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Flax Day

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Flax Day Parade Royalty

Flax Queen and other royalty riding in a car in the Flax Day parade, Windom, 1947.

During the 1940s, Cottonwood County produced so many acres of flax that Windom, the county seat, came to be known as the “Flax Capital of the World.” Between 1948 and 1956, the city celebrated this distinction by hosting an annual event called Flax Day.

During the 1940s in Cottonwood County, the fields near Windom were purple with flax. Agricultural researchers claimed that because the Windom area produced 55 percent of all the flax processed in the United States, it was the flax capital of the world.

In 1944, a $225,000 flax-processing plant was built by the federal government in Windom to turn flax straw into a jute substitute. World War II soldiers used the material for camouflage netting and shipping bags. Before this operation was completed, the war ended, and the plant was purchased in 1945 by the Schweitzer brothers. They converted it into a processor of flax tow for use in making cigarette paper, carbon paper, and high-quality paper for Bibles. Local business leaders worked together to promote flax production throughout the area.

In 1946, a successful one-day event was held in nearby Heron Lake that led to annual events, and in 1947, Windom held its first Flax Festival in the Windom Armory. A crowd of about 5,000 people attended—more people than the population of Windom. The state extension department’s farm-safety and labor-saving exhibits and moving picture shows in the State Theater were especially popular.

In October 1948, the first Flax Day parade was organized. It was a mile long and included a drum corps, marching units, bands and many floats. By 1950, the parade was three miles long. By 1953, it featured eighty-seven marching units.

Between 1949 and 1952, Flax Day attracted thousands of attendees—as many as 15,000 over the course of the event, which usually lasted for one day and two evenings. By 1956, the crowds had diminished, but at 7,500 people they were still more than twice the population of Windom.

Flax Day festivities were held in September or October of each year. Popular events included a parade with floats from towns in the area; a horseshoe tournament; a rodeo; a free barbeque; pancake breakfasts; a hometown amateur show; musical performances; work auctions; and performances involving archery and shotgun trickery. Every year, they evolved to match the interests of the crowds.

Governors attended Flax Day events, as did professional wrestlers, radio announcers, and circus performers. Hubert Humphrey made an appearance at the 1954 Flax Day celebration while campaigning for reelection to the US Senate. Other notables attending included Norman Pyle, a representative of Metro-Golden Mayer (MGM) Pictures (1947); Cedric Adams, newscaster and newspaper columnist (1947); and Governor Luther Youngdahl (1949).

Much of Flax Day centered around the public selection of a Flax Day Queen, which preceded a coronation ceremony and ball. The Flax Queen crowned in 1950 won a trip to New York, while the 1952 winner received a diamond-studded watch. In 1953 and 1954, new cars were given away. Measured by the crowds and gifts, Flax Day was a huge success and each year’s celebration reflected the success of the industry.

During the early 1950s, area farmers changed from the production of flax to the production of corn and soybeans. Flax production had traveled north and west and Windom could no longer claim to be the flax capital of the world. 1949 was its peak production year. By 1959, the number of acres of flax had dropped to about 5,000. After 1970, numbers were too low to be counted. Local residents and businesses, however, decided that having an annual celebration was important to the social life of the town. As a result, they transformed Flax Day into a more contemporary celebration and named the new event River Days.

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“5,000 Bar-B-Ques Served Flax Day.” Cottonwood County Citizen, July 20, 1956.

“Exhibit Recalls Windom’s Days as ‘World Flax Capital.’” Worthington Daily Globe, June 9, 1990.

Fjeld, Dave. “A Note from the Flax Day Queen.” Windomnews.com, September 18, 2012.
https://windomnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=6&SubSectionID=6&ArticleID=25113

“Flax Days are Huge Success.” Cottonwood County Citizen, September 21, 1955.

“Flax Festival.” Cottonwood County Citizen, April 9, 1997.

“Huge Crowd of 5,000 Attends Flax Festival.” Windom Reporter, March 28, 1947.

“Jeanne Tams Will Reign as Flax Queen of Windom.” Cottonwood County Citizen, July 20, 1956.

Office of Volunteers for Humphrey. “Let’s Use Our Farm Abundance to Build World Peace.” Press release, September 17, 1954. Speech text files (1941–1978) of the Hubert Humphrey papers, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul.
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/00442/pdfa/00442-00463.pdf

“Remember When.” Cottonwood County Citizen, June 28, 2017.

“Remember When.” Cottonwood County Citizen, July 5, 2017.

“Rodeo, Parade, Bar-B-Q to Highlight Windom Flax Days.” Cottonwood County Citizen, June 27, 1956.

Vander Wal, Gretchen. “Windom Celebration Honors its Beginnings.” Worthington Daily Globe, June 16, 1997.

Related Images

Flax Day Parade Royalty
Flax Day Parade Royalty
Flax Day picnic, 1947
Flax Day picnic, 1947
Aerial view of Schweitzer Flax Plant, 1947
Aerial view of Schweitzer Flax Plant, 1947
Horse Club riders in Flax Day parade
Horse Club riders in Flax Day parade
Nelson’s Ice Cream float in Flax Day parade
Nelson’s Ice Cream float in Flax Day parade
Stacked Flax Bales, 1950
Stacked Flax Bales, 1950
Schweitzer Flax Plant, ca. 1950
Schweitzer Flax Plant, ca. 1950
Schweitzer Flax Plant
Schweitzer Flax Plant
Carl Schneider in flax field, 1970.
Carl Schneider in flax field, 1970.

Turning Point

In 1948, the Flax Day parade debuts. Its procession extends for one mile.

Chronology

1947

Windom’s first Flax Festival, the forerunner to Flax Day, is held.

1948

The first Flax Day parade, stretching a mile long, includes a drum corps, marching units, bands, and floats.

1950-

The Flax Day parade extends for three miles.

1952

About 15,000 people attend the event, during which Carol Norland is crowned Flax Queen.

1953

Eighty-seven marching units appear in the Flax Day parade.

1954

US Senator Hubert Humphrey delivers an address at Flax Day on September 17.

1957

Flax Day ceases and evolves into a new event: River Days.