Today Vikings are quite popular, this is in large part due to television and movies. A Viking’s greatest weapon, other than his ferocity, was his warship. Viking ships were not only strong and durable, they were also lighter and faster than other ships. Due to the speed of these ships, Vikings were able to travel vast distances. These superior ships allowed them to establish a vast trade network and even colonize new areas. Ships like the toy above were called drekar, or dragon headed long ships. The secret to these ships was the way in which they were built.
Some famous men who used these ships to travel vast distances in the Atlantic Ocean were Erik the Red and Leif Erikson. Erik the Red was born in Norway in 950 CE. He was most likely given the name of Red because of the color of his hair. Erik’s father was exiled to the Nordic colony on Iceland. Along with his father, Erik’s whole family made the move. However, it wasn’t long before Erik was then exiled himself from Iceland. After his exile, Erik traveled to an uncharted island to the west of Iceland, he would eventually call the island Greenland. Erik, impressed with the country’s land and resources returned to Iceland to spread the word. Able to persuade many to make the move, Erik took 25 ships and headed west. On these 25 ships 500 men and woman were on-board, along with livestock, to establish a new colony. Out of the 25 ships only 14 ships made it. When they arrived two small settlements were established and were known as the east and west settlements.
Like his father, Leif Eriksson was an explorer, but not out of necessity like his exiled father. Leif was the second of three sons of Erik the Red. It is not known when exactly Leif was born but it is agreed that he grew up in Greenland. According to the “Saga of Erik the Red” on his way from Greenland to Norway he stopped in Hebrides and fathered a daughter. Once in Norway, Leif was converted to Christianity by King Olaf I Tryggvason and tasked him with spreading Christianity to Greenland. On his way to back to Greenland it is believed his ship got lost and he ended up in North America in area he named Vinland. However, scholars consider other accounts such as the “Groenlendinga Saga” more reliable, this account states Leif heard of Vinland from a trader who spotted it from his ship but never actually set foot on North America. The exact location of Vinland is unknown and many sites have been cited as the location for Vinland. In the 1960s an excavation at L’Anse aux Meadows turned up evidence of what could be a Viking base camp. This find however, is also contested because it is too far north. Leif Erikson’s time in Vinland would have happened 500 years before Christopher Columbus, that is why many Nordic Americans celebrate Leif as the first European explorer in the New World. Today, October 9 is dedicated as “Leif Eriksson Day.” [Tanner Norwood edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Fitzhugh, William W., Elisabeth I. Ward, and National Museum of Natural History (U.S.). 2000. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Washington: Smithsonian Institutions, in association with the National Museum of Natural History.
This summer, the Institute of Texan Cultures will be hosting two week long day camps for children ages 8 to 12 years old. Camp participants will get behind-the-scenes access to the museum and all the mysteries that it holds, getting a first-hand look at its inner workings through fun hands-on activities and interactions with museum staff!
For more information, please call (210) 458-2300 or email Back40@utsa.edu.
Like most boys his age Wilhelm Steubing owned a slingshot. Willie, as he was known to his family and friends was very proud of this slingshot. He carried it with him everywhere and even had it with him when he died.
Wilhelm Steubing was born in 1885 on a little farm northwest of Bexar County. His parents were German born immigrants who arrived in the US in the early 1850s, passing through what was then Indianola. He was the oldest child of Sylvester and Scholastica Steubing . Unfortunately, Willie did not make it to adulthood. While hunting birds with his slingshot one day, young Willie was bitten by a rattlesnake, and the bite would take his life.
Young Willie’s untimely death is a testament to the dangers that the early settlers of Bexar County faced on a daily basis. Texas is home to nine different kind of rattlesnakes. The snakes are categorized into two groups; one of them belonging to the genus Sistrurus and the other belonging to the genus Crotalus. For more information on rattlesnakes found in Texas, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website.
