Coming Soon: ArchivesFest

*Post written by James Wethington, senior library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.

ArchivesFest is October 15-19 and October 22-26 in the University Archives and Special Collections at Rice L.ibrary.

ArchivesFest occurs October 15-19 and 22-26 in the University Archives & Special Collections. This is free event and opened to the public.

October is National Archives Month and in celebration, the University Archives and Special Collections is hosting a two-week long celebration, ArchivesFest. Check out historic books, artifacts, photographs, and documents from the University Archives and Special Collections and four local historical institutions:

  • Evansville Museum of Arts, History, and Science
  • Willard Library
  • Evansville African-American Museum
  • Reitz Home Museum
  • Lawrence Library

Join us to learn more about this local history from these historic institutions and the history they preserve. There will be two door prize giveaways during both weeks and are allowed one entry per day. Use the hashtag, #ArchivesFest, to post your photos and videos throughout the event. Check the David L. Rice Library Facebook and Twitter pages or continue to check for update through amUSIngArtifacts for more information. This event is free and open to the public.

Posted in #ArchivesFest, Archives, Historical preservation, Lawrence Library | Leave a comment

So long, old friend!

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

In the late 1960’s, Sears was the world’s largest retailer, holding that position until the early 1990’s.  By now you’re surely aware that Sears has declared bankruptcy, has closed a number of stores, and may be exiting the American retail scene.  Did you know that Evansville holds a place in the store’s history?  Let’s take a brief look at how Sears came to be the retail giant it once was.

Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914). Source:

Richard Warren Sears (1863-1914), n.d. Source:

The United States was a lot different than it is now back in 1886 when the event that became the kernel for Sears occurred.  In 1880, the date of the last official Census before this, the U.S. population was 50, 155, 783.  “About 65 percent of these people lived in rural areas. Only a dozen or so cities had 200,000 or more residents. And the yearly national income was about $10 billion. This was the scene when, one day in 1886, a Chicago jewelry company shipped some gold-filled watches to an unsuspecting jeweler in a Minnesota hamlet. [The population of the entire state of Minnesota was only 780,773 in 1880.] Thus started a chain of events that led to the founding of Sears.  Richard Sears was an agent of the Minneapolis and St. Louis railway station in North Redwood, Minnesota. Sears’ job as station agent left him plenty of spare time, so he sold lumber and coal to local residents on the side to make extra money. Later, when he received a shipment of watches – unwanted by a neighboring Redwood Falls jeweler – he was ready. Sears purchased them himself, sold the watches at a nice profit to other station agents up and down the line, and then ordered more for resale.  In 1886 Sears began the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis.”

Alvah C. Roebuck (1864-1948), n.d. Source:

Alvah C. Roebuck (1864-1948), n.d. Source:

Realizing that he could do far better if he were in a larger city, Sears moved his newly born enterprise to Chicago in 1887.  He placed a classified advertisement for an experienced watchmaker; the ad was answered by Alvah C. Roebuck, a man from Indiana. “He told Sears he knew watches and brought a sample of his work to prove it. Sears hired him. Here began the association of two young men, both still in their twenties, that was to make their names famous. For it was in 1893 that the corporate name of the firm became Sears, Roebuck and Co. By the time Sears was started, farmers in rural America were selling their crops for cash and buying what they needed from rural general stores. But when they laid their money on the line for goods, farmers saw red. In 1891, the wholesale price of a barrel of flour was reported to be $3.47. Price at retail was at least $7, a 100 percent increase. Farmers formed protest movements, such as the Grange, to do battle against high prices and the “middleman.” Sears, Roebuck and Co. and other mail-order companies were the answer to farmers’ prayers. Thanks to volume buying, to the railroads and post office, and later to rural free delivery and parcel post, they offered a happy alternative to the high-priced rural stores. Years later the company adopted the motto “Shop at Sears and Save.” Because farmers could do so in the 1890’s, Sears prospered.”

Sears, Roebuck and Co. prospered very quickly.  “So fast, in fact that the company soon outgrew its rented five-story building. In 1896 Sears moved to a new six-story-and-basement building. By the turn of the century, additional buildings were built or leased in various areas of Chicago. Meanwhile, construction was started on a 40-acre, $5 million mail-order plant and office building on Chicago’s West Side. When opened in 1906, the mail-order plant, with more than 3 million square feet of floor space, was the largest business building in the world.”

Fast forward to 1925, when the company began to see that in order to remain competitive, it needed retail stores as well as mail-order outlets.  The first retail outlet independent of a catalog operation opened in Evansville that year, in a building located at 101 NW 4th St.

Plaque on side of building detailing historic site of former Sears and Robuck Company retail store at 101 NW 4th Street. The sign's wording is misleading---this is not the site of Sears's first retail department store---that was in Chicago. This is the first store outside of a Catalog Merchandise Distribution Center. At the time of this photograph, the Sears store had long since (1963) moved to its 100 South Green River Road. address in Washington Square Mall, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0466.

Plaque on side of building detailing historic site of former Sears and Robuck Company retail store at 101 NW 4th Street. The sign’s wording is misleading—this is not the site of Sears’s first retail department store—that was in Chicago. This is the first store outside of a Catalog Merchandise Distribution Center. At the time of this photograph, the Sears store had long since (1963) moved to its 100 South Green River Road. address in Washington Square Mall, 1976. Source: Gregory Smith collection, MSS 034-0466.

