Following clues from Vietnam to Freeport, IL to Madison, WI – Harrison Forman Collection

By Susan Dykes, AGSL NEH project

The beauty of the Harrison Forman Collection is evident in his images taken from all over the world. What isn’t evident sometimes is the time, place or context of the images, which makes it difficult to describe them so users can find them online. Occasionally, our metadata creators refer to Forman’s notes, which may be incredibly detailed or sadly, very vague. In which case, they look for clues in the images themselves, hoping to cull as much information as possible to help users find relevant images for their research.

One such image of a man carrying a crate, as seen below, was simply labeled ‘Indo-China.’
Vietnam, man with crate of supplies from U.S. during First Indochina War

Our metadata creators were up to the challenge! Luckily, Forman wrote a diary while in Vietnam in November, 1950, so we were able to verify a time and place. The man was serving in Vietnam during the First Indochina War (1946 – 1954) on the French side. The context was a little more difficult, but a subtle clue was stamped right before our eyes. The label on the crate in the shape of a shield with the stars and stripes of the American flag says ‘From U.S.A. for Mutual Defense.’ Our research uncovered that the crate contained supplies from the United States through the Mutual Defense Assistance Act of 1949, legislation that provided non-military foreign aid to North Atlantic Treaty partners including France. The U.S. sent supplies to the French in Vietnam to support their fight against communism and the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War.

But the clues didn’t end there. We could just make out a stamp on the side of a crate that says ‘Burgess Battery Co. Freeport, IL.” A quick search uncovered that the Burgess Battery Co. was founded by Charles F. Burgess, founder of the University of Wisconsin – Madison Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. Burgess also founded the Madison-based Rayovac Corporation (formerly French Battery Company), one of the country’s largest battery producers. Burgess developed flashlight and radio batteries in the early 1900s, with which, under military contract, he supplied the troops during World War I, suggesting that Burgess possibly continued military contracts in the future. Burgess left UW-Madison in 1913 and founded Burgess Battery Company in 1917, which he eventually moved from Madison to Freeport, Illinois in 1925 to start a new division.
Suddenly, an image of a man carrying a crate in Indochina became a much more complex story – one with Wisconsin ties!

To see the full record for the image, visit our Digital Collections Asia and Middle East portal:

Harry S. Truman: “Statement by the President Upon Issuing Order Providing for the Administration of the Mutual Defense Assistance Act.,” January 27, 1950. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.

University of Wisconsin-Madison College of Engineering. (1996). ChE Funder also helped spur battery industry, Perspective, Vol. 23. Retrieved from

Remembering Nelson Mandela

In honor of the passing of Nelson Mandela, we would like to share images from our collection documenting the apartheid era in South Africa, including this image, depicting a protest against apartheid in Cape Town in 1961, the year before Mandela was imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activism.

Cape Town, protest sign against apartheid at cathedral, 1961
Cape Town, protest sign against apartheid at cathedral, Harrison Forman, 1961

Images from the Cities Around the World digital collection

100,000th Image Added to Digital Collections

The UWM Digital Collections added its 100,000th image this week! The honor goes to an image for the upcoming Milwaukee Polonia digital collection. It’s a 1928 photograph of a young girl (probably the daughter of Dorothy Gromowski, who ordered the photo) on the occasion of her First Communion or Confirmation. That collection continues to grow behind the scenes – look for a public unveiling in the near future.
kw021495 - Milwaukee Polonia

Milestones are times for reflection, so we in Digitization looked back to see what the first image in our Digital Collections might have been. Krystyna Matusiak, the first Head of the Digitization Unit, confirmed that the inaugural collection was Afghanistan, a collection of images from the Harrison Forman collection. And the very first digital image captured for that collection was a photograph of a family of nomad Kuchis in Afghanistan, taken in 1969 by photojournalist Harrison Forman.
af00001 - Family of nomad Kuchis

Now, onto 200,000!

Finding Gwen Moore in The March on Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project

The March on Milwaukee Civil Rights History Project (MOM) includes oral histories, film clips, audio files, manuscripts and images documenting the efforts of activists battling segregation and discrimination in Milwaukee during the 1960s. During a recent presentation of a news clip on the 1968 textbook controversy, a viewer suggested to Lucas Wolff, a member of the initial MOM staff team, that the woman speaking in the clip strongly resembled U.S. Representative Gwen Moore.
Film still of Gwen Moore

Archivist Ellen Engseth confirmed this helpful hunch when she contacted Representative Moore’s office to share the clip. Moore was student council president at North Division High School at the time. On the news clip, starting at 1.30, she speaks from the floor to suggest that officials could apply more pressure to adopt new textbooks for Milwaukee high school students.

