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William Gilbreath, Booster to North Dakota

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On this date in 1911, William Gilbreath, Commissioner of Agriculture in North Dakota, was busy—in fact, the Bismarck Tribune called him “about the busiest official at the state house for the past six months.” And no small wonder!

He had been busy all those months working on the state’s first industrial exposition, which ran from September 26th to October 14th. The event had showcased resources and exhibits from all across the state, drawing enormous crowds.

The Fargo Forum noted that some people were so elated over the success of the show they wanted to make Gilbreath governor! The paper said of the idea: “He certainly would be a booster and advertiser.”

But Gilbreath was immediately pulled into another project – working on an exhibit that was to highlight the northwestern United States. This “Governor’s Special” was a train consisting of nine cars, all equipped with electric lights and “the latest and finest equipment.” The trains would take two different routes, going from St. Paul to New York and back again. Governors, including North Dakota’s John Burke, would be on board, speaking at stops along the way. Many commercial clubs around the state contributed to North Dakota’s role in the project.

According to reports, the train exhibit was well worth it. The Bismarck Tribune stated, “Governor Burke may well feel proud of the exhibit, for in quality and artistic arrangement it cannot be excelled. … It has taken a lot of hard work to build up an exhibit worthy to be placed alongside those of the irrigated country of Idaho, Washington and Oregon, but the labor has not been in vain and the samples of grain, grasses and other farm products are now packed and ready for shipment.” North Dakota’s exhibit was displayed in the same car as South Dakota and Minnesota.

In addition to preparing this “Governor’s Special” in time for departure on November 27th, Gilbreath had also prepared [QUOTE] “a magnificent exhibit for the Northwest Land and Products show,” which opened in St. Paul on December 12th.

Gilbreath never became governor, but he spent 11 years as agriculture commissioner, and his endeavors to spread knowledge about the state did not fail to impress!

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Bismarck Daily Tribune, September 25, 1911, p1

Bismarck Daily Tribune, October 16, 1911, p1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, October 12, 1911, p4

Bismarck Daily Tribune, November 13, 1911, p8

Bismarck Daily Tribune, November 16, 1911, p8

Bismarck Daily Tribune, November 24, 1911, p5

Jamestown Weekly Alert, November 9, 1911, p1

Bismarck Tribune, January 19, 1921, p1

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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