Sears’ building in Evansville was built in 1920 for another hardware company.


Here’s a view of the 100-200 blocks of NW 4th St., looking from Sycamore St., in 1937, with the Sears store clearly visible.

MSS 264-2424

Sears & Roebuck Company on the left hand side, 1937. Source: Thomas Mueller collection, MSS 264-2424.

And a close-up of the building, circa 1978-1979.  By this time, the downtown store had closed (in 1975), with the expansion to other locations.  The building still stands today.

Sears building at 101 NW 4th St., at the corner with Sycamore Street, 1978-1979. Source: Hammond-Awe collection, MSS 183-182.

Sears building at 101 NW 4th St., at the corner with Sycamore Street, 1978-1979. Source: Hammond-Awe collection, MSS 183-182.

In April of this year, the last Sears outlet in Evansville closed.  Opened in 1963, it was Sears’ first mall location, in Washington Square Mall. (The mall itself opened in 1963 and was the first enclosed shopping center in Indiana.) Other locations in Evansville were a catalog outlet that opened in North Park in 1957 and became a retail store in 1961, and a bigger store on First Ave. that opened in 1967.

Jim Collins, in his book How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, says, “Every institution, no matter how great, is vulnerable to decline. There is no law of nature that the most powerful will inevitably remain at the top.”  No one knows what the final outcome of Sears’ problems will be, but we can enjoy Evansville’s part in its history.

Resources consulted:

“Before it went bust, Sears was the Amazon of its day.” Moneywatch, October 15, 2018.

A Brief Chronology of Sears History

Collins, Jim.  How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In.  New York: HarperCollins, 2009.   Available in Rice Library in the General Collection: HG3761 .C65 2009

Delventhal, Shoshanna.  “Who Killed Sears? 50 Years on the Road to Ruin.”, October 15, 2018.

Hagan, Paige.  “A look at the history of Sears in Evansville.”  WFIE-14 news story, January 5, 2018.

Historic Evansville website: Sears

Howard, Vicki.  “The Rise and Fall of Sears.”, July 25, 2017.

Indiana Historical Bureau: McCurdy-Sears Building.

MSS 034  Gregory Smith collection

MSS 183  Hammond Awe collection

MSS 264  Thomas Mueller collection

A Narrative History of Sears

Schmitt, Stan.  “So Long Sears.”  Evansville Living Magazine, March/April 2018.

Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1885

Posted in American history, Evansville, Indiana, history | Leave a comment

Colonel Robert Gould Shaw

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

In the play Twelfth Night, William Shakespeare puts these words into a character’s mouth: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It could be argued that all three of these apply to Robert Gould Shaw.

Shaw was born in Boston on October 10, 1837.  He “was born into one of the nation’s richest families. He had all the advantages of the fortunate— the easy life, famous friends, the best schools, finest clothes, widest travels, ripest food, and richest drink the world could offer. Yet, he died with sand in his mouth and sword in hand face down among the sons of the unfortunate and despised.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 2) The family were staunch abolitionists; indeed, they socialized with both William Lloyd Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe (Garrison was the editor of the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, and Stowe the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).  The parents joined “the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1838, and by 1842, Francis [the father] was working with the Boston Vigilance Committee to help runaway slaves to freedom.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 4).

Portrait of Robert Gould Shaw, n.d. Source:

Portrait photograph of Robert Gould Shaw, n.d. Source:

Although clearly influenced by his upbringing, Shaw was not as fervent in his beliefs as were his parents.  They were reformers—he was not interested in that avocation.  He did the things a young man of his age and social status did—traveled abroad, studied, and enjoyed an active social life.  But he was patriotic, and in a December 11, 1855 letter home from Europe, he was vehement in his dislike for those who disparaged his country.  “As the years to Civil War wound down, Shaw increasingly felt that the Slave Power soiled the fabric of an otherwise great nation. When war came, he was primed to take revenge on the South for the abuse he wrote about on December 11, 1855. To him, the South was the transgressor, not the North. If it took the end of slavery to redeem the honor of America, and to end the embarrassment Northerners felt to be in the same union with an anachronistic system, then Shaw stood for that. If the North could avenge itself in battle against the South, then let her go with or without slavery intact, and leave the North as a separate nation, now more honorable for the fight, then Shaw stood for that. He never really felt the immorality of slavery the way the abolitionists did; he was never quite an abolitionist.  … He would join the navy if he could “cut some of their heads open” and thus stop the offensive words coming from mouths of those who blasphemed his America. In 1861, he joined the army to do just that to Southerners. He would hope that slavery would fall, but he did not enlist to fight for that goal.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 10).

Shortly after secession, he joined the Seventh New York National Guard.  This unit was very short lived, and he soon joined the Second Massachusetts Infantry, gaining an officer’s commission.  Surprisingly, he found his calling and proved to be a good soldier.  Twice wounded at Antietam, he rose to captain and was loyal to his unit, staying with it even when the only chance of earning a higher commission was to leave.

