a staple of the publication, the information inside has varied—early editions included everything from postage rates and the value of foreign coins to the names of registered law students and a listing of insurance companies operating in North Dakota. Some editions even reprinted England’s 1215 Magna Carta, which famously limited royal power. And in the era before women and many minority groups received full voting rights, the 1909 Blue Book featured a section on the qualifications needed by state to vote. With some variation, the common requirement was that you be male and at least 21 years old.

For its amusement quotient, however, the 1942 edition is a standout. It not only notes the number of large candy factories in North Dakota (two in case you were wondering) but also gives space to then-Gov. John Moses’ thoughts on our infamous winters. Moses deemed these “sadly misrepresented” and “widely dramatized in the public press,” on average “no more than seven to fifteen degrees below those recorded at St. Petersburg, Florida.” Ahem.

A blue book cover titled North Dakota Blue Book 1942

Want the skinny on North Dakota candy production? The 1942 Blue Book has you covered. SHSND SA 353 N811 1942

If that wasn’t enough to make readers pack their bags and head our way, Moses ended his homage to the state by citing the words of North Dakota poet James W. Foley: “There’s something in Dakota … makes you bigger, broader, better, makes you … noble as her soil … makes you mighty as a king.”

The 2023-2025 North Dakota Blue Book will be launched from 3-4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 13, by Secretary of State Michael Howe in the Memorial Hall of the state Capitol. The event, featuring musical entertainment, light refreshments, and remarks by officials, is free and open to the public. Contributors will be able to pick up their complimentary copies at that time.

Black Fridays Past: Items From the State Collection That Once Caused a Shopping Frenzy

November and December are gift-buying months for many people in the United States, which often leads to a shortage of some of the year’s must-haves. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, is a popular day for shopping the sales with hordes of crowds hitting America’s malls. Since some items are limited in number and are only on sale during certain times of the day, people line up early in the morning, risking frostbite (at least in North Dakota) to guarantee they will get the product at the discount price. Here at the State Historical Society, we’ve been lucky over the years to snag a few of these coveted items for the museum collection.

In the early 1980s, the most desired toy was a Cabbage Patch Kids doll. By the end of 1983, nearly 3 million Cabbage Patch Kids had been sold. Cabbage Patch Kids were flying off the shelves, and some were being sold on the black market at a highly inflated price.

A black Cabbage Patch Kid doll with gray clothes and green trim sits in its yellow and green box.

This Cabbage Patch Kid was purchased from Target by the State Historical Society of North Dakota in 1985. The name on her birth certificate is Oriane Adelaide. No staff members were harmed in the procurement of this doll. SHSND 1985.85.1

Beanie Babies were one of the most popular collectibles of the 1990s. Since 1994, collectors have been on the hunt for the tiny creatures, with some more collectible and desirable than others. In 1997, McDonald’s had a line of Beanie Babies created for their Happy Meal toys. They sold 100 million Teenie Beanies within two weeks.

Plastic McDonalds TY Beanie Baby package with a yellow billed purple platypus

This purple platypus Teenie Beanie appeared in kids’ Happy Meals during the late 1990s. SHSND 2019.43.1

A purple Princess Diana TY Beanie Baby with a white rose on its left chest area. A plexiglass container sits behind it and collectors clipp for the tag sits in front of it.

Commemorative Princess Diana Beanie Baby bear released in the months after her 1997 death. SHSND 2019.43.4

The donor of the Beanie Babies, Becky King, and her daughter started collecting them in 1994, eventually amassing more than 500. All were kept with their Ty tags intact, and some even came with plastic tag protectors and in plexiglass protective boxes.

Toys are not the only items in the Black Friday danger zone. Electronics often go on super sale, causing people to throw elbows in the quest to check off their shopping lists. One such item was the fourth generation iPod of 2004. Apple sold 4.5 million iPods during the holiday season that year.

A white apple iPod

Fifth-generation iPod from 2005 featuring a colored screen and a larger memory than its predecessor. You can all but hear the sounds of Fall Out Boy as you gaze upon it. SHSND 2018.40.1

The Nintendo Wii was released in November 2006 and sold over 600,000 consoles in its first week on the market. Due to its immense popularity, the Wii was soon hard to come by in many markets. The Wii is a different kind of video game option because the controller is a hand-held remote with motion-sensing controls that have gesture recognition. Might one of the contributors to this blog post have accidentally flung a controller across the living room during a particularly intense game of Wii Tennis? You’ll never know.

A Nintendo Wii with its cords, sensor, and operations manuals

The Nintendo Wii in the state museum collection was a Christmas gift to our donor from herself and her husband in 2008. She liked to play the games because she could get a workout and have fun at the same time. SHSND 2018.9.10

The most popular must-buy gifts each year are usually the iconic toy or cutting-edge electronic item of the moment. Our collections are missing some of these. If you have any of the following, please consider donating them to the State Historical Society. In particular, we would like to add objects with stories (i.e., something loved and used by its owner) to our collection such as Teddy Ruxpin, Transformers, Nintendo NES, Game Boy, Castle Grayskull from “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” Tickle Me Elmo, Furby (the non-haunted version, please), a Razor scooter, a television with built-in VCR, a Tamagotchi virtual pet, an Instant Pot, an air fryer, and a flatscreen TV. You can offer items to our collections by filling out the donation questionnaire online here.

We hope you had a safe, trample-free Black Friday!