During the spring and summer of 1921 General Billy Mitchell conducted a series of controversial tests demonstrating the effectiveness of bombing naval vessels by air. Mitchell met opposition from naval and army leaders concerned not only with the potential implications of the tests, but also with the general’s own unconventional style and willingness to flaunt authority and chains of command to promote his ideas.
During the tests of late June 1921, McDougall obtained permission from Secretary of the Navy Edwin Denby to observe the proceedings on Chesapeake Bay. The bombings were conducted on several obsolete US Navy ships and German naval units turned over to the United States after the First World War. Despite being carried out with sharply restrictive rules of engagement, McDougall was impressed with the results. Navy officials were less so, and eventually Mitchell would be court martialed and stripped of his rank. And while the tests also demonstrated the limitations of air power during the early 1920s, within a generation it would be used to devastating effect during World War II and beyond.
White phosphorus dropped on the U.S.S. Alabama intended to blind the ship’s gunners. This is from September 1921 tests, McDougall did not see these, but they produced dramatic images.
I’m once again struck by McDougall’s ability to insert himself into some of the most dramatic events of his time.
McDougall by 1910 had achieved a level of recognition within Duluth to sit on a number of boards and clubs throughout the city. Notably he was a board member of the City National Bank appearing in advertisements in the News-Tribune and testifying to the Minnesota legislature on banking matters. Though they moved in the same circles within the shipping and storage businesses, McDougall and Julius Barnes had a series of shared interactions making their later business relationship unsurprising. The Commercial Club was the principle venue, a combination of business and banking figures throughout the city coming together to serve as boosters and charitable figures for Duluth. McDougall served on the history committee and was a frequent speaker on the rapid changes since the 1890s along the waterfront. It also provided a platform for him to continue his narrative about the loss of his company to John D. Rockefeller.
From the Duluth News-Tribune, March 9, 1913:
“The funeral of Alex McDougall, Jr., 5-year-old son of Miller McDougall, 1005 East First Street, and grandson of Capt. Alex McDougall, will be held today and will be strictly private. The family requests that no flowers be sent. The child died at the city contagion hospital from the effects of septic pneumonia.”
In the years before antibiotics, pneumonia was deadly to young children, particularly from infection in one or both lungs. The McDougall’s family was not alone in this experience, and shared it with many other families throughout the United States. The family has images of Captain McDougall with his young grandson at the Brule River lodge in the snow goofing around. As there is a limited amount of intimate material, such images help to shape my own view of the relationships within the family. It was undoubtedly an awful blow to parents and grandparents as would be in the present.
Looking forward to the March Upper Midwest Scuba & Adventure Travel Show in Minneapolis. I’ll be discussing the October 1916 loss of the James B. Colgate and the Merida on Lake Erie.
McDougall’s first shipyard in Duluth was roundly mocked by his former chief draftsman Robert Clark’s account from the 1920s. However, despite Clark’s apparent disdain for McDougall, he wasn’t alone in thinking the site was a poor one.
The title for this post comes from the headline of the “Lake Superior Review and Weekly Tribune” on September 23, 1887. they went on to observe:
“Intelligent people will not place any reliance in the locating of the Duluth Drydock and Shipbuilding company’s plant ‘in the rear of the round house at Rice’s Point’ as stated in an evening sheet devoted to ‘scooping.’ There isn’t room enough, in the first place, to build a good sized canoe there, and as for a shipyard and drydock – the plant takes room and plenty of it, more than can be obtained in that vicinity. The shipyard scheme is all right and most desirable, but the location is not in the vicinity mentioned. It will not be located there – if it intends to build anything bigger than a rowboat, if – practical men like Thomas Wilson and Alex. McDougall have anything to do with it……They won’t fool away time or money on any such gimcrack affair as would have to exist in that space spoken of.”
They were wrong, McDougall would build on the site and launch the “101” in June 1888. Today, the Duluth Timber Company sits roughly on the site at the junction of Railroad Street and Garfield Avenue.
National Museum of the Great Lakes – Presentation
Though the link may not work, I wanted to post the presentation I gave at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio on March 8, 2017. For those of you weather followers, that was the day of the huge windstorm that swept across Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and northern Ohio. It was quite the trip from Grand Rapids to Toledo to say the least.
For those of you visiting the museum, make sure to check out the exhibit I helped create with Dr. Jeffrey Ram of Wayne State University’s School of Medicine. It will be up until August.
Earlier in the year I did a talk on the place of the North American Great Lakes in Midwestern History. I’m the first speaker, so if one is so inclined they can see the other part of my professional life. I’m hoping for it to appear on-line for the Midwestern History Association. It’s what winter breaks are for.