Poster for African-Americans to serve in the American Civil War: "Men of Color: To Arms! To Arms! Now or Never. This is our golden moment! The Government of the United States calls for every able-bodied colored man to enter the Army for the three years' service! And join in fighting the battles of liberty and the Union. A new era is open to us. For generations we have suffered under the horrors of slavery, outrage, and wrong; our manhood has been denied, our citizenship blotted out, our souls seared and burned, our spirits cowed and crushed and the hopes of the future of our race involved in doubt and darkness. Fail now, and our race is doomed! This is the soil of our birth. We must now awake, arise, or be forever fallen. If we value liberty, if we wish to be free in this land, if we love our country, if we love our families, our children, our home, we must strike now while our country calls; we must rise up in the dignity of our manhood, and show by our own right arms that we are worthy to be freeman. Our enemies have made the country believe that we are craven cowards, without soul, without manhood, without the spirit of soldiers. Shall we die with this stigma resting upon our graves! Shall we leave this inheritance of shame to our children? No! A thousand times NO! We WILL rise! The alternative is upon us. Let us rather die freeman than live to be slavces. What is life without liberty! We say that we have manhood: now is the time to prove it. A nation or a people that cannot fight may be pitied, but cannot be respected. If we would be regarded men, if we would forever silence the tongue of Calumny, of Prejudice and Hate, let us Rise Now and Fly to Arms! We have seen what Valor and Heroism our Brothers displayed at Port Hudson and Milliken's Bend, though they are just from the galling, poisoning grasp of slavery, they have startled the world by the most exalted heroism. If they have proved themselves heroes, cannot WE PROVE OURSELVES MEN! Are freemen less brave than slaves? More than a milion white men have left comfortable homes and joined the armies of the Union to save their country. Cannot we leave ours, and swell the hosts of the Union, to save our liberties, vindicate our manhood, and deserve well of our Country. MEN OF COLOR! the Englishmen, the Irishmen, the Frenchmen, the German, the American, have been called to assert their claim to freedom and a manly character, by an appeal to the sword. The day that has seen an enslaved race in arms has, in all history, seen their last trial. We now see that our last opportunity has come. If We are not lower in the scale of humanity than Englishmen, Irishmen, White Americans, and other races, we can show it now. Men of color, Brothers and Fathers, we appeal to you, by all your concern for yourselves and your liberties, by all your regard for God and humanity, by all your desire for Citizenship and Equality before the law by all your love for the Country, to stop at no subterfuge, listen to nothing that shall deter you from rallying for the Army. Come forward, and at once enroll your names for the three years' service. Strike now and you are henceforth and forever freeman! Source:

Union Army Recruitment Poster, 1863. Source:

In 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and authorized the raising of black regiments.  Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew, who had been a strong advocate of enlisting black soldiers, soon began to raise the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry.  It was critical that the unit have the best leader, and after much consideration, Andrew opted to offer it to Robert Gould Shaw.  He wrote to Shaw’s parents, hoping that family pressure would encourage the acceptance of the commission.  The parents were thrilled at this honor, and Francis Shaw set out to personally deliver this to his son, and then encamped at Stafford Court House, Virginia.  The son, loyal to his unit, refused.  Concurrently, he received a letter from his mother, with these words, “Well! I feel as if God had called you up to a holy work. You helped him at a crisis when the most important question is to be solved that has been asked since the world began. I know the task is arduous . . . but it is God’s work.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 24)  Perhaps out of guilt for failing his mother, for his lack of commitment to the cause, and/or from a sense of honor, two days later he telegraphed his father with a change of heart, and agreed to accept the commission.

Recruitment began in earnest.  Frederick Douglass “delivered” more than 100 men, including two of his own sons.  The grandson of Sojourner Truth enlisted. Let’s be clear about this—Shaw was no saint.  Despite his upbringing, he shared many of the prejudices of his time and was uncertain about the ability of the black man to fight.  However, he was determined that he, personally, not be seen as a failure, and thus persevered with discipline and training.  For all his exposure to the cause of abolition, Shaw had never spent much time around blacks.  As he spent time with his men, he began to evolve in his attitudes, learning to respect them, care about them, and defend them.  The men responded by respecting him, and the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry began to “gel” as a unit.

Members of a black unit, including white officers, faced consequences that white units did not.  Jefferson Davis had decreed that white officers of black units faced execution or harsh treatment if captured.  The Confederate Congress resolved that white officers would be hanged and black soldiers returned to slavery. (Blue-Eyed, p. 321-322)

On May 28, 1863 Shaw and his men marched through Boston as they set off for South Carolina, and then on to Darien, Georgia, where they saw their first action in a raid on the town.  In July the regiment was ordered back to South Carolina, to take part in the capture of Charleston. Shaw’s regiment would be fighting alongside white soldiers; a successful mission would go far to prove that black soldiers could, indeed, fight.  On July 16 Confederate soldiers attacked the Union forces; the battle raged back and forth, but finally the Rebels broke off the attack.  Shaw was overjoyed—his men performed so well that all the other troops credited them with saving the operation.

