Senator Johnson (left) meeting Secretary Wallace (center) during Johnson’s October 3, 1923, visit.
Here’s an interesting historic tidbit that I happened upon recently. This should interest anyone who likes cows, politics, or the Old Soldiers’ Home. It involves Magnus Johnson – an American farmer and politician who served in the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives – and Secretary of Agriculture Wallace.
Johnson was elected on the Farmer-Labor ticket to fill the seat opened because of the death of Minnesota Senator Knute Nelson. Johnson served in the Senate from July 16, 1923, to March 4, 1925, in the 68th congress. He lost his bid for reelection in 1924. He was later elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served March 4, 1933, to January 3, 1935, in the 73rd congress, winning one of the general ticket seats.
Though elected in July, Johnson doesn’t appear to have arrived in Washington until October 1923, and then for a visit to inspect his office, collect his check for his pay as Senator, and glance at the White House and Capital before he was off again. By late November he was back to settle in and get down to work.
Secretary Wallace (left) and Senator Johnson (right) milking while Maj. Gen. Bliss (center) observes.
As a farmer by occupation, Johnson was keenly interested in agricultural issues and seems to have had a great deal of pride in his farming background. While making the rounds and being introduced to his colleagues in the Senate on November 23, Johnson also found time to challenge Secretary of Agriculture Wallace to a milking contest to determine the championship of the District of Columbia.
The milking contest was eventually set for Saturday, December 29, 1923, to be held at the model dairy farm at Beltsville, Md. It was stated that the event would be “dry hand and pail between the knees, with no handicapping.” The one who first milked out clean one of the five-gallon thoroughbreds at the government farm would be declared the winner. Senator Johnson was defeated. He said he was given a dry cow.
Johnson (left) and Wallace (right) presenting their milk buckets to Maj. Gen. Bliss (center), who is looking at his watch.
This led to a rematch held at the Old Soldiers’ Home dairy on December 31, 1923. The event was staged as much for area photographers who failed to witness the first contest as it was to give Johnson another opportunity to out milk Wallace. This time, the contest ended in a tie. With Major General Tasker H. Bliss as judge, the contestants milked for 10 minutes and each had a total of 6 ½ inches of milk in a three-gallon pail at the end of the period. Still not one to be defeated, upon the tie Johnson stated that he was out of practice and wanted to meet Secretary Wallace in a woodcutting contest to decide which of them was the best farmer.
While I have not yet tracked down a report of the wood cutting contest, Johnson did select Senator Lynn Frazier of North Dakota to be his sawing partner for the event. The photos included in this post — from the Library of Congress — were taken during the milking contest at the Soldiers’ Home.
Maj. Gen. Tasker H. Bliss (second from right) measuring milk with Johnson (third from left) and Wallace (left) looking on.
“Johnson Meets Old Guard Chiefs: Lodge is ‘Nice Man’.” The Washington Post, Nov. 24, 1923; pg. 5
“Johnson—Wallace Milking Tilt a Tie.” The Washington Post, Jan. 1, 1924; pg. 2.
“Magnus Johnson of Minnesota.” The Washington Post, Oct. 3, 1923; pg. 6.
[Photograph: Secretary of Agriculture Wallace … ] The Washington Post, Jan. 1, 1924; pg. 16.