About the Image Collections
The Wisconsin Historical Society's Archives collections include approximately three million photographs, negatives, films, cartoons, lithographs, posters, and ephemeral materials from private, business, and governmental sources that document the rich social, economic, and political history of Wisconsin and the upper Midwest as well as those ethnic groups, who helped shape its history.
In addition to strong holdings in regional history, our collections have a national focus in the areas of nineteenth century expeditionary photography, Native American images, mass communications, and social action movements, including labor and civil rights. Search for images »
These photographs provide a comprehensive visual history of international rural life, including agricultural activities, farm machinery, farms, and farm activities. Collections within this subject also include images that document growing and harvesting specific crops such as cranberries, tobacco, and honey.
Agriculture in Wisconsin,
Featured Gallery: McCormick-International Harvester
Many amateur and professional photographers documented domestic life by taking photographs of family and friends. These late nineteenth century and twentieth century images include home interiors, domestic work and crafts, and individuals and groups taking part in a variety of activities such as cooking, cleaning, dining, home-improvement activities, child-rearing, gardening, and relaxing.
We maintain a large number of images relating to the activities, personalities, classrooms, and recreation relating to the University of Wisconsin. These collections also include images of libraries, folk art, one-room schoolhouses, and other educational institutions, as well as teachers and pupils engaged in a variety of educational activities.
University of Wisconsin,
Featured Gallery: Kehl School of Dance, Highlander Folk School
Yankees, Germans, Norwegians, Italians, Swiss, Danes, Welsh, Finns, Swedes, Poles, and many other ethnic groups settled and shaped Wisconsin. Images in our collections document the unique cultural identities, customs, traditions, social organizations, and assimilation of these many ethnic groups. Search by ethnic name as a keyword.
Featured Gallery: Wisconsin Folk Music Project
Photographic collections related to Native Americans date from the Civil War and the westward expeditions to the late twentieth century. The major tribes of Wisconsin are all represented, as well as tribes from the East, Southwest, and Plains regions. Included are lithographs based on drawings by George Catlin, hand-colored engravings by Carl Bodmer, and watercolor paintings by Peter Rindesbacher.
Popular searches include:
Indians of North America;
Lewis, James Otto,
Bureau of Ethnology
Featured Galleries: Bureau of Ethnology's Indian Portraits, William A. Jones Native American Photographs
We maintain extensive portrait files of individuals from Wisconsin and elsewhere. Notable and less known individuals are represented. There are approximately fifty thousand images in these portrait files. The collection also includes many national figures in politics and literature. Search by surname as a keyword; for example search by "Wright" for images of Frank Lloyd Wright, or by "Aaron" for images of Hank Aaron.
Frank Lloyd Wright,
Featured Galleries: Remembering McCarthy: A Visual Biography, 1908-1957, Howard Hughes, Portraits of Scientists
Wisconsin residents have traditionally possessed many contrasting political views and this characteristic is well documented within our collections. From Robert La Follette, Sr. to Joe McCarthy, many Wisconsin-born politicians are represented. Image subjects include labor union activity, strikes, civil rights, and suffrage.
Popular searches include:
Strikes & Lockouts,
Featured Gallery: Politics & Elections: Documents & Pictures, Commemorating 50 Years of Integration, Images of the Underground
Images illustrating a wide variety of leisure-time activities include hotels and motels, restaurants, vacation resorts, and tourist attractions. Seasonal activities show people hunting, fishing, boating, and engaged in many sport activities.
Popular searches include:
University of Wisconsin—Sports,
Boats & Boating
Featured Gallery: Wisconsin at Play, Wisconsin State Fair, Let's Go to the Circus, A Summer Place: Photographs from the Apostle Islands
Images in this category record the evolution of transportation modes in Wisconsin, from steamships and bicycles to automobiles, trains, and aircraft. Also well represented are photographs of railroads, motorcycles, horse-drawn vehicles, and streetcars. For a detailed view of images chronicling Automobiles in Wisconsin History, see our featured gallery.
Featured Galleries: Sky High: A Century of Aviation, Horses to Horsepower: Automobiles in Wisconsin History
These images document war and wartime activities, military personnel, and home front activities. The Archives hold a large collection of soldier portraits from the American Civil War. Many images document World War I, World War II, the Vietnam conflict, and other military conflicts around the world. There are also significant collections of World War I and World War II posters. The Social Action poster collection covers grass roots movements, particularly anti-war activities during the Vietnam conflict.
Featured Gallery: Dickey Chapelle, Photojournalist, Angora: Rabbit Raising in Nazi Concentration Camps
Wisconsin & Other Locales
The Archives maintains a distinct (or separate) collection of over 10,000 geographic views of Wisconsin locations. These are primarily main street views but also include prominent buildings and sites in a particular locale. Several large postcard collections also document many towns throughout the state. A unique locality collection is thousands of negatives from the Albertype Company, a New York-based postcard business that documented the entire United States.
Collections of professional and amateur photographers from all regions of the state are good sources of Wisconsin place images. For Madison views, newspaper photographers from the Wisconsin State Journal and Capital Times also provide local imagery.
Featured Galleries: Wisconsin Bird's Eye Maps, Have You Seen This Madison?, H. H. Bennett, Photographer Extraordinaire, Images of Madison, A Summer Place: Photographs from the Apostle Islands, Construction of the World Trade Center
Images in this category document a variety of workers and work throughout Wisconsin, as well as the development of specific Wisconsin industries such as fur trading, mining, timber operations, advertising, farming, brewing, printing, shipbuilding, ice harvesting, and all manner of construction. Other images broadly present various sales, distribution, and services industries, and include images of electric companies and their employees, postal workers, and fire fighters.
Blue Collar Workers
Featured Galleries: Photo Copy Service - Madison, Winther Motor Company, Wisconsin Women, Let's Go to the Circus, An Artist on the Overland Trail, Larger Than Life: Tall Tale Postcards, Winifred Ford's Watercolors - Madison, From Water to Power: the Prairie du Sac Dam, Falk Corporation