Map of Fort Wagner, n.d. Source:

Map of Fort Wagner, n.d. Source:

Two days later, they were on Morris Island, with orders to take Fort Wagner.  The Fifty-fourth would take the lead.  Shaw positioned himself in front, and the regiment surged across the beach and up the parapet. Some 1700 Confederate soldiers opened fire.  Shaw was shot in the chest, dying and falling into the fort. “Nearly half the regiment succeeded in pushing its way inside Wagner. The men held their ground on the wall for almost an hour before being forced to withdraw. The Confederates lost 174 men. Of the 600 men of the Fifty-fourth who charged the fort, 272 were killed, wounded, or captured. Additional casualties from the white regiments that followed brought Union losses to 1,515. Confederate gravediggers buried eight hundred Union soldiers in the sand in front of the fort the morning after the battle. Showing the contempt Southern whites held for the “principle line of the Abolitionists”—white officers leading black soldiers—the fort’s commander, Gen. Johnson Hagood, ordered Shaw thrown into a ditch with his men. The diggers made a trench, dropped Shaw’s body within it, threw the bodies of twenty of his men on top of him, and shoveled them over with sand.” (Blue-Eyed, p. 52-53)  When Shaw’s parents learned of his death, they naturally mourned his loss but were far from being offended at the manner of burial. They deemed the trench a holy place and asked that his body be left with those of his men.

Shortly after the battle, soldiers of the Fifty-fourth advocated for a memorial to their fallen leader, to be placed near the place where he fell.  Shaw’s father was on board, but for a number of reasons, this memorial was never built.  The monies raised towards it went for the first free school for African American children in Charleston, which was named for Shaw.   In 1865 an African American businessman named Joshua Benton Smith, who had worked for the Shaw family when Robert was young, called for a memorial in Boston.  In 1883, the commission for a sculpture was given to Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who completed the work in 1897.  “Saint-Gaudens always strove for perfection regarding realism. In this relief, he wanted to show a range in facial features and age, as found among the men of the regiment. This was the first time a monument depicted blacks realistically, and not as stereotypes. He hired African American men to pose, and modeled about 40 different heads to use as studies. His concern for accuracy also extended to the clothing and accoutrements.” (

At the unveiling on Boston Common, two of Shaw’s nephews and some 65 veterans of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry were present.

Unveiling on Boston Common, two of Shaw’s nephews and some 65 veterans of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry were present, 1897. Source:

The dedication of Augustus Saint-Garden’s memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment on Boston Common, 1897. Source:

Here’s a close-up of the memorial.

The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, n.d. Source:


Shaw’s heroism and sacrifice were also lauded by people who never knew him.  University Archives Special Collections has a collection of poetry (MSS 102) written by a woman who lived in New Harmony named Betsy Wells Hall.  She lived during the Civil War, and wrote a poem in memory of Abraham Lincoln, as well as one on the New Year 1862.  When she learned about Shaw’s death, she penned this in his honor and memory.

All glory to the honored brave,

            Though low in gory bed he lies

To rise up with each rescued slave

                               When the last trump shall rend the skies.

He calmly sleeps with the oppressed

                         With them shall find a welcome given

Well done thou faithful soul expressed

                    In the assembled court of Heaven.

Thus for and with the Saviour’s poor

                     With the down trodden dared to die

The cross he bravely did endure

                   His crown awaits him far on high.

The lurid clouds of war o’erspread

                                Fierce lightnings flashed across our sky,

Oppression reared his baleful head

            Repelled by free born liberty.

He led those who of late were slaves,

                    E’en now their manhood to obtain

He lies beside the freed men’s graves,

                      Hallowed amid the martyred slain.

The mighty conflict shakes the world,

            Satan at war against the right,

Around destructive engines hurled

                     Darkness contending with the light.

The hero Satan’s host withstood,

                      That equal rights might be secure

For liberty he shed his blood,

                        And died amid the Saviour’s poor.

            He’s now removed to brighter spheres,

                  Through clearer vista to survey

The progress of far future years

                   Freedom’s broad meridian day.


The story of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry and Robert Gould Shaw was also told in the Academy Award winning 1989 film Glory.  Matthew Broderick plays Shaw, and Denzel Washington, Andre Braugher, and Morgan Freeman portray soldiers in his regiment.  Rice Library owns this on DVD, and it is available to be checked out — DVDs PN1997 .G562 2000.

Movie cover of "Glory", winner of three 1989 Academy Awards, 1989.

Movie adaptation, “Glory”, 1989.

So, what do you think about Shaw?  Was he born great?  Did he achieve greatness?  Did he have greatness thrust upon him?  It is your call.

To learn more, look at these resources consulted for this posting.

Blue-eyed child of fortune [electronic resource] : the Civil War letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw / edited by Russell Duncan

deGregory, C. A. (2009). Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry. Freedom Facts & Firsts: 400 Years of the African American Civil Rights Experience, 189.

Glory [DVD].  Culver City, CA : TriStar, c2000.  DVDs PN1997 .G562 2000

Posted in American history, American Poetry, Civil War, movies | Leave a comment

Remembering the Past through Postcards

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

By now, any summer vacation you took is perhaps just a distant memory.  If you happened to purchase or send any postcards, you may be able to jog your memory about those fun times.  Although people do not send postcards as they once did, there was a time when they were all the rage.  In 1926, 206,000,000 were mailed.  By 1997, the peak year, that number had skyrocketed to 3,003,755,000.  As their popularity waned, the 2017 figure dropped to 670,952,000.  Let us look at the history of postcards, and then enjoy a sampling of some of the different ones in Rice Library’s University Archives collections.

