Happy New Year, everyone! With our first harvest of 2021, the IDHH now contains 471 collections from 146 contributors, for a total of 382,479 items of five different formats: images, text, physical objects, video, and audio. We’d like to start the year by highlighting our two new oral history collections.
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The East Central Illinois Oral Histories collection from Eastern Illinois University features nearly 100 interviews with transcripts, originally recorded between 1977-1989. As the interviewees discuss their lives and histories, the topics covered include the Civilian Conservation Corps, shoe sales, the US Civil War and the World Wars, funeral homes, agriculture and farm life, labor and railroads in Illinois, taxes, temperance and Prohibition, and basketball.
To browse the full East Central Illinois Oral Histories collection, please visit the IDHH here.
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The Recordings of the Illinois Labor History Society collection from Roosevelt University features over 120 recordings, dating from the 1970s to the early 2000s. Topics include labor unions such as the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), labor strikes and lockouts, women and African-Americans in labor, and remembrances of the Haymarket Square Riot. Notable voices in the recordings include labor activists Leslie “Les” Orear, Lou Krainock, Ralph Helstein, and Victoria “Vicki” Starr.
To see the full Recordings of the Illinois Labor History Society collection, please visit the IDHH here.
This year has no doubt been marked by the coronavirus pandemic. The Illinois State Museum has started a collection documenting Illinoisans experiences of the initial days shelter-in place and the summer’s movement for justice following the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville through art, personal essays, and photographs. The collection is on-going, but here are a few already in the collection:
Hi Readers, we’re delighted that the IDHH is continuing to grow. We’re welcoming LaSalle Public Library and the Illinois Valley Local History Collection.
The Illinois Valley Local History Collection is a gem. It includes over 80 photographs from the earliest parts of the 20th century, including images of city life as the city was being built, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and the coal industry in North Central Illinois.
Here are a few choice images from the full collection:
To browse the full collection, please visit the IDHH here.
Collections from Illinois Eastern Community Colleges are now available on the IDHH. A district of four community colleges, these collections make a fantastic addition to the Hub, giving us a close look at student and community life, as it happened and documented in yearbooks, newspapers and more.
The LTC Lincoln Logue Collection includes Lincoln Trail College’s yearbooks spanning 1971-1983 with some retro-gems.
WVC’s Student Newspapers collection chronicles several different student newspapers beginning in 1968 with the founding of WVC Broadcast. Other local publications are included–relating to WVC history and community.
The MCHS 2017 Road to Peoria collection tells the story of the Mt. Carmel High School boys basketball team, whose 2017 season led them to their first State Finals game in 90 years.
It’s pretty well known amongst Chicago History Buffs that the Ferris Wheel debuted on the Midway Plaisance during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. The Ferris Wheel, brainchild of Galesburg-born George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., was the result of architect Daniel Burnham’s challenge to build something to rival Paris’ Eiffel Tower, built as the centerpiece of 1889’s Exposition Universelle, celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution. On this day in history, October 16th 1892, the Ferris Wheel was given the go-ahead for its inclusion in the Columbian Exposition.
“Make no little plans” Burnham said to a group of architects and engineers at dinner. While eating at Chicago chop house with the same group of architects and engineers Ferris hit on the idea; “I remember remarking that I would build a wheel, a monster. I got some paper and began to sketch it out. I fixed the size, determined the construction, the number of cars we would run, the number of people it would hold, what we would charge, the plan of stopping six times in the first revolution and loading, and then making a complete turn-in short, before the dinner was over I had sketched almost the entire detail” Ferris recalled in an interview.
There were wooden wheels that had toured carnival circuits, patented designs even, but steel was a considerable upgrade and had the same modernist industrial touch as the Eiffel tower’s steel beams. Ferris, working out of Pittsburgh was known as an engineer experimenting in steel- to make a steel structure like this- that moved,- and transport the 100,000 parts of it a third of the way across the country for reassembly, was a significant challenge. At the time of its creation the 71 ton axel was the largest single piece of steel in the world.
Happy September Y’all. We’re seeing our first 40 degree nights in Central Illinois, and apples are beginning to be harvested. Around Champaign-Urbana, where I’m writing from, hail storms in August significantly damaged the apple crop. One farmer who I talk to at the farmers’ market had ployed to market her hail-damaged apples as “speckled apples”, but this week looked disappointed with just a few lumpy apples.
Here’s two of my favorite pictures in the IDHH from McClean County Museum of History of the over 6,000 taken by Pantagraph photographer Frank Bill in the 1930’s and 1940’s:
“Main Street of America”, Route 66 is probably the most well known road in America. It’s been featured hundreds of times in American literature and film, from symbolizing escape and grief in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath to the backdrop of Radiator Springs just off Route 66 but forgotten after ‘the Mother Road’ (another Steinbeck reference) was bypassed by Interstate 40.