Moore is joined by an unidentified senior from Riverside High School who expresses the frustration of students at the administration’s slowness in adopting new textbooks, and John Lawrence from Lincoln High School who stresses that textbooks that include the history of African Americans in the United States shouldn’t simply be “supplements.”

Do you know who the unidentified senior is? Please let us know.

Digitizing Milwaukee’s Polonia: Stanislaw Kielar’s Advertising Structures

Michael Doylen

The Kwasniewski photographs include some great images of the South Side of Milwaukee when that area was primarily Polish-American. The collection includes photos of churches, businesses, local organizations, sports teams, street scenes, green spaces, and . . . a few curiosities, as well. Consider these photographs taken by Kwasniewski to document Stanislaw Kielar’s advertising display invention.
Stanislaw Kielar demonstrating his invention
Stanislaw Kielar demonstrating his invention (kw001105)

In 1920, Kielar filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent Office for a “certain new and useful Improvement in Advertising Structures.” His invention was intended specifically for use of displaying cigarette packs “in designs and with effects which will prove pleasing to the eye of the beholder.” Apparently, in the early part of the twentieth century, cigarette displays tended frequently to topple due to the lightness of the packages and the inability to effectively secure them in a structure. To solve this problem, Kielar cut a series of wood blocks to the size of cigarette packs, and connected the blocks with a series of specially designed spring clips inserted in notches cut into the blocks. “When all of the blocks which it is desired to thus unite in an advertising structure have been assembled and secured together,” explained Kielar, “it will be found that the manner of attachment or connection is such that the several blocks in the structure will retain the positions which they are intended to occupy in the completed design.” Problem solved! Kielar boasted that there was “no limit to the range of the designs in which advertising structures outlining [his] invention may be embodied.” A sample of this range is provided by the photographs shown here. Kielar’s application was approved in 1924 (patent number 1,493,679), and may be accessed online at the U.S. Patent Office site.

Kielar's adversting structure for cigarettes
Kielar’s adversting structure for cigarettes (kw001106)

Another possible arrangement using Kielar's advertising structure
Another possible arrangement using Kielar’s advertising structure (kw001108)

Digitizing Milwaukee’s Polonia: The Modjeska Theater

by Alex Welborn

Recently, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries hosted the event “Hollywood in the Heartland” in conjunction with the Wisconsin Historical Society and the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research (WCFTR).  This celebration of the history of film and theater featured numerous one-of-a-kind film and theater artifacts and archival materials from the WCFTR.  The UWM Archives contributed to the event by displaying historic images of Milwaukee theaters and movie palaces from the 1910s and 1920s, many of which come from the Roman Kwasniewski photograph collection.  One such theater captured through the photography of Roman Kwasniewski is the Modjeska Theatre.

Modjeska Theater

The Modjeska Theatre was once a major attraction for the local Polish-American community. Serial # 25127

The Modjeska Theater first opened in 1910 as a small, 840-seat theater at 7th and Mitchell Street in Milwaukee.  Named after the Polish actress Madame Helena Modjeska, the Modjeska Theatre was most likely a posthumous tribute by the predominantly Polish-American community to the Polish icon.

Modjeska Theater and Mr. Harman

Mr. Harman and young movie-goers pose outside of the Modjeska Theatre. Serial # 25127

In 1924, the local Saxe Theatres chain bought the Modjeska and replaced it with a larger, 2,000-seat movie palace at the same address.  Though lacking in ornamentation, the new Modjeska featured a full orchestra pit, a Barton pipe organ, and a stage floor laden with trap doors for vaudeville acts.

Crowds lined up in front of Modjeska Theater

The former popularity of the Modjeska Theatre is evident in this image, as eager movie-goers line up outside the venue. Serial # 25127

The 1950s initiated a long and slow decline of the Modjeska’s former self.  During the 1980s and 1990s, the Modjeska changed ownership numerous times as operators struggled to keep the venue afloat.  In the early 1990s, the Modjeska served as a 1,700-seat local acts venue, and success was limited and the venue eventually closed in March of 2010.  Recent restoration efforts of the Modjeska Theatre have also folded due to lack of financial support, placing the building’s future in peril.  Thanks to the photography of Roman Kwasniewski, however, the spirit of the Modjeska will live on, even if the theater itself does not.

