Artifacts in the Archives – Our Favorite Artifacts

Today’s post introduces a new blog series here in Special Collections and University Archives— Artifacts in the Archives. These will be a series of posts that include staff picks for different artifacts. This week’s post lists some of our favorites.

The Death Mask

Death Mask of Margaret Stanton

Death Mask of Margaret Stanton (Artifact 2001-R130)

From Whitney Olthoff, Project Archivist

I might get judged for this, but… I have to go with Margaret Stanton’s death mask. It’s creepy, it’s a bit macabre, and it’s a fascinating artifact. It’s a piece of Victorian history –  this was just one of many kinds of memento mori (items created to remember the dead) that were a popular custom in that era. From my understanding, death masks were never typical in the Midwest, so it’s especially interesting that this one was made here and that we have one at all.

From Becky Jordan, Reference Specialist

My favorite artifact is Margaret MacDonald Stanton’s death mask.  It gives us an opportunity to talk about two people who were here in the early days of the college, and who contributed to keeping the fledgling institution on the right track.  Edgar was the first student to receive a diploma at Iowa State.  He devoted his life to Iowa State, and was a member of the faculty until the day he died.  His memorial to Margaret has become a major symbol of the university.

Because Margaret Hall, the first dormitory specifically for women, was named for Margaret Stanton, we can also talk about early student life, and the changes on Central Campus over the years.  And there is the general creepiness factor, which can work into a discussion of past rituals surrounding death and mourning.


Thacher’s Calculating Instrument

Cylindrical slide rule or Thacher's Calculating Instrument

Cylindrical slide rule or Thacher’s Calculating Instrument (Artifact 2009-R004)

From Chris Anderson, Project Archivist

It’s fascinating how the math we now do digitally can be done mechanically. These are such ingenious devices. So much mileage out of a couple of interacting cylinders in a wooden frame. And of course, it’s cool looking!

From Brad Kuennen, University Archivist

My favorite artifact is the cylindrical slide rule (2009-R004). When most people think of slide rules, which I know doesn’t happen often anymore, it conjures up images of flat ruler-sized devices carried around in the pockets of 1950s college students. This cylindrical slide rule is definitely not pocket-sized! At 24 inches long and nearly 5 inches in diameter, I can’t imagine students toting one of these around campus all day. In this day of computers and smartphones we take for granted how much time and sweat was involved in solving complex equations 100 years ago. This device reduced the amount of hand calculations required to solve some of these difficult mathematical problems. The cylindrical slide rule is now a relic of the past, however I still find it fascinating to look at and wonder about its workings. Maybe someday I’ll actually take the time to learn how to use it. And by that I mean typing “cylindrical slide rule” into YouTube to see if there is a video that someone else has posted.


Land-features Globe of Mars

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

From Matt Schuler, Library Assistant II

I like it because it’s a map and it’s not something you would typically expect to see represented on a globe.  It would be something I’d love to have on display in my house if it wasn’t here.


Oliphant P. Stuckslager’s Hammer


artifact Oliphant P. Stuckslager’s Hammer, a Stuckslager hammer

Oliphant P. Stuckslager’s Hammer (Artifact 2001-R142.004)

From Laura Sullivan, Collections Archivist

For this post, I’m going to say that my favorite artifact is the Stuckslager hammer.  The hammer was used to construct one of the first buildings here on campus, Old Main.  We have just enough information on the hammer to give a person enough to start imagining all the activities, people, and sites the hammer saw during its lifetime – helping to bring me that much closer to the hustle and bustle which must have been part of the construction of the main building for the State Agricultural College and Model Farm (now Iowa State).

It’s seemingly a regular, common, everyday hammer of today, in look, feel, size and weight – which makes viewing the hammer both familiar and disconcerting.  This particular hammer came to Ames in 1868, brought by Oliphant P. Stuckslager with the specific purpose to help build Old Main.  We even know where Stuckslager and his family lived in Ames – further helping me to go back in time and imagine the life and times of the hammer during its quite active career, which is said to have continued until the death of its owner in 1908.  We know as much information as we do about the hammer in part thanks to a senior research project done on the hammer.  A summary of the student’s findings can be found on an earlier blog post.

The Laundry  Mailer

From Rachel Seale, Outreach Archivist

I like the laundry mailer because it reminds me of when I was an undergraduate. Every weekend I returned home and my dad would do my laundry. Once I got my laundry done before I came home and he was disappointed! It’s also my favorite artifact because it reminds me that life was so different not too long ago. For one, students could fit an entire week’s worth of laundry into the mailer. It’s not very large. It is smaller than most carry-on luggage pieces today. I can’t imagine fitting a week’s worth of clothes in the mailer in the winter. I may be able to swing it for the summer, though, it would be a tight fit and it’s likely I’d have to wear some shorts or skirts more than once during the week. Students back then probably didn’t have a change of clothes for every day of the week. Also, I would guess that mostly mothers did the laundry. More research on the details of ISU students’ use of the laundry mailers needs to be done. Did both men and women use the laundry mailers, or did the women have laundry facilities in their dormitories? What years were the mailers in use here on campus?