At the time of Willie’s death, snake bites usually resulted in death. This was because science had yet to develop a working anti-venom. Snake anti-venom would not be introduced until the 1890s. The creation of anti-venom came as a result of a flood in Vietnam. The flood pushed monocle cobras into the village and more than 30 people were bitten. Out of the 30 people who were bitten, 4 of them died as a result of the bites. A man by the name of Albert Calmette was present during the flood and decided something needed to be done in order to combat snake bites. Calmette used a technique similar to vaccination, which was also new at the time. Calmette caught snakes and “milked” them, he then injected the venom into horses which in turn created antibodies in their blood. He then drew the blood from the horses and created a serum that could be used on humans.
Today all anti-venom is essentially created in the same way. Snakes must be healthy and are kept in quarantine, the venom is milked from the snake numerous times to get a full vial. The venom is transported and injected into animals that are able to create antibodies. Due to a large amount of people being allergic to horse based anti-venom, goats and sheep are also used. When making anti-venom a veterinarian is usually present to make sure no harm comes to the animal. The total process takes about 8 to 10 weeks. The anti-venom then has to be reviewed and deemed safe to use by the FDA.
Deadly snakes bites were not the only perils settlers faced, diseases like smallpox, cholera and yellow fever were also reasons to panic. With most of the settlers like the Steubings living on small isolated farms, often miles from town or other settlers, they were also miles from medical help. The self-reliance of the settlers played a key factor in the success of Bexar County. [Tanner Norwood edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Wooden gun model
Italian American Texas 1901-1957
This wooden gun was used by the Italian sculptor Pompeo Luigi Coppini as a model for one of his sculptures. Although Coppini would later become one of the most revered sculptors in Texas, it took him a while to make his way here. Born in 1870 in Moglia, Mantua, Italy, Coppini spent the majority of his time in Florence, Italy. While in Florence he studied under Augusto Rivalta at the Academia di Belle Arti until he graduated with honors in 1889. He would stay under the guidance of Rivalta until 1896 when he immigrated to the US where he met his wife, Elizabeth Di Barbieri .
In 1901 Coppini moved to Texas to help the German sculptor Frank Teich fulfill a new order for Confederate memorials. While working under Teich, Coppini was put in charge of making a monument to Jefferson Davis with four Confederate soldiers on the Texas capitol grounds. His work was so impressive that he was able to generate his own commissions, often competing with his former boss Teich. The commissions kept rolling in, in 1903 alone he was commissioned to work on the statue of Rufus C. Burleson at the University of Baylor in Waco, TX, as well as busts of the Confederate Generals Johnston , Lee, Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis for a monument in Paris, TX. On top of all of those commissions, he also worked on a group of statues called the “Victims of the Galveston Flood” for the University of Texas. His work didn’t stop there, in 1905-1907 he worked on an equestrian monument of Terry’s Texas Rangers (the Eighth Texas Confederate Cavalry), which is also located on the Texas Capitol grounds. In 1910 he completed the bas relief for Sam Houston’s tombstone in Huntsville, TX, as well as finishing the Texas Revolutionary Monument in Gonzales, TX.
These are just a few early examples of Coppini’s works, it would not be until the late 1920s-1930s that Coppini would produce two of his most influential and iconic pieces; The Littlefield Fountain Memorial on the grounds of the UT campus (1920-1928) and the “Spirit of Sacrifice: the Cenotaph to the Heroes of the Alamo” (1937-1939). The Littlefield fountain was one of the few sculptures that Coppini worked on outside of Texas. Moving from his studio in San Antonio in 1916 in order to cast the bronze for the Littlefield fountain. He would first move to Chicago for short period of time, then three years later to New York to oversee the casting of the fountain; its purpose was to symbolize the reunion of the North and South. He would later move back to San Antonio in 1937 to reopen his studio on 115 Melrose Place, to work on the “Spirit of Sacrifice.” The cenotaph is one of Coppini’s largest works, the base alone is 12 feet by 40 feet. The cenotaph is 60 feet tall and is covered in Coppini’s extraordinarily detailed bas relief figures; some of the figures, like William B. Travis, stand at least 25 feet tall.