Postcards were not even a thing until the middle 1800s.  Circa 1848-1870, people could mail cards in envelopes with pictures on them, leading some to speculate that these were the forerunner of postcards.   “On February 27, 1861, the US Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or under, to be sent in the mail. That same year John P. Charlton (other places seen as Carlton) copyrighted the first postcard in America.”

Timing, as they say, is everything.  Charlton had the misfortune to have the Civil War intervene, and it is believed that none of his cards was ever sent.  In 1870, a man named Hyman L. Lipman reissued Charlton’s cards as Lipman’s Postal Cards.  “The earliest known postmark on these cards is of October 25, 1870 from Richmond, Indiana. … It was the first authorized illustrated postcard to be sent though the United States mail….”  As it turns out, Lipman’s timing wasn’t all that good, either.  In 1873 the government began to produce its own postcards, the only ones legally allowed to bear the words “Postal Card.”  It was still possible for private printers like Lipman to produce and distribute cards, but these cost $.02 to mail as opposed to $.01 for government cards.

Pressure from their growing popularity eventually moved the field to more equitable grounds.  “Starting in 1898, American publishers were expanding postcard printing services and were allowed to print and sell postcards bearing the inscription, “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress on May 19, 1898”. These private mailing cards were to be posted with one cent stamps (the same rate as USA government postcards).” In 1901, progress continued when it became no longer necessary to print the above inscription.  The entire back of the card was reserved strictly for the address, with no other text permitted, thus 1901-1907 was known as the “Undivided Back” period.  Below are some examples from MSS 010 Postcard Collection in which the sender wrote across the picture in order to get around this restriction.

Postcard from Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: MSS 010-005.

Postcard from Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-005.

From a 1906 mailing, here is what the undivided back looked like.

Undivided postcard. n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-040.

Undivided postcard. n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-040.

Probably the biggest improvement came in 1907, when the backs of postcards were divided, with space for a message and space for the address.  This issued in what some refer to as the “Golden Age” of postcards, with popularity soaring.  Postcard collecting became a popular hobby, too.  “Deltiology is the formal name in the USA for postcard collecting, and remains the third largest collectable hobby in the world. It is surpassed only by coin and stamp collecting. [Baseball/sports card collecting is limited to the USA and isn’t really popular overseas.]”

The 15 years from 1915 to 1930 saw a decline in both quality and popularity.  Many early postcards were printed in Germany, but with WWI underway, German postcards weren’t available in the U.S., so American printers took over.  “American printers did not have the same technology as German printers, so the quality of available postcards fell, and people lost interest in collecting them, effectively ending the “Golden Age” of postcards. Printers saved ink during this time by not printing to the edge of the card and leaving a white border around the image, giving the time period its name.  Postcards from the White Border Period also had a description of the image on the message side, which retained the divided back.”  The postcard below contains military themes and was mailed in 1918 from Cincinnati. It was from a soldier by the name of John S. Ruston, mailed to his family in Inglefield, IN.

Border-m this order

Armored Motor Battery in Fighting Formation, 1918. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-001.

“Beginning in the 1930s, new printing processes allowed printers to produce postcards with high rag content, which gave them a look of being printed on linen, rather than paper. The most notable printer of this period was Curt Teich & Co., which printed its first linen card in 1931, and whose postcards became popular around the world.”  A common theme for the linen cards was the growth of America’s highways, as seen here.  This particular postcard was mailed in 1943.

Linen Blue Bird Toursit Court

Blue Bird Tourist Court in Little Rock, AR, 1943. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-009.

Finally, “Modern photochrom-style postcards first appeared in 1939 when the Union Oil Company began to carry them in their western service stations. Production of the postcards slowed during World War II because of supply shortages, but after the war, they dominated the postcard market. The photochrom postcards are in color, and their images closely resemble photographs. Photochrom postcards are the ones most familiar to us today.”

Postcards can tell us a lot about ourselves.  They can document history.

Street flooding in Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-006.

Street flooding in Mobile, AL, 1906. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-006.

That history is not always pleasant.  This early card reveals racial attitudes that may have been prevalent at the time but today are seen as abhorrent.

Racial postcard, 1907, Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-453.

Racial postcard, 1907, Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-453.

Sometimes they provide commentary or possibly humor:

"Running" into an old friend, n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-399.

“Running” into an old friend, n.d. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-399.

Postcards were also used for birthday and holiday greetings.  Look at the variety shown here.

Birthday hoiliday cards in this order

Birthday card, 1913. Source: Postcard collection, MSS 010-566.


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The grapes on the Thanksgiving card are actually fabric that is cut out and glued on the card.

The most popular category of holiday cards were those sent for Christmas.  “The practice of sending Christmas cards pre-dated the broader postcard craze by several decades, largely thanks to the efforts of Louis Prang. Prang was a savvy printing entrepreneur who kept adding products and lithographic techniques to his ever-expanding business, including the introduction of Christmas greeting cards (perhaps at his wife’s suggestion) in 1875.  By the 1880s he was publishing more than 5 million holiday cards each year.”  Note that this card includes illustrations of Spring flowers, something you would not likely find on any contemporary Christmas card.

