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Unit 8: Set 1: 4th Grade - The Gift

Introduction | The Gift | The Gift Comes Home | Terms & People | Photos | Documents | Activities

A tradition, or custom, at the time of the building of the USS North Dakota was for the people of a state to purchase a silver service for a ship named in honor of their state. A silver service is a set of fancy dishes made of silver or coated with silver. The dishes are used for special occasions to serve punch, coffee, or sometimes meals. A silver service often includes a punch bowl; cups; a ladle, or dipper; several platters, or large serving plates; and candelabra (kan-dah-LAH-brah), or fancy candlesticks.

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When the U.S. Navy decided to name a ship in honor of North Dakota, Governor John Burke appointed a commission, or committee, to be in charge of purchasing a silver service for the ship. The commission's job was to decide which pieces would be included, to choose a design, and to order the items.

The commission members got together and decided that the silver service for the USS North Dakota would be made up of 40 pieces. The largest and heaviest piece of the set would be the punch bowl. Gorham Silver Company of New York was hired to make the silver dishes.

A contest was then held to see who could come up with the best design to decorate the silver service. The winner was 24-year-old Hans Klimmek of Fargo. His prize for winning the contest was $50 (about $1,250 in today's dollars). Mr. Klimmek worked as an engraver for a printing company, so he knew a lot about making designs. An engraver is someone who carves designs into metal, wood, or other materials.

bison handle
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Mr. Klimmek based his designs on scenes and symbols of North Dakota. The large punch bowl had carved bison heads for handles and was decorated with engravings of Indian tipis, a covered wagon, tractors, a city with a rising sun, and images from the official State Seal of North Dakota. The wild prairie rose, North Dakota's state flower, was engraved onto many of the dishes.

The commission expected that the silver service would cost about $10,000 (about $250,000 in today's dollars). In order to raise money, fundraising committees were set up in all 53 counties of the state. Each county was to raise a certain amount of money to help pay for the silver service.

When the dishes were all finished, however, they ended up costing $16,000 (about $400,000 in today's dollars). That was a lot of money for the people of North Dakota to raise, and they were not able to reach their goal by the time the ship was finished in 1910. Because the silver service had not been paid for, it could not be given to the USS North Dakota.

In 1914, the commission again tried to raise money. This time, they asked banks and organizations for help. Several banks around the state, as well as the Elks Club, the Knights of Columbus, and other organizations donated money. This money was added to the funds that had already been collected by the counties, and the goal of $16,000 was reached.

gift presentation
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On May 15, 1915, five years after the USS North Dakota went to sea, the ship finally received the gift from its honored state. A group of people from North Dakota, including Governor L.B. Hanna, had traveled to New York City. As the big battleship was docked in New York Harbor, the North Dakotans presented the beautiful 40-piece engraved silver service to U.S. Navy officers on board the USS North Dakota.

The silver service of the USS North Dakota now had its permanent home. Or did it?

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