Mail Order Houses

Feb 22, 2018


In 1918, due to the War effort and a slumping economy, North Dakota was feeling the financial pinch.  Millions of dollars were being drained by the war, and there was another factor that concerned state officials.  

Frank F. Packard, chairman of the State Tax Commission, believed the State was losing three million dollars a year to mail order businesses, with even houses being ordered by mail.  He estimated that ten million dollars left the state each year, destined for mail order houses in the east.  If these purchases had been made at retail stores in North Dakota, he estimated that it would require an additional two hundred merchants and create two thousand jobs.  This represented a direct loss to the state of three million dollars in wages and seven million dollars in goods, meaning lost revenue for local merchants.  People were urged to buy locally to support state merchants.

But on this date in 1918, the use of mail order was not the only item of contention.  Testimony was being completed for the one million dollar flood damage suit that North Dakota brought against Minnesota for improper drainage.  South Dakota was bringing a similar law suit and the testimony to be submitted to the United States Supreme Court would begin in March.

Another challenge erupted over the North Dakota Blue Laws.   The Sunday Closing laws not only affected all businesses, they also restricted all forms of entertainment.  Even theaters were closed on Sundays.  When W. S. Shaw, the mayor of Minot, showed the official moving pictures of the Council of the National Defense on Sunday, February 10th,   he was arrested on the order of Attorney General William Langer and the theater was closed.  However, F. O. Helistrom, Secretary of the North Dakota Council of Defense, countermanded Langer’s actions and had Shaw released.  He in turn issued an order that the owners of all movie theaters and assembly halls are required to open their establishments on any day, including Sunday, or at any hour of the day for the purpose of showing official United States government motion pictures and for the promotion of other material brought forth by the Council of Defense.  

Interestingly, one hundred years later, mail order buying, Red River flooding, and Blue Law challenges, still persist as familiar themes.

Dakota Datebook by Jim Davis


Fargo Forum, February 14, 1918

Grand Forks Herald, February 19, 1918

Bismarck Tribune, February 5, 1918