Source and more information: Rankin, James (Jim) H.  “Modjeska Theatre.”  Accessed 23 April 2013.

Play Ball!

by Anne Gaynor

Thousands of fans will flock to Miller Park today for the Milwaukee Brewers opening day game. One hundred years ago, Milwaukee fans flooded smaller ballparks and sandlots to see lesser-known teams for the same occasion. Of these teams, the Kosciuszko Reds were a south side Milwaukee favorite. In its decade of existence from 1909 to 1919, the Reds won several local circuit pennants as well as a devoted following in Milwaukee’s Polish Community.

The Kosciuszko Reds were founded in 1909 in part by Louis Fons, a prominent Polish-American businessman, joining the ranks of dozens of other semiprofessional and sandlot teams outside of the world of organized baseball. The Reds worked their way up from the local semiprofessional City League to the more exclusive Lake Shore League where they claimed the pennant over their rivals in other southeastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois towns in 1912, 1914, and 1915.

Although many of the Reds players were not, in fact, Polish, its founder’s Polish roots, the team’s red and white uniforms echoing Poland’s flag, and the community support of Milwaukee’s Polonia helped make the Reds a decidedly Polish team.

In 1912, a new ballpark for the Reds was erected at Harrison St. and Grove St. (now W. Harrison St. and S. 5th St). It opened in May, unfinished, with an exhibition game against the Peters Union Giants, an African American semiprofessional team from Chicago. Roman Kwasniewski hauled his equipment to the ballpark that day to photograph the action.

Kosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and missesKosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and misses

A Union Giants player slides into first base
A player for the Union Giants slides into first base

More images from the Giants vs. Reds game can be found in the Milwaukee Neighborhoods collection:

Kwasniewski captured other photographs of the team as well, including these:

A Kosciuszko Reds player warming up
A Kosciuszko Reds player warming up

A Kosciuszko Reds player poses with his bat
A Kosciuszko Reds player poses with his bat

This information in this post comes largely from UWM History Professor Neal Pease’s two excellent articles on Milwaukee’s Kosciuszko Reds:

Pease, N. (2004). The Kosciuszko Reds, 1909-1919: Kings of the Milwaukee sandlots. Polish American Studies, 61(1), 11-26.

Pease, N. (2005). Big game on the South Side: A Milwaukee baseball mystery decoded. Wisconsin Magazine of History, 88(3), 28-39.

Five on Frank: Selecting WTMJ-TV newsfilm

by Ellen Engseth, Archivist

Recently I selected five news film segments about Frank Zeidler, Mayor of Milwaukee between 1948 and 1960, for inclusion in a digital collection. My purpose was to provide complementary material for our in-house library exhibit, “Advancing Human Progress: Mayor Frank P. Zeidler’s Vision for Milwaukee,” brought to us courtesy of UWM History Professor, Aims McGuiness. After I made a few selections from the large archival collection of WTMJ-TV’s historical newsfilm, my Digitization colleagues and I built the digital objects you find online.

I made selections based on several considerations: sound and visual quality, visual interest, and information provided. In addition, the mayoral career-retrospective 1960 broadcast (“Room 201”) rather chose itself. If you watch it, I think you will agree.

It’s no surprise to me that, though I made my selections well before I saw the “Advancing Human Progress” exhibit or read the exhibit text, the segments and program I chose directly relate to some of the visiting exhibit’s many topical areas. This is due to the richness of the source material (i.e. a local news film archive which by its very nature captures much of the city leadership), as well as to the fact that Mayor Zeidler led the city with clear direction and obvious contributions. These include successes in the areas of:

  • urban, low-cost education, an example of which was his commitment to what is now MATC. (starting at minute 11:28 – 12:28)
  • human and civil rights, as in this brief clip from one of Mayor Zeidler’s speeches: (starting at minute 10:23 – 11:19)

    Reference URL:

As an example of how the in-house and online exhibits complement each other, I learned from an “Advancing Human Progress” panel created for the physical exhibit, that plans to “…construct freeways, which could act as quick evacuation routes in the event of attack, were part of Mayor Zeidler’s plans to preserve lives in the event of a nuclear attack.” This places his work on our urban freeway development squarely in broader Cold War-era concerns as well as with other concerns for traffic safety and efficiency. Though this important historical point was not clear to me from my initial viewing of segmented news clips, I can now see the connection, and listen to his spoken words with more awareness and understanding of mid-20th century Milwaukee.

