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About the Wisconsin Historical Museum Collections | Wisconsin Historical Society

Resource Description

About the Wisconsin Historical Museum Collections

About the Wisconsin Historical Museum Collections | Wisconsin Historical Society

The museum collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society contain more than 110,000 historical objects and about half a million archaeological artifacts documenting the history of Wisconsin from pre-historic times to the present. Less than two percent of the Museum's collections are either on display at the Museum or available online. Most objects are in storage and are available for consultation and research.

How the Wisconsin Historical Museum Collections are Organized


Many online collections offer in-depth information about various object types.

View museum objects representing several collection groups

See thematic presentations of collections based on former temporary exhibitions at the Museum

Curators' Favorites are fascinating essays that provide the historical context for more than 200 objects not typically on display. They were selected because of their significance to Wisconsin history.


Artifact-rich exhibits explore Wisconsin's unique heritage at the Wisconsin Historical Museum building at 30 North Carroll Street, on Madison's Capitol Square. Other objects are on display at the State Capitol, Society headquarters, and local historical museums throughout the state.

If you would like to make an appointment to see particular objects in storage or want more information about them, please contact Joe Kapler at 608-264-6552 or

The Historical Society cannot provide information regarding appraisal values and storage locations.

Archaeological Collections
The Wisconsin Historical Society cares for many thousands of archaeological materials, mostly found or excavated at Wisconsin sites that Native Americans inhabited hundreds of years ago. Included are nationally significant collections of stone and copper artifacts. The annual fieldwork activity of the Museum Archaeology Program adds to the archaeological documentation of Wisconsin life.
Cultural History Collections
The Cultural History Collections document Wisconsin arts and crafts, entertainment and leisure, sports and recreation, and ethnic history and folkways. These collections include paintings and sculpture, art supplies, musical instruments, recreational devices, and sports equipment. Highlights include painted portraits, regional landscapes, Wisconsin ceramic art, and one of the region's largest collections of ethnic folk art. The collections document Wisconsin's many immigrant cultures as well as the shared culture Wisconsinites have experienced in taverns, concert halls, bowling alleys, parks, supper clubs and sports stadiums.
Economic History Collections
The Economic History Collections document Wisconsin's history in the areas of agriculture, industry, commerce, science, and technology. Objects include skilled workers' tools, industrial equipment, scientific apparatus, communications artifacts, transportation equipment, surveying tools, medical objects, photographic equipment, coins and currency, models, advertising and marketing items, office equipment, artifacts from labor unions, and objects relating to power generation. These collections support our understanding of mining, lumbering, dairying, heavy industry, tourism, and other sectors of Wisconsin's economy and work.
Native American Ethnographic Collection
The Native American ethnographic collection contains about 3,500 objects from many North American cultural areas, primarily from the Upper Great Lakes region. Wisconsin tribes represented include the Ojibwe, Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, Menominee, Sauk and Fox, from the late 1700s to the present. Objects include items used for hunting, fishing, food gathering and preparation, child rearing, shelter, clothing, personal adornment and social identification. The collections also include religious and secular items and objects made for sale or trade, woven yarn and fiber bags, carved wood objects, basketry and clothing from Native peoples.
Political History Collections
The Political History Collections include several thousand objects that document state elections and local and national political and social movements from the last century and a half, including suffrage and civil rights, labor movements, anti-war efforts, environmental crusades, and treaty rights. Also included are weapons, equipment, and accessories documenting pre-Civil War militia units, local military training programs, and the state and National Guard.

Note: For inquires about military artifacts, first contact the Wisconsin Veterans Museum by phone at 608-264-6099. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum collects objects relating to the Civil War and all American foreign wars.
Social History Collections
The Social History Collections interpret Wisconsin history on a personal level. They document home and family life and shed a broader light on the history of Wisconsin women, children and social organizations. Fashion, decor, housework and social customs are among the topics covered. These collections feature about 20,000 articles of clothing of all types and styles, adornment and personal gear. The collections also include toiletries, bedding, floor coverings, furniture, household appliances and accessories, food preparation and service artifacts, housekeeping and laundering equipment, textile working tools, and dolls and toys.

Learn More

View selected Wisconsin Historical Museum objects in this University of Wisconsin Digital Collection that brings together objects ranging from the 17th century to the 1930s.


More than 150 of the Wisconsin Historical Museum's objects are highlighted in this database of decorative arts from public and private collections throughout Wisconsin. Collections objects include regional pottery and Native American fiber and beaded bags.

Wisconsin Historical Museum objects are featured in this University of Wisconsin Digital Collection along with other objects created by Woodland Indian traditional artists from around the Midwest. Includes fiber arts, beadwork and woodcarving.

Have Questions?

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