By Tim Engstrom
The Minnesota Legionnaire
Have you ever wondered about the Post numbers? Why is Minneapolis 1, Shakopee 2, Jordan 3, Lakefield 4, Worthington 5 and so on?
The nearest answers can be found in an excellent history book by Ben Gimmestad called “Legion 50.” Published in 1970, it is about the history of the Department of Minnesota.
In 1919, The American Legion was a concept that caught fire — the notion of veterans coming together for common causes and to continue their camaraderie — and they organized rapidly.
Those discharged World War I veterans had no health care, no housing benefits, no educational benefits, no aid in re-employment, nothing. They had each other, and that led to forming associations.
In Minnesota, many popped up. Mankato and St. Paul, for example, formed chapters of the Soldiers and Sailors Club. Owatonna had the Steele County Former Service Men. Montevideo had the Chippewa County Minnesota World War Veterans. You could find associations across the state from Crookston to Winona. Some had VFW Posts, too. The first VFW Post dates back to 1902 in Hugo. There was no VFW Department of Minnesota yet.
Among these associations was the Loyal Legion of Minneapolis. With its origin tied to Mayor J.E. Meyers, this organization grew rapidly after forming in February 1919. By April, after learning of the existence of The American Legion, which first convened in Paris in March, the Loyal Legion voted to adopt the name “American Legion” to link itself to the national body.
In St. Paul, there had been three vets associations, and a group of veterans, led by a colonel, formed a temporary committee with the intent to form a Minnesota branch of the Legion.
They sent a delegation to the St. Louis caucus in May, where the name “The American Legion” was adopted and the Preamble and Constitution approved.
It was there that Minneapolis was selected as the site for the first convention, to be held in November.
In late May, a committee formed to begin organizing the Department of Minnesota. It sought to organize local Posts throughout Minnesota. Minneapolis Post 1, the largest, would decentralize by establishing Posts throughout the city.
The early founders hired a secretary, George Chapin, who worked out of the Plymouth Building at Hennepin and Sixth in Minneapolis. (It’s that Embassy Suites building next to Murray’s.)
By the end of June, 19 Posts in Minnesota had temporary charters..
There were 11 from the 9th District, five from the 2nd and one each from the 1st, 5th and 6th.
It is widely assumed the numerical order of the Posts matches the order they were chartered. Yes and no. The lower ones are typically older, yes, but those early days had irregularities as a result of trying to organize rapidly.
The first one chartered?
It looks like St. Paul Post 8 is the oldest in Minnesota by charter date. Fergus Falls Post 30 comes in second.
I go by temporary charter date, not permanent charter date, as that is what pretty much everyone else goes by.
But, no doubt, Post 1 has a pre-charter history that dates back before even the Paris Caucus of mid-March.
Gimmestad notes Post 2 in Shakopee and Post 3 in Jordan were chartered in August, and Warroad, Ada and Adrian, chartered in June, were assigned 25, 26 and 32, respectively. The numbers weren’t in precise order of charter. By August, Chapin reported the Minnesota Legion had 40 Posts.
In the effort to just get them completed, numbers might have come down to how they stacked up on the desk the day he began to tackle the work — rather than the order Chapin completed the work.
Perhaps the trickier paperwork sat around longer. You can imagine some Posts had officers more knowledgeable about paperwork than others, making it easier for Chapin to turnaround. That might explain why St. Paul and Fergus got done fast. Both have federal courthouses and, as a result, a good-sized legal community.
There are many 9th District small towns with low numbers. Did they coordinate travel well? Was there a roving helper? We’ll never know. It’s lost to history.
I also see many regional centers with numbers in the first 100: Like how places such as Albert Lea is 56 and Owatonna 77 while Ellendale is 296 and Wells is 210.
It was 1919. Many rural areas didn’t even have electricity. Transportation was more difficult than today. Cars hadn’t even been around for 20 years, and most roads were dirt. Word of The American Legion spread to the regional centers a little faster, and they had more members, making it easier get filed.
That doesn’t mean a few small towns didn’t get the job done early, too. I mean, Long Prairie is Post 12, Henning 18, Browns Valley 58, among others.
Some suburbs today are big cities but were tiny dots back in 1919. Two suburban Posts — Richfield 435 and Robbinsdale-Crystal 251 — ballooned. Richfield in 1920 had 2,411 people. Robbinsdale had 1,369.
Richfield Post 435 on July 1, 1969, had 5,670 members, and Robbinsdale-Crystal Post 251 had 3,505.
Richfield in 1967 actually ranked as the third-largest Post in the nation. Both consistently ranked among the largest in the country.
Lakeville is Post 44, but don’t let the number fool you. It received its charter Jan. 29, 1990.
McGregor has 23, but it began in 1997.
During the 1919 National Convention in Minneapolis, the state had more Posts and members than any other. There were 360 Posts and 35,000 members.
By the end of 1919, there were 402 organized Posts. By the time of the second state convention in Duluth, in August 1920, there were 470 Posts.
Over the years, the number rose all the way up to Sobieski Post 666. If there was an opening for an unused number, like for one that shut down, Posts could request it.
It wasn’t until 1976 that a Post in Minnesota requested an entirely new number, instead of being assigned one. Apple Valley Post 1776, chartered May 10, 1976, asked for Post 1776 and got it. Now several Posts have custom numbers, the most recent being Minneapolis Patrick Novack Post 5222, chartered Aug. 16, 2019.
After the National Spring Meetings next month, there will be 539 Posts in Minnesota.
Tim Engstrom is the director of communications for the American Legion Department of Minnesota.