In 1931, his home country of Italy awarded him the title of Commendatore of the crown of Italy for his works in America. In 1934, Centennial Commissions awarded him a commemorative half-dollar for the bronze statues in the Hall of States. In 1941 the University of Baylor gave Coppini an honorary doctorate degree in fine art. He would also be art director at Trinity University for a few years. He went on to found the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts in San Antonio, in 1945. Located in his old studio, Coppini would teach and sculpt here until his death in 1957. The school is still open today, and when it’s not hosting fine art classes, it serves as a museum of Coppini’s life and works. [Tanner Norwood, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Kowal, Dennis., and Dona Z. Meilach. 1972. Sculpture Casting: Mold Techniques and Materials, Metals, Plastics, Concrete. Crown’s arts and crafts series; Crown’s arts and crafts series. New York: Crown Publishers.
Materials: Glass & Metal
Humans have five senses: hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell. Although all are important for the human experience, many argue that sight is the most important. This object is a pair of eyeglasses which were made around the year 1870. It is estimated that most of the U.S. population uses eyeglasses or contacts. Today with modern technology there are all kinds of options to help if ones vision starts to fail. However, the most common and the earliest form of vision assistance are eyeglasses.
Before the invention of glasses, people had to go about their lives in a blur. However, people used whatever was available to help them see. For example in a letter written in about 100 B.C. by a Roman, he states that because he could no longer see and read for himself and had to rely on his slaves. It was also said that the philosopher Seneca read books by looking at them through a glass globe in water. The oldest known lenses were found in ancient Nineveh and were made of polished rock crystal. The reading stone, a simple type of magnifying glass, was created around 1000 A.D.
It is not known who exactly invented glasses or in what year they were invented but it is estimated that they were developed between 1268 and 1289, based on written accounts of their use. For example, in a manuscript dated 1289 it was written “I am so debilitated by age that without the glasses known as spectacles, I would not longer be able to read or write.” By the year 1306 a monk from Pisa, Italy gave a sermon in which he stated, “It is not yet twenty years since the art of making spectacles, one of the most useful arts on earth, was discovered.” By the year 1352 eyeglasses began to appear on people in paintings.
In the beginning, glasses had lenses made out of quartz and were set into bone, metal or leather. These glasses however, did not look like what we think of today. In the early days of glasses they were simply balanced on the nose of the person who wore them. This proved to be a problem because everyone’s nose is different. One invention to try to help with this issue was using ribbons that attached to the frames and looped over the ears. The modification traveled to China but the Chinese used metal weights attached to the strings. Slowly the use of eyeglasses began to spread from Italy to places like Germany, Spain and France.
By the 1700s eyeglasses were being worn in many places around the world. Vision aids began to improve and evolve. In 1780 Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing the bifocal lens. This lens made it possible for people with multiple vision problems to only use one set of eyeglasses. There were many types of glasses that were produced besides the traditional ones we know of. The monocle was one of them, which was a circular lens used when vision needed to be corrected in one eye. Another type of eyeglass was the lorgnette, which had a handle to hold them instead of being worn.
Today although many people still wear eyeglasses, contact lenses are very popular. Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with coming up for the idea of contact lenses in 1508. However, his ideas were never really implemented. There were many people who tried to come up with a suitable contact lens that could be worn comfortably in the eye. Many failed and others used the failed ideas and perfected them. Contact lenses started out made out of glass and then as new materials like polymethyl methacrylate were developed, plastic versions were invented. By 1949 contact lenses could be worn for up to 16 hours a day and more people were interested in them, even though they were expensive. As the years have gone by contact lens have improved drastically and serve many aspects of correcting vision. Many people also wear contact lenses for cosmetic purposes.
