HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 2, 2007, Herald Journal

A visit to the National Archives

By MARK OLLIG

Archives repository or collection of information; a place in which public records or historical documents are preserved.

These are the two descriptions I found for the word “archives” in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary (http://www.m-w.com/).

Did you know that not all of the US government’s archives are stored in one place? I had thought that the “archives” were in some large building in Washington D.C., similar to where most of the national treasures are stored in the Smithsonian Institute.

When I visited the National Archives online website (http://www.archives.gov/), I noticed that on the front page, it had a caption, “National Archives Locations.” The caption said, “You don’t have to go to Washington D.C. to visit the National Archives.”

“Well, that is why I am here on their web site,” I thought.

I learned that description meant the National Archives are located all across the country.

When I clicked on the caption – which really was a link – it brought up a map of the US with yellow dots sprinkled across it. Each yellow dot represented an archived location. There are 20 states and one territory (District of Columbia) listed.

Minnesota was not listed, so I clicked on the nearest location to us, which happened to be in Iowa.

Iowa is listed as the “West Branch.” It is also known as the location of the Herbert Hoover Library.

Herbert Hoover was the 31st president of United States from 1929 to 1933. He was born Aug. 10, 1874 and died Oct. 20, 1964.

I clicked on the yellow dot marking the Iowa location on the map. I was then redirected to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum web site located at (http://hoover.archives.gov/).

The Hoover Presidential Library was opened to the public. Aug. 10, 1962, which was Hoover’s 88th birthday.

In the welcoming message of the web site, several paragraphs explain the library’s history, types of documents that are archived, and the names of distinguished visitors (including seven former US presidents).

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library covers 44,500 square feet.

In this library, you will find many galleries and exhibits.

Some of these galleries include permanent, temporary, and virtual exhibits.

The virtual exhibit specifically created for the web site, describes the “Belgium Relief Flour Sacks” housed in the Hoover Library collection.

Under the leadership of Herbert Hoover, who served as chairman, the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB) was established during World War I, for providing food relief to war-torn Belgium.

The relief was supported through voluntary efforts, which were able to raise the money and get the people needed in place. This relief operation was able to feed 11,000,000 Belgians between 1914 and 1919.

The Belgium relief operation shipped 697,116,000 pounds of flour – in flour sacks, to Belgium – past the German submarine blockades and army-occupied areas controlling the food distribution in Belgium.

These flour sacks were sent to the “. . . three million people in Belgium who were wholly or partly destitute.” This statement was made by Tracy B. Kittredge, field secretary in California, who was also involved with the Commission for Relief in Belgium. Kittredge was, himself, in Belgium from December 1914 to August 1915. I obtained this information from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections at: (http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1711.dl/History.BelRelief).

Northeastern Wisconsin is home to a large number of Belgians that immigrated there starting in the 1850s.

Back at the Hoover Library, I read how the transfer of these flour bags all over Belgium was controlled by the CRB – since cotton was in large demand for the production of German ammunition.

The CRB also worried about the flour sacks being taken out of Belgium, refilled with substandard flour, and resold as relief flour. Because of these concerns, the empty flour sacks were thoroughly accounted for. These emptied flour sacks were distributed to schools, sewing workrooms, convents, and individual artists.

Belgian artists used the flour sacks instead of canvas backing for their paintings.

Emptied flour sacks were used by some of the Belgian people to make new clothing, pillows, bags, and even American flags.

Original designs were created on the fabric of the flour sacks, and then they were painted, stenciled, or embroidered.

There are many photos referencing the “Belgian Flour Sacks” on the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library web site. One photograph that caught my eye shows President Herbert Hoover in a room, looking around at the many flour sacks hanging on a wall. They were given to him as gifts from the grateful people who were the recipients of the Belgium Relief Operation.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum has one of the largest collections of World War I flour sacks in the world.

This is such an interesting story in itself and I hope you visit this web site http://hoover.archives.gov/exhibits/collections/flour%20sacks/index.html and read more about it.