Below are some links to additional information about the laundry mailer, shared with me by Becky Jordan:

Dance Card from Alpha Kappa Delta Dance

Dance card, a volvelle

Dance card (Artifact #1999-103.29)

From Amy Bishop, Rare Books and Manuscripts Archivist

I love dance cards because they are one of those elements from the past that have completely fallen by the wayside. I am a dancer, and I would love to go to a dance and fill up a dance card with my partners’ names. This particular one is my favorite, because it is so inventive and fun. Most dance cards are little booklets, but this one is a wheel with a little paper inside where you write your partners’ names that you can view through a little window. You turn the inside paper to reveal the different names. It works like a star chart. To use a fancy term, it is a volvelle. It is from an Alpha Kappa Delta dance, but there is no indication of the year. It is part of a collection of dance cards from Clarice Johnson Van Zante given to the department as a donation in 1999. Clarice was an ISU alum who attended in the 1920s, majoring in home economics. Later she worked as a school teacher in Ottumwa. The dance card is currently part of a mini-exhibit in the Special Collections reading room called “‘I’ll Pencil You In’: Dances and Dance Cards at Iowa State.”

The Rice Krispies Treat

From Petrina Jackson, Head of SCUA

You are probably wondering why Special Collections and University Archives keeps a Rice Krispies Treat for posterity. It is a good question since it is unusual for repositories to keep food products as collection material. However, this is not just any Rice Krispies Treat. It is a piece of the world record-holding, largest Rice Krispies Treat, weighing in at 2,480 pounds. Members of the Iowa State community created the sweet, sticky snack during VEISHEA 2001 to celebrate the university theme “Strengthening Families to Become the Best,” co-sponsored by the College of Family and Consumer Science (now the College of Human Sciences). The record-holding treat was also made in honor of Mildred Day, a 1928 ISU graduate of home economics, who “was a member of the Kellogg Company team that developed the Rice Krispies Treat recipe in the 1940s.”


Iowa State University Library #TBT @ISU_Library

Today a group of library staff, including University Archivist, Brad Kuennen, and myself, took a tour for library staff given by library staff member Mark Forbis (pictured below).

Mark Forbis at the beginning of our library tour

Mark Forbis at the beginning of our library tour

The tour focused on the original library building and the purposes for which rooms were originally designed, as well as their subsequent uses. Some interesting spaces that no longer exist or are used for different purposes include: a janitor’s apartment in the basement of the library, currently used for storage; a basement-level loading dock in what is now the front of the library; and Bookends Cafe occupies space that used to be a ladies’ lounge!

Mark also talked about where the different library additions met the original building. Photographs, floor plans, and information culled from The Library at Iowa State helped tell the story. Mark and some other library staff attending the tour were also able to fill in some blanks.

The photographs below show the different views of the library from 1925 through 1999. These photographs can be found online in the University Library’s Digital Collections in University Photographs. You can also drop by the reading room to see more photographs of the library and other historical ISU pictures. We’re open from 10-4!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Dinkey’s 4th of July debut #Flashback Friday @IowaStateU

The Ames & College Railway, better known as “the Dinkey,” made its first run between Ames and the ISU campus on July 4, 1891.

Ames & College Railway Dinkey circa 1900s

Undated photograph of the Dinkey (University Photographs box 233)

To learn more about the history of the Dinkey drop by the archives! We’re open Monday-Friday from 10-4. Except for this upcoming Monday — we’ll be closed for the 4th of July!

Archivists tour the Campanile!

The Campanile, 1938 (University Photographs box 230)

The Campanile, 1938 (University Photographs box 230)

This past Wednesday the Special Collections & University Archives staff went on a tour of the Campanile. Our tour guide was Cownie Professor of Music and University Carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam. We were lucky to have Professor Tam play a few songs for us.

Professor and University Carillonneur Tin-Shi Tam giving a tour inside the Campanile, playing the carillon (photo by Rachel)

Seated: Prof. Tin-Shi Tam, Standing from left: Asst. Dept. Head Laura Sullivan, Dept. Head Petrina Jackson, Reference Specialist Becky Jordan, Rare Books & Manuscripts Archivist Amy Bishop (photo by Rachel Seale)

The bells first rang in 1899 and were donated by Edgar W. Stanton, an Iowa State University alumnus, who graduated with the first class of ISU graduates in 1872. When Stanton’s first wife, Margaret McDonald Stanton, the university’s first dean of women, died in 1895 he wanted to establish a bell tower with 10 bells as a monument. Upon Stanton’s death in 1920, his will provided for a second memorial. At the request of his second wife, Mrs. Julia Wentch Stanton and their children, an additional 26 bells and a playing console were installed in 1929 and the musical instrument became the Edgar W. and Margaret McDonald Stanton Memorial Carillon. Read more about the rich history of the Bells of Iowa State here.