German Christmas card, n.d. Source: Postcard collection.

German Christmas card, n.d. Source: Postcard collection.

Other of our digital collections also contain postcards, including the Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256.  This collection contains images of U.S. involvement in WWI, including a series of postcards produced by the YMCA.   Today we think of the YMCA as a place that has a pool and gym facilities, but this is not the whole story.

“YMCA prisoner-of-war work –which was to be undertaken on a massive scale in the following century’s two world wars — began during the Civil War, with the YMCA ministering to the needs of Confederate soldiers imprisoned in the north and Union soldiers in the south.   Journals record that the YMCA through the U. S. Christian Commission distributed some 100,000 cases of food, clothing and medical supplies, and a total of 12 million books, magazines and pamphlets. Volunteer “delegates” wrote an estimated 90,000 letters for the sick and wounded, and distributed $1000 a week in postage for troop correspondence.  … The tradition of serving the troops beyond the nation’s borders began during the Spanish-American War, when YMCA staff and volunteers were dispatched to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. YMCA supplies, including medicine and office materials, reached Cuba before the army’s own supplies; and early dispatches from Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were written on YMCA stationery. …  At the beginning of the Great War would task the YMCA with enormous responsibilities.  In the years before that war, the YMCA had developed mobile canteens and recreational facilities and had broad expertise in service to the armed forces. It was an expertise that would soon blossom into a massive program of morale and welfare services for the military on the home front and particularly overseas.  When war was declared in 1917, the YMCA immediately volunteered its support, and President Woodrow Wilson quickly accepted it. The YMCA assumed military responsibilities on a scale that had never been attempted by a nonprofit, community-based organization in the history of our nation and would never be matched again.”

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Kennedy’s collection also contains scenic postcards of Germany and France.

Postcard of Hotel Koblenzer Hof. in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-049.

Postcard of Hotel Koblenzer Hof. in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-049.

This massive hotel in Koblenz, Germany (Coblenz is an earlier spelling) was built 1912-1913.


Postcard of Coblenz, Germany and Rhein River (center), 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-053.

Bridge crossing the Rhine River in Koblenz, Germany

Postcard of Ehrenbreitstein fortress in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-083.

Postcard of Ehrenbreitstein fortress in Koblenz, Germany, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-083.

The Ehrenbreitstein fortress sits about 387 feet above the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers in Koblenz, Germany.  The construction seen here dates to between 1817-1828, although the original fortress is as old as the year 1000.  The U.S. Army occupied this 1919-1922.


Postcard of St. Louis Square in Metz, France, 1918. Source: Roy Kennedy collection, MSS 256-095.

The medieval St. Louis Square in Metz, France

The Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033, has images of banks, businesses, schools, parks, etc., largely from the first few decades of the 20th century.  Looking at these is an interesting way to explore the history of the city.  Of the images chosen to display here, none of these exist today.

Postcard of the Evansville Cotton Manufacturing Company in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-036.

Postcard of the Evansville Cotton Manufacturing Company in Evansville, Indiana, n.d. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-036.

Built in 1875 on Ohio Street, this business closed in 1910. All the buildings of the Mead Johnson complex, currently at this location, later subsumed it.

RH 033-041

Postcard of the F.W. Cook’s Brewing Company in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1950. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-041.

The F.W. Cook Brewing Company was at 11 NW 7th St. (the general location of the Civic Center today) and dates back to 1853, when it was the City Brewery.  The building shown here is a later construction, but still predates 1950.  It was razed in 1965.

Postcard of the Charles Denby cigar factory in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1912. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-055.

Postcard of the Charles Denby cigar factory in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1912. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-055.

This location is 101 Oakley Street.  The cigar factory closed in 1969, and Berry Plastics now occupies this location.

Postcard of the Colored Orphan Asylum in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1883. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-084.

Postcard of the Colored Orphan Asylum in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1883. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-084.

Until 1883, orphans of all races lived together.  Sadly, this post-integration building at 1215 N. Barker Avenue documents a different fact; it was also known as the Booker T. Washington Home.  It was razed in 1952.

RH 033-217

Postcard of L&N Railroad Station in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1913. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-217.

This depot, at 300 Fulton Ave., was built in 1902 (this image is thought to be circa 1913) and razed in 1985.

Marine Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1927. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-237.

Marine Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1927. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-237.

This is the second such hospital in Evansville, built at 2700 W. Illinois Street in 1888.  Marine hospitals in general were to treat injured and sick river men, and later servicemen in general. As such, they were forerunners of VA hospitals.  This was razed in 1984.

Postcard of the club house at Cook's Park in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1907. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-395.

Postcard of the club house at Cook’s Park in Evansville, Indiana, c. 1907. Source: Evansville Postcard collection, RH 033-395.

Cook’s Park was an immensely popular recreation venue, located on the east bank of Pigeon Creek, where Columbia Street now crosses.  It was built around an old salt well in the mid-1800’s, and Cook Brewing took it over in the 1890’s and enhanced it with this clubhouse, a pool, casino, etc.  It failed during Prohibition and was razed.

Postcard of the old Centennial School, c. 1913. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-538.

