I am thrilled to be partnering with the Savage Chamber of Commerce on a series of posts featuring the best of Savage, Minnesota, the community our family calls home. To see more about Savage (and our family’s adventures in Minnesota and the Midwest) check here.
Our family feels lucky to live in a vibrant community with a fascinating, rich history! When you think of a suburb, you don’t often think of its history. But long before Savage became one of the fastest growing suburbs in Minnesota, it was a rural community along the Minnesota River that played a fascinating role in the world of horse racing and in the eventual demise of World War II. When the fact that Charles Lindbergh crash landed his plane here in 1923 is really a quiet footnote in your community’s history, you know there’s a lot of history in that community!
This post will just focus on two key pieces of Savage history: the world-famous race horse, Dan Patch, and Camp Savage’s role in WWII military intelligence. For more about Savage’s history, the Heritage Room at the Savage Public Library is full of great information and memorabilia.
Savage in the Early 1900’s – Dan Patch and His Showman Owner, M.W. Savage
Easily the most notorious piece of Savage’s history centers on Dan Patch, a race horse born in Indiana but brought to Minnesota by his enigmatic owner, Marion W. Savage, an entrepreneur and one of the world’s early marketing gurus. The community, originally named Hamilton, was so enamored with the fascinating character of Savage that the they eventually named the community after him.
Dan Patch was purchased in 1902 by M.W. Savage for $60,000. Four years later, Dan Patch would break the world record in the mile race at the Minnesota State Fair, clocking a time of 1:55. M.W. Savage built on Dan Patch’s national reputation by traveling the country with him in a luxury rail car built for his private use (picture below). Products of all kinds, including washing machines (!) were branded with the Dan Patch name.
Dan Patch died on July 15, 1916, and sadly, his owner died less than a day later. But both the horse and his owner left a lasting impression on the community of Savage to this day. Savage celebrates Dan Patch Days every June, and a statue of the two of them stands outside the public library.
To learn more about Dan Patch, there are many books, including the following:
Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, The Most Famous Horse in America, by Charles Leerhsen
The Best There Ever Was: Dan Patch and the Dawn of the American Century, by Sharon B. Smith
The Great Dan Patch and the Remarkable Mr. Savage, by Tim Brady
If you’re really up for some Dan Patch entertainment, there was even a (fictional) movie made about him called The Great Dan Patch.
Savage During WWII – Camp Savage’s Role in Supporting WWII Military Intelligence
About the only thing that remains of Camp Savage today is a historical marker. But this former Civilian Conservation Corps camp played an important role in WWII military intelligence.
In the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, people of Japanese descent, many of whom were full-fledged American citizens, were taken from their homes. They were banned from the US states bordering the Pacific Ocean and were placed in internment camps.
The US military realized they needed to increase their capacity to understand Japanese language and culture in order to more effectively end the war. Japanese Americans, many of whom were serving in internment camps, were drafted to attend and inform military intelligence training. Because the original site for this kind of intelligence was in California, where people of Japanese descent were prohibited, a new location for the school was needed.
From 1942 to 1944, Camp Savage served as the Military Intelligence Service’s language school. Minnesota was selected because there were less negative perceptions of Japanese Americans here than near other metropolitan areas in the US. Students were immersed in intensive Japanese language and cultural studies, in order to inform the US Military’s strategy against Japan.
At its peak, Camp Savage housed over 1,000 students for the language school. Because the need for trained students exceeded the capacity of Camp Savage, the school was eventually moved to Minnesota’s Historic Fort Snelling. It has been estimated that the efforts of this language school shortened WWII by two years and saved over 1 million lives.
The Minnesota Historical Society has a more thorough telling of the Military Intelligence Service’s Language School in their post here. For a fascinating interview with Toshio Abe, done by the Minnesota Historical Society, listen to or read the transcript here.
There was so much more I could include in this post. But these two significant events in Savage’s history really put this great community on the map. And the people of Savage today continue to keep the community great.
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