Carillon bells (photo by Rachel)

Carillon bells (photo by Rachel Seale)

Ira Schroeder was the University Carillonneur from 1931-1969, making him ISU’s longest-tenured carillonneur.

Taken at a Carillon Guild meeting held at ISU, November 1959. From left, seated: Percival Price, Univ. of MIchigan; Ira Schroeder, ISU. Standing: Ronald Barnes, Univ. of Kansas; Dean Robinson, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN; Charles Ward, Rueter Oregon Co., Lawrence, KS; Milford Myhre, Culver Military Academy; and C.G.B. Garrett, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Morristown, NJ. (University Photographs box 132)

Taken at a Carillon Guild meeting held at ISU, November 1959. From left, seated: Percival Price, Univ. of MIchigan; Ira Schroeder, ISU. Standing: Ronald Barnes, Univ. of Kansas; Dean Robinson, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN; Charles Ward, Rueter Oregon Co., Lawrence, KS; Milford Myhre, Culver Military Academy; and C.G.B. Garrett, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Morristown, NJ. (University Photographs box 132)

Drop by the reading room to learn more about the history of the Campanile. We’re open Monday-Friday 10 am-4 pm.


30 years of Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games @IowaStateU @soiowa

Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games returns to Iowa State University this week. 1986 was the first year ISU hosted the summer games. This year will be the 30th year the Special Olympics Iowa Summer Games have been held here!

A race during the 1994 Special Olympics Iowa summer games (University Photographs box 21)

This is Special Olympics Iowa’s largest annual event. More than 3,000 athletes participate in the summer games. In 2006, ISU and the City of Ames put in a successful joint bid to host the first Special Olympics National Summer Games.


Awarding medals during the 1994 summer games (University Photographs box 21)

The 2016 Summer Games take place Thursday, May 19, through Saturday, May 21.

Drop by the reading room and check out our files & photographs on the history of Special Olympics Iowa at ISU. We’re open Monday – Friday 10-4.

100th anniversary of the naming of Lake LaVerne! #@IowaStateU

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the naming of Lake LaVerne. LaVerne Noyes was a member of Iowa State’s first graduating class. He graduated with a B.S. (1872) in general science and was later awarded an honorary Doctorate in Engineering from Iowa State. Noyes enlisted the help of landscape gardener O.C. Simonds to help beautify the campus of his alma mater. This project resulted in the creation of Lake LaVerne on the Iowa State campus.

Iowa State Daily (then Iowa State Student) November 19, 1914

Iowa State Daily (then Iowa State Student) November 19, 1914

The newspaper clipping above is cited by H. Summerfield Day as the first mention of a lake on campus. H. Summerfield Day was the former University Architect (1966-1975) and Planning Coordinator (1975-1980) for Iowa State and competed the history of Iowa State University’s buildings and grounds.

Noyes paid for the lake to be built. Construction began in September 1915  and was completed, with the exception of some plantings, by December 1915. “Lake LaVerne” was suggested as a name for the lake at a Story County Alumni meeting on May 10, 1916 and formally adopted a month later. The dedication of Lake LaVerne occurred on June 6, 1916.

Ice skating on Lake Laverne ca. 1920s (University Photographs box 197)

Swans on Lake LaVerne (University Photographs box 197)

Swans on Lake LaVerne ca. 1930s (University Photographs box 197)

To learn more about the history of Lake LaVerne or review the LaVerne and Ida Noyes Collection, drop by the reading room. We’re open Monday – Friday 10-4.



Day, H. Summerfield, The Iowa State University Campus and its Buildings 1859-1979 (Iowa State University Library, 1980),

Iowa State University Facilities Planning and Management Buildings and Grounds Records, RS 4/8/4, Special Collections Department, Iowa State University Library.


CyPix: Did you say archives?

October is American Archives Month, when archivists around the country spread the word about how exciting, informative, even life-changing archives can be. The two images today are from past events when the Special Collections Department invited people to get a deeper view of what archives are all about.

This first image shows the Special Collections Open House from 1971, only two years after the department opened. Visitors are viewing archival documents in display cases.

Special Collections Open House, October 31, 1971. University Archives Photograph Collection box 2053.

Special Collections Open House, October 31, 1971. University Archives Photograph Collection Box 2053.

The second photo is a little more recent, the History Day event from 2001, where students came from area schools to get the behind-the-scenes tour of what goes on in Special Collections and learn how to do archival research.