Postcard of the old Centennial School, c. 1913. Source: Evansville Postcards collection, RH 033-538.

This school was built 1875-1876 at 112 N 12th Avenue to serve the growing west side population.  From 1965-1969, ISUE, now USI. classes were held here until the university moved to its current location.  This building was razed in 1972.

Whether it is an undivided back postcard, printed in what looks like linen, a full color photograph, printed in Germany, sent as a greeting card, produced by the YMCA, or anything in between, you can really learn a lot from the humble postcard!

Resources Consulted:

The Art History Archive: The History of Postcards

Doughboy Center—the story of the American Expeditionary Forces: The History of the YMCA in World War I

Emotions Photography & Greeting Cards, Greeting Card Museum: The History of Postcards

Gifford, Daniel.  “Christmas postcards: America’s first social media.”  The Washington Post online, December 25, 2014.

Greetings from the Smithsonian: A Postcard History

Jenkins, Mark.  “Are Postcards Obsolete?”  The Washington Post online, February 26, 2015.

MSS 010 Postcard Collection

MSS 256 Roy Kennedy Collection

Number of Stamped Cards and Postcards Sent via First-Class Mail Since 1926

RH 033 Evansville Postcards Collection

Petrulis, Alan. Postcard History


Posted in American history, European History, history, holidays, Local history | Leave a comment

“All the world’s a stage…”: Part 3

*Post written by Mona Meyer, Archives and Special Collections Metadata Librarian.

This is the final blog on the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893, aka the Chicago World’s Fair.  We have discussed the background and history of the Expo as well as explored the “delights” of the Midway and its Ferris wheel.  In nearly every way, the Expo was over the top—this week we are going to look at “the Big and the Bizarre”—the things that were superlatives (the biggest___, etc.) and the oddities.


Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pg. 43.

The Manufactures Building, sometimes referred to as the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, was the largest.  It cost “$1.5 million to build; its floor alone consumed over 3 million feet of lumber and five carloads of nails; it contained 44 acres of floor space; one thousand houses measuring 25 by 30 feet could have been placed within it; the trusses of the central hall constituted 12 million pounds of steel. These three-hinged arched trusses were thought to be the largest in the world. They had a clear span of 386 feet. To raise these trusses into place a derrick over 250 feet high had to be built–the largest traveling derrick in the world.” Fair visitors were told “ that the building was three times larger than Saint Peter’s, four times larger than the old Roman Colosseum; that it could seat 300,000 people, each having six square feet to himself; that the entire army of Russia could be mobilized on its floor; that six games of baseball might be played here simultaneously. The architecturally knowledgeable might have been more impressed by a diagram produced by one of the trade journals, which showed plenty of room to spare in the Manufactures Building even after serving as an enclosure for these structures: the United States Capitol, the Great Pyramid, Winchester Cathedral, Madison Square Garden, and Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  Or perhaps it was enough just to know that the Manufactures Building was the largest roofed structure ever erected.”” (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 95, 97)


West entrance of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pg. 41.

“It stands like a great white mountain on the lake shore and may be seen at a great distance.  The facades contain two-storied arched bays, thirty-five on each side and twenty-two at each end…. Where the two great aisles intersect in the centre, the clock tower rises 135 feet above the floor.  …. It has a clock dial on each side and a chime of nine bells; the largest, which strikes the hour, weighs 3700 pounds.  The whole chime weighs 7000 pounds.  All the great nations of the earth are represented in this building by a variety of exhibits too bewildering for detailed description.”  (Shepp’s World’s fair photographed, p. 42)

Look at this fantastical toy exhibit from Germany, just one of the exhibits found within the Manufacturer’s Building.


German toys in Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, 1893. Source: Shepp’s World’s Fair Photographed, pg. 115.

The Art Palace/Palace of Fine Arts contained a whopping 10,040 separate exhibits.  A published catalog of these, listing each exhibit by name and number, runs to 506 pages.  (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 184)

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Within the Agriculture Building, among the many exhibits, there were:

  • Wheel of cheese weighing 22,000 pounds, made in Canada.
Mammoth Cheese

The Mammoth Cheese from Canada, n.d. Source:

See The Story of the Mammoth Cheese for a bit of back-story on this cheese.  According to this site, it was 6 ft. tall and 28 ft. in circumference.  It took the milk of 10,000 cows to make, and when it was unloaded in the Agricultural Building, it crashed through the floor and had to be placed on reinforced concrete!

Temple 38 feet tall made of 30,000 pounds of chocolate (Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 198)  This temple was created by the Stollwerck brothers of Germany.  “From a foundation made of dark chocolate blocks rose columns topped by Teutonic eagles. The columns were made with swirls of white cocoa butter… Inside the the temple was a larger-than-life chocolate statue of the mythological Germania, complete with sword, standing on a pedestal that was decorated with…images of Bismarck [and] Kaiser Wilhelm I.” (from Hershey: Milton S. Hershey’s Extraordinary Life of Wealth, Empire, and Utopian Dreams], as quoted in a Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog by Sue Vazakas, July 18, 2011, entitled Let’s Talk About Chocolate.)