From Illinois, or perhaps most of the country, Route 66 always looks westward- showing the horizon of the spiritual architecture of Americana. This westerly orientation makes sense, when it opened in 1926 as part of the U.S. Highway System, Route 66 began in Chicago and ran diagonally across the state, like a 300 mile asphalt vein through The Prairie State. You can virtually drive the entirety of “Old U.S. Route 66” in about 3 hours on Google Maps’ street view, but you wouldn’t get the full story of Route 66 before it was largely replaced by the speedier and beefier Interstate 55. Items from our contributors at Towanda Area Public Library, Illinois State Library, Illinois State University, and McLean County Museum of History, capture the spirit of Illinoisan Route 66 as it was in the 1940’s.
Like most roads, Route 66 repurposed other roads and trails, laying a new physical and administrative infrastructure on top of historic passages and routes far preceding car culture. In the earliest part of the 20th century, people traveled between Chicago and Saint Louis on the “Pontiac Trail ”- a native trail, turned unpaved stagecoach byway that travelled southwest through Springfield and the St. Louis area. By 1915 it became IL-4, and ran parallel to Chicago Alton Railroad.
The relationship between railroad and road was hot in Illinois. Railroads connected metropolitan areas, small farm towns along the railroads. Towns grew and farmers needed roads to ship their crop. Dirt roads weren’t enough, the roads of Illinois in 1910 were hardly better than the Illinois roads of 1818 according to historian David Wrone. The compact prairie sod was all too vulnerable to the elements; quick to become deep mud that a horse drawing cargo had difficulty picking its way through, and according to Donald Tingley, prompted “automobile pioneers [to store] their machines in the barn until spring. In the summer the mud turned into dust almost as deep.” Motorists, farmers, bankers and cyclists alike began organizing, building associations and committees that sought to advocate for better roads, and investigate solutions. The Tice Road Law of 1913 provided state assistance on roadside improvement for any county which was willing to build and maintain their roads. The Illinois Highway Department integrated a system to connect towns through highways. Illinois’ road story received another push in 1916 when the Federal Aid Road Act was passed, granting Illinois roughly three million dollars between 1917 and 1922.
The newness of these paved roads were politically advantageous for Illinois. Minimal construction meant that the route could open to traffic almost immediately in 1926. The flatness of Route 66 made it a popular truck route. The trucking industry stimulated the local economies it drove through, with small outposts of hotels, restaurants and diners, filling stations, roadside attractions to attract attention for money traveling through.
With the outbreak of World War II, the highway’s importance exploded as a road for military convoys and equipment transportation. Much of the original pavement was still in service but in poor condition from heavy truck traffic. The Federal Highway Defense Act sought to modernize the highway system, make repairs where needed, and establish a strategic highway network in preparation for war.
The Federal Highway Defence changed the roads dramatically. Two-lane highways became four-lanes. Route 66’s past as a long vein of county, windy, country roads, had been central to its character. Landmarks were named after it’s most dangerous parts. Illinois newspapers counted pile-ups, injuries, deaths of travellers. So-called “Dead Man’s Curve” in Towanda– a slim sharp curve, was especially treacherous for speeding drivers from Chicago who misjudged the sharpness they’d have to navigate. New portions circumvented these dangerous parts like these.
When car and tourism culture took off in the 1950’s the kitschy infrastructure had been well established with its legacy of trucking, and the roads were now safe enough to travel with your family in tow.
So, what did the impact of the interstate highway system have on its predecessors? Even while Route 66 was booming with roadside traffic and tourism in mid-1950’s, planning to make it obsolete was already in legislation. The improvements that had been made in the 1940’s to create a strategic highway network of small roads were left in the dust of Eisenhower’s vision for the Interstate Highway System. Inspired by the Reichschautobahn system, Eisenhower saw a fast and safe highway, as critical for economic growth defense, if it was ever needed.
1957. Parts of Route 66 were already being chosen for sections of I-55, I-74, or I-190. Route 66 was travelled less and less, left in increasingly worse disrepair- from over-use and then neglect. The mother road was officially removed from the U.S. Highway System on June 27, 1985. Community efforts have since surged attempting to preserve the highway’s particularity and celebrate it’s off-beat culture that lined rural America for three decades. Cities in Illinois began to register stretches of the route under the Register of Historic Places, citing both the engineering and cultural significance that preceded the interstate and knitted together rural communities alongside the road.
On August 18th 1920, women were finally granted the right to vote in the United States. The Susan B. Anthony-style suffragettes are certainly the most known figures behind the fight for women’s votes, but an entire network of suffragettes across the nation organizing in major cities made the demand clear. The Suffragette movement continued its momentum far into the 20th century with women’s voting advocacy groups such as the League of Women Voters (founded in February 1920) establishing chapters nationwide that continue to fight for people’s participation in elections.
To commemorate 100 years of Votes for Women, here are some of our favorite images of women exercising their right from the McLean County Museum of History’s “Pantagraph Negative Collection”.
In March we made a post about Mary Salome Ott Brand, and her first time at the polls as documented by her son Orson Brand and collected by the Highland Park Public Library.
For more on suffrage visit the IDHH’s holdings here.