Students examining documents from archival collection during the Special Collections History Day, February 22, 2001. University Archives Photograph Collection, box 2047

Students examining documents from archival collections during the Special Collections History Day, February 22, 2001. University Archives Photograph Collection Box 2047.

Wondering how to do archival research yourself? Please check out the new Archives Overview LibGuide created by our department’s Digital Archivist, Kim Anderson! It answers questions like, What are archives? How do I find archival collections? and, How do I care for my own archives?

As always, we would love to see you in our department. Stop by and see us!

70 Years On: Significance of the Army-Navy “E” Award

In late 1945, Iowa State College (University) was bestowed an honor for service in World War II that some today may not expect: the Army-Navy “E” Flag for Excellence in Production, an award usually given to industry for excellence in production of war materials during times of great need. With the 70th anniversary of Iowa State’s reception of this award coming up, and Special Collections’ recent discovery of photo-negatives from the event, it’s interesting to look back on the significance of receiving this award, and try to understand the context in which Iowa State participated in the war effort.

The once-secret Manhattan District (Project), commanded by Major General Leslie Groves throughout much of the war, was a collaborative research and developmental project between the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to produce the first atomic bombs in WWII. It began in 1939 with the discovery of atomic fission, and with that, research, manufacturing, and testing sites began to be utilized in secret locations and laboratories across the three countries, with one of those sites being Iowa State and what would become the Ames Laboratory.

A view of the ceremony held for receiving the award. The event was put on in the Iowa State College (University) State Gym. (Negative #118174, University Photographs)

A view of the ceremony held for receiving the award. The event was put on in the Iowa State College (University) State Gym. (Negative #118174, University Photographs)

The connection to Iowa State began in 1941, when Frank H. Spedding, a Canadian chemist and Iowa State professor who specialized in rare earth metals, was asked to work on research regarding the fledging Manhattan Project for the purpose of producing high-purity uranium from uranium ore. Spedding accepted and ended up directing the Ames Project for the rest of the war. The greatest achievement under Spedding’s direction was associate project director in the metallurgy division Harley A. Wilhelm’s perfection of what is now known as the Ames Process. The Ames Process used a uranium purification method patented in 1895 by German chemist Hans Goldschmidt that had previously been extremely costly and inefficient, but Wilhelm discovered a way of tweaking it to produce large ingots of pure uranium from uranium ore with hugely reduced production costs. This allowed for Iowa State’s “Little Ankeny” plant to produce more than 1,000 tons of metallic uranium for the Manhattan Project over the course of two and a half years before industrial companies took over at the conclusion of the war.

Flag received at the ceremony. Figure holding the flag on the left is Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves. Each star represents six months worth of meeting assigned production of war materials. (negative #118186, University Photographs)

Flag received at the ceremony. Figure holding the flag on the left is Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves. Each star represents six months’ worth of meeting assigned production of war materials. (Negative #118186, University Photographs)

Although one of the smaller sites important to the Manhattan Project, Iowa State’s research and production of rare metals was paramount to success in the undertaking into nuclear technology. The Ames Process ended up being a key manufacturing process used to obtain high-purity uranium in a number of other outlets and research sites, and made it possible, after it’s perfection, to produce more for significantly lower cost. This greatly sped up the war effort on the atomic front and may have led to the United States truly being ready to utilize nuclear weapons when it did.

When Iowa State was presented with this award, it was rare for a university or college to receive it, as it was usually given instead to industrial companies that showed a great aptitude for manufacturing of war materials. But even under the guise of secrecy with no presumption of ever being recognized for their efforts, Iowa State’s scientists showed outstanding performance in production of materials vital to Allied success in WWII, thus granting us the Army-Navy “E” Award that now firmly stands to cement Iowa State into the history of one of mankind’s most dangerous yet bold achievements.

Upcoming: You know you want to #AskAnArchivist

Information desk in Iowa State College library. Ida Robertson, cataloger, helps student look up reference in card file. Kathryn Renfro, cataloger, at information desk looks up some information in a reference book, 1945. University Archives Photograph Collection, box 2046.

Information desk in Iowa State College library, 1945. University Archives Photograph Collection, box 2046.

Have a burning archives question? Always wondered just what it is we do around here, anyway? Want to know how to do your own personal digital archiving or take care of those treasured family documents? Well, you’re in luck because #AskAnArchivist Day is just around the corner!

On October 1, the archivists here at Iowa State University Special Collections and University Archives will be joining our colleagues around the country on Twitter to answer your questions about any and all things archives. This day-long event, sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, will give you the opportunity to connect directly with archivists in your community—and around the country—to ask questions, get information, or just satisfy your curiosity.

To participate, just tweet a question and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet. If you want to reach us, include our Twitter handle (@ISU_Archives).

We hope to see you there! It’s going to be awesome!