Today many people who have trouble with their vision are opting for not wearing either glasses or contact lenses. With modern technology it is now possible to correct ones vision with a procedure called LASIK. This procedure, also known as laser eye surgery, is a surgery which corrects multiple vision problems by reshaping the eyes cornea. With this surgery many people no longer need to depend on eyeglasses or contact lenses. However, as with all surgeries there are some pros and cons to having the procedure done.
Glasses, contact lenses, and LASIK surgery are all options to help correct ones vision. However, for many people whose vision cannot be improved by any of these options, other tools must be used to replace their natural sight. These tools include canes which help them detect obstacles when trying to move from one place to another. Guide dogs are also an option to help with mobility. When it comes to things like reading, people who have severe visual impairment use braille, a writing system made up of raised dots. For other every day activities, people with visual impairment might use equipment such as calculators, or GPS devices which can speak to the user. [Joscelynn Garcia]
This object is a pamphlet entitled “Mexican Cookery in American Homes” containing recipes by Willie Gebhardt, the inventor of Chili Powder. William Fredrick Gebhardt was born in Germany in 1875. His family immigrated to the United States and settled in New Braunfels. Willie had a passion to cook and opened a café in 1892, that he owned for 4 years. While living in New Braunfels, Willie met his wife Rose Mary Kronkosk. Gebhardt would often visit San Antonio roughly 30 miles south of New Braunfels and was fascinated by the variety of spicy Mexican food available. Willie soon began to experiment cooking with different chilies. In his café Willie served chili to his patrons and gained a reputation as a great chili cook. At this time people all over Texas knew about chili and enjoyed it with venison which was easily found around the country side. Although popular, chili was a seasonal food and only served from late spring through summer. During the 1800s it was difficult to keep chilies fresh during the winter months but Willie discovered if he dried the chilies and ground them into powder the potency of the chilies would remain fresh.
Gebhardt decided to order ancho peppers from San Luis Potosi, Mexico. He ordered a wagon load so he could have a stock for an entire year. He continued to experiment with the chilies and came up with a method for grinding and mixing them to transform them into what is now known as chili powder, or as he called it “Tampico dust.” Willie would package the chili powder and sell it around town. In 1896 Willie registered his trademark chili and changed the name to Gebhardt’s Eagle Brand Chili Powder. He also opened an establishment in San Antonio to manufacture the chili powder. The Powder was a huge success, however, the market for chili did not go beyond Texas because few Americans living outside of the state knew how to cook with chili powder.
In order to get Americans to embrace chili powder a cookbook entitled “Mexican Cooking” was created. This cookbook was one of the first Tex-Mex cookbooks. By the time Gebhardt received his butchers license in 1908 the name of the company had changed to Gebhardt’s Chili Powder Company. Tamales as well as canned chili con carne were added to the items sold by the company. Although Gebhardt was the first person to make a large scale business from selling chili con carne he was not the first to sell it. In fact there was a whole culture surrounding the sell of chili con carne in the city of San Antonio.
From the 1860s till the late 1930s women called the Chili Queens would sell chili con carne and other Tex-Mex and Mexican foods outside in the plazas from dusk until dawn. The plazas had a festive atmosphere filled with musicians and singers. Many authors who passed by San Antonio and encountered the Chili Queens wrote about them in their stories. Travelers passing by San Antonio were also fans of the Chili Queens. The Chili Queens were in business until about 1940 when they were shut down by the health department. San Antonio however, became a forerunner in the production of Tex-Mex food which included William Gebhardt’s foods, as well as Pace Picante Sauce, and Fritos.