What will you learn?
The exhibit is visiting the UWM Libraries, East Wing, through May; the historical news film featuring Mayor Zeidler can be found online at::

Digitizing Milwaukee’s Polonia: Theaters and War Bonds

Digitization of the Roman Kwasniewski glass negatives continues at an astonishing pace (1,150 last week alone!). In the midst of all of this digitization, image processing, and metadata mapping, it’s important to stop and admire the images themselves, and take stock of why we’re working so feverishly to make this collection accessible. As we work toward that goal, we’ll highlight some of the most interesting, curious, or even typical images that we’ve captured in the past few months. This week, a movie theater and community life during wartime:

Lincoln Theater
The Lincoln Theater, built in 1910, was one of the oldest movie theaters in Milwaukee. It had seats for almost 500 people and served South Milwaukee for 45 years before closing in 1955. The building is still standing, at 1104 W. Lincoln Avenue, but no longer used as a theater.

War bonds
During World War II, the federal government promoted the purchase of war bonds to help finance the war, and many people purchased bonds through payroll savings plans. These women are pointing out that as of October 15, 1943, City of Milwaukee employees had purchased $670,131.70 worth of war bonds.

Ann Hanlon
Elizabeth Kaune

All Mod(-ded) Cons: “Modding” the Digitization Unit

While digitization produces a virtual product, the work itself is very much rooted in physical objects – fragile glass plate negatives, oversize and brittle newspaper, art books with multiple perspectives for viewing and reading, old nitrate negatives that don’t lie completely flat…the list goes on. Making a digital object from the physical object is sometimes straightforward – a photographic print is laid on a flatbed scanner and voilá, a high-resolution, archival TIFF is born. But it is often problematic – a negative might have subtle warping that manifests as shadows and distortion in a scanned image, or a multi-media art book simply can’t be properly represented in a series of flat images. And that’s when things get interesting in the digitization unit – traditional digitization tools like flat bed scanners and tripods start to take on modifications using less traditional tools, like painter’s tape, pulleys, and loose change, in order to accommodate those troublesome physical objects.

NEH-funded imaging specialist and modification-maker-extraordinaire, Trevor Berman, has recently “modded” flatbed scanners with hinged anti-Newton-ring glass to achieve the best possible scans of nitrate and safety negatives, and sped up the workflow in the process.
Flatbed with closed anti-newton glass and blue-tape hinge
Flatbed with closed anti-newton-ring glass and blue-tape hinge

Trevor initially used cereal box tops to create “holders” to uniformly orient and flatten negatives on the flat bed scanners. Then he modified the holders to create a blue-tape hinge for anti-Newton-ring glass to better flatten the negatives without creating Newton rings (tiny but detectable imperfections caused by chemicals on the negative pooling against the glass surface).
Hinge held open
Hinge held open – note the additional blue tape “cushion” on the right.

Trevor’s work greatly improved workflows for the NEH-funded American Geographical Society Library project to preserve and share their nitrate negative collections.

Digitization librarian, Ling Meng, was inspired by pulley-based laundry lines in Taiwan to create a pulley system to photograph a collection of Chinese scrolls. The scrolls are too large to capture on a flat bed scanner, or to capture a high-resolution image in a single digital camera shot. But to accurately capture the scroll in two or three shots, and then “stitch” the images together in image editing software, the digital images must be lined up almost perfectly. The pulley system enabled Ling to hang the scrolls for photographing, and move the scroll safely and accurately within the camera frame to capture the entire scroll in two to three shots. The fruits of his labor can be seen in the Chinese scrolls online collection.
Digital Collections Coordinator, Ann Hanlon, demonstrates the pulley system with a bag where the scroll would have hung.
The pulley system with a bag where the scroll would have hung

A close-up of the pulley system
A close-up of the pulley system

A close-up of the top of the pulley system, where Ling rigged a board atop two tripods
A close-up of the top of the pulley system, where Ling rigged a board atop two tripods

We’ll post more modifications to the blog, soon!