Visual Materials Subject Overview | Wisconsin Historical Society

Resource Description

Visual Materials Subject Overview

Visual Materials Subject Overview | Wisconsin Historical Society
Collage of images from the Society's collections.

A selection of historical images from the Society's collections.

Not sure where to start your research? Here is an overview of the wide range of subjects available to view both online and in our Archives. To learn more about the scope of our holdings see About Visual Materials in Our Collections.

Pioneer Lager Beer, De Pere, 1933. WHI 91111.

Pioneer Lager Beer, 1933. WHI 91111

See images of advertising methods used primarily in the 19th and 20th centuries – brochures, posters, letterhead, magazine and newspaper ads, catalogs, trading cards, billboards and handbills. Businesses and individuals advertised everything from farm equipment, beer and automobiles to tourism, land sales and even rewards for runaway slaves.

Farmall M Tractor and Disc Harrow, 1949 WHI 8726.

Farmall M Tractor and Disc Harrow, 1949. WHI 8726


These photographs provide a visual history of 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, corn, tobacco, and honey.

Bird's-Eye View of Madison 1908 Madison. WHI 3160.

Bird's-Eye View of Madison, 1908.
WHI 3160

Cities and Towns

The Archives maintains a 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 set of images published by the Albertype Company, a New York-based postcard business documents the entire United States at the turn of the 20th century.

Woman with Wringer Washtub, 1920. WHI 3846

Woman with Wringer Washtub, 1920.
WHI 3846

Domestic Life

Many amateur and professional photographers documented domestic life by taking photographs of family and friends. These late 19th and 20th 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.

Graduates in Caps and Gowns, Wis, 1957. WHI 7491

Wisconsin Graduates in Caps and Gowns, 1957. WHI 7491


We have many images relating to the activities, personalities, classrooms, and recreation of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Discover 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.

Logging Scene, WHI 2775

Logging Scene. WHI 2775


Yankees, Germans, Norwegians, Italians, Swiss, Danes, Welsh, Finns, Swedes, Poles, and many other ethnic groups settled and shaped Wisconsin. Images document the unique cultural identities, customs, traditions, social organizations, and assimilation of these many ethnic groups.

Frank Lloyd Wright. WHI 26559.

Frank Lloyd Wright. WHI 26559

Famous People

We offer many portraits of individuals from Wisconsin and elsewhere. Notable and less known individuals are represented. Image collections include many national figures in politics and literature.

Chief Joseph, 1903. WHI 27495

Chief Joseph, 1903. WHI 27495

First Nations Peoples of North America

Photographic collections related to Native Americans date from the Civil War and the westward expeditions to the late 20th century. The peoples from the major Wisconsin tribes are all represented, as well as tribes from the East, Southwest, and Plains regions. In addition to photographs there are lithographs based on drawings by George Catlin and Alexander Simplot, hand-colored engravings by Carl Bodmer, and watercolor paintings by Peter Rindesbacher.

Father James Groppi at NAACP March, 1968. WHI 1912

Father James Groppi at NAACP March, 1968. WHI 1912

Political Activity

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.

Day at the Beach, 1969. WHI 25684.

Day at the Beach, 1969. WHI 25684


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.

Hiawatha Brochure, 1935, WHI 24725.

Hiawatha Brochure, 1935. WHI 24725


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.

Dickey Chapelle, 1959. WHI 1942

Dickey Chapelle, 1959. WHI 1942


These images document war and wartime activities, military personnel, and home front activities. Our site includes 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. Many images of posters available online cover grass roots movements, particularly anti-war activities during the Vietnam conflict.

Dipping the Curd, 1914, Brodhead, Wis. WHI 1934.

Dipping the Curd, 1914. WHI 1934


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.

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