As the Gebhardt company grew more cookbooks were created, and advertising for it was everywhere including radio commercials, and newspapers and magazines. The slogans for the ads included sayings like “Gebhardt’s. If you think its just a great chili, you might be missing something.” Willie Gebhardt died in 1956 at the age of 81. By this time he had been retired from business for 20 years. The company was acquired by a Chicago based company in 1960 and that company was acquired by another. In 1984 the company was renamed Gebhardt Mexican Foods Company and sales increased in places like California, Arizona, and Oregon. Some products can be found in Texas stores like H.E.B. and today chili powder is one of the most common seasonings found in American homes. [Joscelynn Garcia]
“Milton Holland and Medal Of Honor, 1864”
Materials: Paper, Paint
During the American Civil War there was an estimated of 4 million slaves in the United States and 500,000 free African Americans. Though many African Americans wanted to serve in the army they simply were not allowed. It was not until 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation was issued that they would be welcomed. This object is a painting entitled “Milton Holland and Medal of Honor, 1864” painted by Bruce Marshall. Milton M. Holland was an African-American soldier who served during the Civil War.
When the war broke out people like Frederick Douglass believed that if African Americans fought in the war, the Union could win and it would be a step in the right direction for equal rights. However, President Lincoln worried that if African Americans were allowed to fight the border states would secede. By 1862 the number of white volunteers started dwindling and the war was nowhere near finished Lincoln began to reconsider his decision about letting African Americans fight in the war. The first step was the creation of the Second Confiscation and Militia Act which was signed in 1862. This act allowed the president to “to employ as many persons of African descent as he may deem necessary and proper for the suppression of this rebellion…in such manner as he may judge best for the public welfare.”
With this many African Americans began forming infantry units. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 specifically called freed slaves to join the Union. The first black regiment to be raised in the North was the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment after a call was put by the Governor. It was this same year that Milton M. Holland joined the army. Holland was born in Austin, TX to a slave woman and Bird Holland, a white slave owner who later served as a solider in the Confederacy. In the 1850s his father purchased Milton’s freedom, along with his two brothers, and sent them to school in Ohio. Holland worked as a shoemaker for the Union army quartermaster at the beginning of the war because he was too young to enlist. Once able to join, he became part of the 5th United States Colored Troops.
Holland fought in the Battle of the Crater, during the Petersburg campaign and at Fort Fisher and rose to the rank of regimental sergeant major. After all the white commanding officers were either wounded or killed in action at Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights, in 1864, it was Holland who assumed command and led the troops in battle. While he was leading, Holland was wounded and this earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Holland was the first African-American from Texas to receive it. Holland was promoted to captain but the commission was refused by the War Department because of his race.
After the war Holland lived in Washington, D.C. He worked in the Auditor Department of the United States. Holland also opened the Alpha Insurance Company which was one of the first African-American owned insurance companies in D.C. Holland died in 1910 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. [Joscelynn Garcia]
“Last Meeting of Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson”
Kurz & Allison
Materials: Paper, Ink, Glass, Wood
The Civil War resulted in the death of more than 600,000 soldiers and many more were injured. After the war ended many Americans wanted to commemorate the war with art, and people like Louis Kurz and Alexander Allison took advantage of this to sell Civil War chromolithographs of famous people or events from the ware. Many of the prints were inaccurate, but they were still popular. Today they are one of the most sought after collectibles. This object is a print by Allison and Kurz depicting the last meeting between Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
The Kurz and Allison publishing company was based out of Chicago, Illinois. Louis Kurz was originally from Salzburg, Austria. Before running his publishing company in Chicago, he had worked as a lithographer in Milwaukee and Chicago. In 1880 he teamed up with Alexander Allison who provided the money to finance the new company known as Kurz and Allison. The image depicted in this print shows Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, meeting before the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863. Everett B. D. Julio is credited with creating this image in 1869, but it was a popular subject at the time, depicted by many artists.
General Robert Edward Lee was born in Stratford Hall, Virginia and was the son of a Revolutionary War hero. A young Robert was able to get an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point and graduated second in his class in 1829. Lee did not see battle until 1846 during the war with Mexico. Before that, he served in the Corps of Engineers. Lee was then the superintendent of West Point and would be in charge of many young men who would later serve under him as well as against him during the Civil War. Lee left the Academy in 1855 and took a position in the cavalry and was ordered to put down the raid at Harpers Ferry. Lee had a reputation of being a fine officer so it was no surprise that President Lincoln offered him a position to lead the Federal forces. Lee declined and left the army when Virginia seceded, arguing that he could not fight against his own people.
