Menu Gallery: Image Gallery Essay | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Menu Gallery: Image Gallery Essay

A Wisconsin Historical Society Menu Sampler

Exterior and interior bill of fare from The Chequamegon.

Chequamegon Hotel Dinner Menu, 1885

Exterior and interior bill of fare from The Chequamegon, with views on the back of rock formations, waterfalls, a spot illustration of a train going over a bridge, and on the front artist's canvases with a three-quarter view of the hotel with ships on the waterfront, and one of hanging game birds, as well as a spray of daisies, an artist's set of paints, brushes, and water containers, and a view of boats and a bridge on Lake Superior. View the original source document: WHI 102459

A WHS Menu Sampler

The menus owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society document a wide range of special occasions as well as everyday fare: banquets for clubs and societies, meals to celebrate visits of dignitaries or royalty, the menus of hotel dining rooms, passenger ships, trains, and of course, restaurants, cafés, tea rooms, and the occasional supper club. In addition to a discrete menu collection in the Archives, menus can be found in the ephemera collection, some manuscript collections (especially those of journalists or politicians), library materials, and museum holdings, and reflect social history, as well as dietary trends and design sensibilities from the mid-1800s to the present day. This gallery includes only about 300 items selected mostly for their visual appeal or graphic design. A much larger collection that will also contain menus useful for other sorts of historical research is in development. The menus presented there will be fully searchable and their images will be zoomable. 

Folded menu from the Hotel Müller, with hikers on the die-cut flap, ascending a mountain, and mountains and sky on the panel beneath. The drawings are signed, "Francois Gos fils Claseur(?)".

Hotel Müller Menu, 1908

Folded menu from the Hotel Müller, with hikers on the die-cut flap, ascending a mountain, and mountains and sky on the panel beneath. The drawings are signed, "Francois Gos fils Claseur(?)". View the original source document: WHI 102443

EnlargeFront cover and menu page from the Madison Club, with an illustrated three-quarter view of the corner of the club building and a view of the main entrance on the side of the building, perpendicular to the sidewalk.

Madison Club Menu, 1959

Front cover and menu page from the Madison Club, with an illustrated three-quarter view of the corner of the club building and a view of the main entrance on the side of the building, perpendicular to the sidewalk. View the original source document: WHI 104541

EnlargeFront cover and imagined bill of fare for "Rupert's Roadkill Cafe: You Kill It ... ... We Grill It!"

Rupert's Roadkill Cafe Menu, 1986

Front cover and imagined bill of fare for "Rupert's Roadkill Cafe: You Kill It ... ... We Grill It!", with a cartoon drawing of a cat standing on long, flat feet with a long tail hovering in the air. A single tire track, presumably made by a bicycle tire, is superimposed across the middle of the cartoon. View the original source document: WHI 100078

EnlargeFront cover, frontispiece photograph, and page from a publication of the State Board of Health.

Menus and Recipes for School Lunches, 1946

Front cover, frontispiece photograph, and page from a publication of the State Board of Health, with half silhouette views of three seated children with milk bottles with straws and a beverage glass, a photograph of two rows of children and two women eating lunch at a table with plates of food and bottles of milk in front of them, and a page of "Main Dishes Prepared at School with Additional Food brought from Home." View the original source document: WHI 101174

EnlargeTwo cartoons (by Clifford K. Berryman?) for the winter dinner of the Gridiron Club, each entitled, "Gridiron Forecast 1948"

Gridiron Club Menu Art Souvenir, 1948

Two cartoons for the winter dinner of the Gridiron Club, each entitled, "Gridiron Forecast 1948". View the original source document: WHI 107662

Eating Locally and Abroad

While Wisconsin figures prominently in the collection, both in terms of restaurant locations and special event venues, menus from around the world are well represented here. Those include a dinner in celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday at a hotel in Yokohama, Japan (1898); a breakfast for American journalists in Heidelberg, Germany (1928); a hotel in the Swiss Alps (1908); a 339th Regimental Combat Team New Year’s Day dinner in Archangel, Russia (1919); a men’s social club in London (1933); a luncheon for the American Congressional Delegation given by the Mayor of Shanghai, China (1935); a Mexican border restaurant (undated); a dinner given by Juan and Eva Perón at the Presidential Palace in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1951); and passenger ships that sailed across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, including a menu from the maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Lusitania.  

Menus from Wisconsin cities include Ashland, Burlington, Eagle River, Green Bay, Kenosha, Lake Geneva, Merrill, Mineral Point, New Glarus, Oshkosh, Ripon, Washburn, Waukesha, Wausau, and Wisconsin Rapids, as well as many from Milwaukee and Madison. Many also hail from events or restaurants in Chicago, New York, and other cities in the United States.

A wide variety of eateries are represented as well, ranging from longstanding places such as the dining room in Milwaukee’s Hotel Pfister and the Madison Club to the fictitious Rupert’s Roadkill Café, as well as late establishments such as Milwaukee’s Plankinton House Hotel, Newhall House, and The Gargoyle Restaurant, and Madison’s Ovens of Brittany -- all celebrated destinations in their day. The current emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and artisanal foods is reflected in several menus from the 1970s to the 2000s from L’Etoile Restaurant, which featured its relationships with local growers. Unusual and once-common historic dishes also abound in the collection, such as Green Turtle Soup and Roman Punch, a palate refresher often found on banquet menus.

Banquet Dining Rooms to Lunchrooms

Some menus bid farewell to departing friends, or welcome returning travelers and provide a forum for sharing tales from the road. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, trade associations, specialized societies (e.g., Wisconsin Guernsey Breeders, American Pulp and Paper, Merchants Association, Wisconsin Society--Sons of the American Revolution), and professional clubs, such as Madison’s Six O’Clock Club and Milwaukee and Madison’s Old Settlers’ Club, held regularly scheduled dinners for members. Washington, D.C.’s Gridiron Club continues to hold an annual dinner at which the President typically delivers a humorous address. Presidential visits account for another category of menus, as well as dinners for visiting dignitaries such as Buffalo Bill or Robert M. La Follette.

"Menus and Recipes for School Lunches," a publication from the State Board of Health created by nutritionists and published in 1946, features sections for entire meals prepared at school, main dishes intended to be supplemented with food brought from home, and holiday menus. The accompanying photograph of two rows of schoolchildren and perhaps two teachers eating together at a cloth-covered table set with china plates, metal flatware, and glass bottles of milk reinforces the distance between a 1940s lunchroom and the modern-day school cafeteria lunch line, with changed expectations about efficiency and aesthetics, yet continued recognition of the social aspects of eating.

From long-vanished banquet halls and grand hotels, ocean-going passenger ships, tea rooms, and stylish restaurants to school lunch rooms and establishments that continue to operate today, menus invite careful examination, impart tactile and visual pleasure, and serve as a souvenir of a communal experience: the anticipation of dining on delectable food in congenial company.

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