Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Winterful Wisconsin - Image Gallery Essay

A Nostalgic Look at Wisconsin Winters

Winterful Wisconsin - Image Gallery Essay | Wisconsin Historical Society
Winter scene down a hill of a young boy or girl riding a donkey which is pulling a toboggan up the snow-covered hill.

Donkey Pulling Toboggan

Winter scene down a hill of a young boy or girl riding a donkey which is pulling a toboggan up the snow-covered hill. View the original source document: WHI 83453

EnlargeWinter scene with children posing in front of a snowman.

Children with Snowman, 1947

Winter scene with children posing in front of a snowman they built. View the original source document: WHI 49406

In 1969 the Department of Natural Resources attempted to lure those from out of state to vacation in Wisconsin during wintertime by declaring Wisconsin a “winterful” wonder with “all the sun of summer” and “wind never raw.”

Wisconsinites know better. Winter can be harsh, a season to be endured, but it also can have its moments of joy and fun. Since the late nineteenth century, photographers throughout the state have captured how residents have both survived and thrived through Wisconsin’s quintessential season. The Wisconsin Historical Society has a large collection of Wisconsin winter photographs and this gallery (link below) features the best and most interesting images, most from the hundred years between 1880 and 1980.

From Idyllic Landscapes to Brutal Storms

EnlargeWinter scene with three men standing beside parked cars that have been buried by snowfall.

Cars Buried in Snow, 1925

Baraboo, Wisconsin. Winter scene with three men standing beside parked cars that have been buried by snow. View the original source document: WHI 69696

The Wisconsin winter landscape can be full of idyllic scenes that have been a favorite subject of photographers for decades, so images of quiet, pastoral settings are included, along with those of towns blanketed by peaceful coverings of snow. Yet Wisconsin winters can also be brutal and challenging. Major snowstorms have engulfed the state in 2-4’ of snow with drifts up to 20’ and ice storms have encapsulated Wisconsin landscapes into frozen and dangerous wonderlands. Photographs showing the consequences of these storms can be found in this gallery.

Enduring and Embracing Wisconsin Winters

Some of the images depict how Wisconsinites have endured and survived these winters. A few show the hard work required to remove snow from the railroads, streets, and sidewalks. Others illustrate the difficulty and dangers of travelling through the snow by foot, horse, car or train. Many of them also convey how Wisconsinites dressed for winter weather over the decades.

EnlargeWinter scene with four women, a man and a child, all well-dressed, posing on the ice wearing ice skates.

Group Posing on Ice Skates, 1901

Winter scene with four women, a man and a child, all well-dressed, posing on the ice wearing ice skates. View the original source document: WHI 33923

Other photographs show Wisconsin residents embracing and thriving through winter. Enjoying the recreational possibilities of the season has been a long-standing tradition for Wisconsinites. Images of them enjoying ice skating, sleighing, skiing, sledding and tobogganing are included. A handful of photos also show the joy of just playing in and with snow, whether building snowmen and snow forts or having snowball fights.

Wisconsinites pride themselves on their ability to endure and embrace the winter season. This gallery captures this pride on film.

View the Gallery