His first battle of the Civil War took place in Cheat Mountain, Virginia and, although it was a Union victory, Lee’s reputation held up to public criticism. Lee became a military adviser for President Jefferson Davis and throughout the war had both losses and victories. One victory was at Chancellorsville which followed the meeting depicted in this print. However, following the Union victories of Gettysburg and Vicksburg Lee realized that the end of the Confederacy was only a matter of time. On April 9, 1865, Lee and his army surrendered at Appomattox Court House. Following the war Lee became the President of Washington College in Virginia, he passed away on October 12, 1870.
The other man shown in the print is Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, he was born on January 21, 1824 and was a good friend of Robert E. Lee. Jackson graduated from West Point in 1846 was a second lieutenant in the Mexican-American War when he first met Lee. When the Civil War broke out Jackson became a Colonel of the Virginia militia and also commanded at Harper’s Ferry. It was after the battle of the First Manassas (aka Bull Run) where he earned the nickname “Stonewall.” With successful military maneuvers at battles including the Second Manassas and Sharpsburg he was eventually designated as Lieutenant General. Jackson was in command at the victory in Fredericksburg and in Chancellorsville.
Following the battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was returning to his camp with some staff and they were mistaken for a Union Calvary by the Confederate troops. They open fire and Jackson was hit by three bullets, two in the left arm and one in the right arm. Jackson was unable to get immediate medical attention as it was after dark and there was a great deal of confusion. As a result of his injuries Jackson’s left arm had to be amputated. He survived the amputation but had signs of pneumonia which were ignored. Jackson passed away from complications of pneumonia on May 10, 1863.
Both men continue to be studied by historians for their military tactics today. They are both commemorated with various monuments, parks, and schools named after them. [Joscelynn Garcia]
Materials: Paper and ink
In 1981 Henry Cisneros became the first Hispanic mayor of a major American city. This object is a bumper sticker used during Henry Cisneros’ campaign for mayor of San Antonio. Henry Gabriel Cisneros was born in a neighborhood that bordered the predominately Mexican West side of San Antonio, Texas in 1947. Henry was the son of Elvira and George Cisneros, Elvira’s father was Romulo Munguia a renowned journalist from Mexico. Henry attended catholic school at the Church of the Little Flower then at the Central Catholic Marianist High School. After graduating high school, Henry attended Texas A&M University in 1964, and graduated in 1968 with a Bachelors of Arts in City Management. He continued his education at Texas A&M and got a Masters degree in Urban Regional Planning and then got an additional Masters from Harvard University in urban economics. Henry, having learned from his parents that education merit led to a better life, received a Doctor of Public Administration from George Washington University.
Henry Cisneros’ political career began after he returned to San Antonio from Washington D.C and took a teaching position at the University of Texas San Antonio. Henry noticed that the Mexican American community had been neglected for far too long and most city council members were all from wealthy zip codes. Henry decided to run for city councilman and won making him the youngest city councilman at the time. During his time as a councilman he allied himself with groups whose focus was to develop funding for Latino communities. He would serve on the city council for six years.
In 1981 Henry Cisneros decided to seek candidacy for mayor of San Antonio. He ran as and an independent and his campaign focused on the future San Antonio could have. Cisneros’ was able to appeal and unite wealthy conservatives of San Antonio as well as the Mexican American community. Gathering national attention during the campaign, Henry was featured in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, and Esquire. Cisneros was also listed as one of the 10 rising stars in politics. Henry won the election making him the first Mexican-American mayor since 1842. The last Mexican-American mayor of San Antonio had been Juan Seguin. At the time San Antonio was the 10th largest city in the country. Cisneros went on to get reelected three more times, winning by large margins including 94% of the vote in 1983. Cisneros was popular not only with the Hispanic community but with all ethnic groups in the area.