The state of California outdid itself, with:

  • A display from Santa Barbara of a 50 ft. tall obelisk of bottles of olive oil.
  • A fountain which bubbled with red wine (in the Horticulture Building)
  • A statue of a medieval knight made of prunes
  • Made from oranges:

35 feet tall tower, consisting of 13,783 pieces of fruit (in the Horticulture Building)

  • Model of the Liberty Bell
  • A globe

((Chicago’s white city of 1893, p. 212) and The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.))

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The fair cost $28 million.

“The World’s Congress Auxiliary held daily presentations and lectures, 5,978 in all, covering subjects including ethics, authors, economics, labor, and the mammoth week-long Congress of Religions.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

The power plant for the fair was housed in the Machinery Building, and contained 43 steam engines and 127 dynamos.

The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, in addition to being the largest, housed the most varied of exhibits.  “Remington typewriters and Tiffany & Co. stained glass were under the same exhibition roof with the University of Chicago’s 70-ton Yerkes telescope and Bach’s clavichord. Goods pavilions, which contained everything from clothes to phonographs, were erected within the building by America, Germany, Austria, China, Japan, France, Russia, and England. Furniture from the palace of the King of Bavaria was displayed, as was the manuscript of Lincoln’s Inaugural address and Mozart’s spinet.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

The Transportation Building contained a “full-scale reproduction of an ocean liner.” ((The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

The Agriculture Building not only contained another Liberty Bell, this one made of wheat, oats, and rye, but it also housed a map of the United States comprised solely of pickles.  It also contained this exhibit from Illinois—the entire picture is made up of parts of corn and wheat plants.

Products of Illinois prairies, 1893. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs.

Products of Illinois prairies, 1893. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

The Mines and Mining Building contained a number of unusual exhibits, including “a statue of actress Ada Rehan made entirely of silver, and a model of the Statue of Liberty made entirely of salt.” (The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)

Not everyone was on board with The White City theme.  “Architect Louis Sullivan, who designed the fair’s Transportation Building, complained that [the] fair’s reliance on classical models would set back American architecture by half a century.”  (Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d. )  In his design for the Transportation Building, he bucked the trend and included this incredible golden door.

The Golden Gate Ajar, 1893. Source: The Banner's Portfolio of Photographs.

The Golden Gate Ajar, 1893. Source: The Banner’s Portfolio of Photographs.

Another unusual feature of the fair was the movable sidewalk.  It was built atop a pier specially constructed for this purpose.  “It will accommodate 5,610 persons, who are carried along a various speed; part of the walk moves at the rate of three miles an hour, and the remainder at six miles; three hundred and fifteen cars support the structure, making a chain 4,300 feet long; the propelling power is formed by ten street car motors, and the wire and trolleys are concealed beneath the platform….”  (Shepp, Daniel B.  Shepp’s World’s fair photographed.  Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893], p. 322)

From high brow to low brow, from unusual to just plain weird, from beautiful to culturally insensitive, all this was the World’s Colombian Exposition of 1893.  If you’ve not read the previous two parts of this blog topic, you may want to check them out.  And if you’re tired of this subject matter, you’ll be glad to know that next week’s blog will be on a new topic!

Resources Consulted:

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Admission Tickets

1893 World’s Columbian Expo—Ride & Attraction Tickets

Atlas Obscura–Your Ticket to the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

Ballard, Barbara J.  “A People Without a Nation.” Chicago History, Summer 1999, p. 27-43

Burg, David F. Chicago’s white city of 1893. (e-book, accessible only on campus or to registered USI users)

Chicago Architecture Foundation.  World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Cole, Josh. “Cultural and Racial Stereotypes on the Midway.” Historia, v. 16 (2007), p. 12-32.

Encyclopedia of Chicago–World’s Columbian Exposition.

Field Museum—Fun Facts about the World’s Columbian Exposition.

The Gilded Age—PBS American Experience webpage.

Larson, Erik.  The devil in the white city: murder, magic, and madness at the fair that changed America.  General Collection  HV6248.M8 L37 2004   also HV6248.M8 L37 2003

Lewis, Russell L.  “A Wheel with a View.”  Online exhibit from the Chicago Historical Society.

Maranzani, Barbara.  “Chicago Was Home to a Serial Killer During the 1893 World’s Fair.”  History Channel online, May 3, 2013.

McNichol, Susan.  The Story of the Mammoth Cheese.  Perth (Ontario, Canada) Museum.

MSS 264, the Thomas Mueller collection. Thomas Mueller was a self-employed photographer in Evansville, Indiana. He worked for the Evansville Courier and Press newspaper until 1945.  This collection is available online from University Archives and Special Collections.

Novak, Matt. Where the Future Came From: A Trip Through the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.  Gizmodo.

Ramsey, John G. The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and Victorian America: A Humanities Time Capsule©.  Carleton College.

Reardon, Patrick T. “The World’s Columbian Exposition at the ‘White City’.” Chicago Tribune, n.d.

Shepp, Daniel B.  Shepp’s World’s fair photographed.  Chicago, Philadelphia, Globe Bible Publishing Co. [c1893].  Located in University Archives and Special Collections’ oversize collection, T500.C1 S54.

Vazakas, Sue.  Let’s Talk About Chocolate.  Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries Blog July 18, 2011

The World’s Columbian Exposition: Idea, Experience, Aftermath.  (University of Virginia, 1996.)



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