Duluth’s July 4th 100 Years Ago

Duluthians seemingly didn’t have much to celebrate in July of 1919. World War I had just ended, but it had taken the lives of hundreds of Duluth soldiers, either in battle or from the Spanish influenza. And the flu pandemic of 1918 had killed many Duluth citizens, although incidents of the illness were waning in July of 1919—Lakeview Hospital, the city’s influenza hospital at 522 Lake Avenue South, would close July 30 due to a lack of patients. Finally, 453 people in Northeastern Minnesota died in the massive forest fire on October 12, 1918 that burned thousands of acres in Minnesota and virtually destroyed Cloquet and other towns.

But Duluthians must have felt those horrible events were behind them and perhaps that the future looked brighter. The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, ending fighting on the western front. According to the Duluth newspapers, thousands of people thronged into downtown Duluth all day, and a parade was organized at 8:00 p.m. that marched from downtown to the National Guard Armory on London Road, where a program with speeches and music was held. Months later, on June 28, 1919, when the war officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Duluth’s celebration was quieter, with most churches holding services to give thanks for the signing of the treaty.

So Duluthians were ready to celebrate Independence Day on July 4. It had rained the night before, but the skies cleared in the morning and the weather was ideal. The city’s festivities began at 9:30 a.m. with a parade. The signal for the parade to start was an aerial bomb, shot into the sky from First Street and Fourth Avenue West. When it reached its maximum height, the bomb exploded, releasing a large American flag which slowly drifted down, attached to a parachute.

Parade massing

Setup for the 1916 July 4th parade. From Minnesota Reflections.

The parade participants were lined up in Courthouse Square, the site of Duluth’s City Hall today (it wouldn’t be built until 1929). The site in 1919 was a grassy area on the west side of Fourth Avenue West between First and Second streets. An estimated 5,000 people were participating in the parade. The parade started when the flag began floating down to earth. The marchers traveled east on First Street to Eighth Avenue East, down that avenue to London Road, and then east on London Road to Lake Shore Park (now named Leif Erikson Park).

The next day’s Duluth News Tribune described some of the participants:

Members of the Butchers’ Union in white coats, Clan Stewart men in kilts and playing the pipes, Modern Woodmen of America in uniform, Eagles with red peonies in their lapel button-holes were included in the numerous organizations that partook in the parade. The Home Guard drum corps, German post, G.A.R. fife and drum corps, and the Superior city band assisted in furnishing music for the marchers.

Others marching in the parade included a group of Syrian citizens, a large delegation from Duluth’s African-American community, and local veterans from World War I, the Spanish-American War, and the Civil War.

One of the most popular floats in the parade and winner of the first-prize ribbon was the Viking ship on wheels, created and staffed by the local Sons of Norway chapter.

Parade float

Sons of Norway float. From Duluth News Tribune, July 5, 1919.

Another popular one was furnished by Duluth’s Columbia Clothing Co. It depicted an American flag made from the artificial petals of tissue flowers.

After the parade arrived at Lake Shore Park, live band music was provided for a few hours while people enjoyed their picnic lunches. At 3:00 p.m., the games began with bicycle races on London Road for boys and girls and a contest of climbing a greased pole to reach a $2 bill at the top, which was won by William Wipson. There were also track and field contests, several for the title of champion of Duluth. The most consistent performer in those events was 18-year-old William Nisius, who placed third in the 100-yard dash; tied with two others in the high jump at 4 feet, eight inches; and won the pole vault with a jump of 8 feet, 3 inches. Nisius had just graduated from Central High School and had been a star performer on the school’s track team.

There was a married women’s race which was won by Mrs. C.E. Schauer, who was awarded a five-pound box of chocolates. The final event was the caber toss, a traditional Scottish athletic event in which the competitors toss a large tapered wooden pole called a caber. Duluth’s caber was a 16-foot telegraph pole that was 8 inches in diameter. It was too heavy for anyone to toss, so officials sawed several feet off the caber and then the event proceeded. It was won by P.T. MacDonald with a toss of 27 feet.

A display of “daylight fireworks” was held early in the evening at the park, and then at 9:30 p.m. the regular fireworks display took place. The Duluth News Tribune said it was “considered the most expensive and excellent display ever shown in Duluth.”

Downtown Duluth’s festivities were the largest in the area, but there were also celebrations in Duluth Heights, Morgan Park, and Hermantown, and also in some Iron Range cities.

Later in July, other events were held to celebrate the end of the war. The largest was the Peace Carnival on July 18 at the Armory on London Road. Attendees were encouraged to wear costumes representing other countries. A grand march was held inside the Armory with groups carrying flags of different nations. The carnival raised $2,500, which was put toward the purchase of the David Ericson painting The Nativity for a planned city art collection.





“Fair and Cooler Promise for Fourth of July Program,” Duluth Herald, July 3, 1919, p.2.

“Sol Smiles and Heat Modifies to Make the Fourth of July Ideal Day,” Duluth Herald, July 4, 1919, p.1.

“Fireworks, Fun Add Delight to Duluth’s Fourth,” Duluth News Tribune, July 5, 1919, p.3.

“Peace Carnival Proves to be Brilliant Success,” Duluth Herald, July 19, 1919, p.6.



“Setup for 1916 Parade,” from Minnesota Reflections, contributed by University of Minnesota, Duluth. Kathryn A. Martin Library. Northeast Minnesota Historical Collections.

“Sons of Norway Float,” from Duluth News Tribune, July 5, 1919, p.3.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s