Henry was mayor of San Antonio for 8 years, during this time he focused on developing economic growth and promoted cooperation between all ethnic groups in San Antonio. During his time as mayor Cisneros was was able to convince both Sea World, and Fiesta Texas to invest in San Antonio. He was also able to get the city to approve construction of the Alamodome and helped to get Pope John Paul II to visit San Antonio during his tour of the United States. He was even named “Texas Mayor of the Century” in Texas Monthly.
Cisneros announced that he would not be running for another term in 1987. Following his time as mayor he then went on to become the chairman of a company. Cisneros also was the host of a television show called “Texans,” as well as a host for a radio show. In 1992 he served as an adviser on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. He later moved to Los Angeles and served as an officer of Univision Communications. Cisneros has since returned to San Antonio and established a firm to help with affordable housing. In 2015 he served as a chairman for the City of San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. Cisneros is also the author of several books and has received multiple awards. [Joscelynn Garcia]
This object is a metal identification tag also known as a dog tag. This tag was worn by Jose M. Valdespino who enlisted in Sept 1942 at Duncan Field, in San Antonio. After training, he was assigned as the Ball Turret Gunner in a B-17 with the U.S. Army Air Corps in the the 367th Bomb Squadron, 306th Bomber Group, based in England. He flew 24 missions with “The Clay Pigeon’s” in a B-17, his missions included the bombing France which was occupied by Germany. Joe’s combat service ended when he was injured in a jeep accident. He was discharged in October 1945. Watch the following video to hear more about his story.
Identification tags for the military have been used since around the 1850s. The earliest known example where dog tags were used was during the Taiping Revolt in China. The soldiers fighting in this rebellion wore wooden tags on their belt. The information on the tag included name, age, birthplace, unit and the date they were enlisted. In the days of the American Civil War more than 150,000 soldiers were unidentified. Some knew that if they were to perish in the war there was a possibility that they would not be identified. So many went to great lengths to have some sort of identification on them. Many attached notes to their bodies while others wrote their name on their belts, and some wrote their name on the bottom of their shoes.
With the high demand for some type of identification tag, merchants started selling metal disks to soldiers. In many periodicals such as Harper’s Magazine there was advertisements for tags called “soldier’s pins” which were made of silver or gold with the soldiers name and unit. By the 1890s dog tags were being issued to the U.S. Army and Navy. By the time the United States entered WWI all soldiers were required to use a identification tag.
During WWII a new type of tag was introduced, this new tag changed in style from a disk to a rectangle tag, known as the M1940. The rectangular tag had a notch at the end like the tag from our collections. It was during WWII that the tags got the nickname “dog tag.” The tags not only had the name of the soldier but also other information such as blood type, tetanus shot information, and religious preference. During WWII however, there was only 3 options for religious preference: Protestant, Catholic, and Hebrew. Since then more options have been added and soldiers even have the option to put “none” or “no religious preference.” Early versions of identification tags included the name and address of the soldier’s next of kin. During the war, the enemy used that information as a tool for psychological warfare, so the practice was discontinued by 1943. Silencers for the dog tags were also introduced during WWII. The silencers were used to prevent the dog tags from making noise when coming into contact with each other. The M1940 tag was in use until it was replaced by the M1967 which was made of a T304 stainless steel. This type of tag has no notch and is what is used today.
With technology being so advanced, the future of dog tags looks promising. The U.S. Army is currently developing and testing dog tags that would use RFID, microchip, or USB technology. The dog tags would hold the soldiers medical information as well as dental records, which would make it easier if in identifying them. These dog tags would be worn in addition to the current ones. The Marine Corps is developing dog tags with advanced technology also including RFID and the possibility of even being able to use GPS data to help locate wounded soldiers. [Joscelynn Garcia]
Maier, Larry B., and Joseph W. Stahl. Identification Discs of Union Soldiers in the Civil War: A Complete Classification Guide and Illustrated History. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2008.