Milwaukee Polonia Digital Collection is live!

Today we launch Milwaukee Polonia, a digital collection of nearly 32,000 historic photographs of our city’s historic Polish-American community. The launch is just in time for Milwaukee’s annual Polish Fest celebration, June 13-15, 2014. We’ve been blogging about our progress here since last year; and if you’ve been following along, you know that today represents a significant accomplishment. Today’s launch isn’t just photographs: our online collection also includes historic maps along with scholarly entries for many of the significant places, organizations, and traditions on display in the photos. The collection is now accessible online at

Mitchell Street Business District

The photographs that make up Milwaukee Polonia are the life’s work of Roman B. J. Kwasniewski, a studio photographer who worked on Milwaukee’s South Side from the 1910s through the 1940s. His portrait photography documented the important life events of the neighborhood: weddings, First Communions, Confirmations, and graduation ceremonies, including many portraits of nuns, priests, and altar boys. He also captured the neighborhood and the city itself, documenting work and family parties, picnics, parades, visits by dignitaries, street scenes, sports scenes, and even (for insurance purposes) car crashes and fire-damaged buildings.


Milwaukee Polonia is an unusually complete document of an urban ethnic community in early-to-mid twentieth century America, and is now openly available in its entirety online. We are eager to see how this nationally significant collection will be used by scholars, genealogists, students, and others interested in the history of Milwaukee, immigration, Polish-Americans, or numerous other topics that might be discovered in an image collection of this size. So let us know what you think, and how you might use Milwaukee Polonia for your own research and edification!

Milwaukee Gay/Lesbian Cable Network Videos Available Online

by Emma Cobb

The UWM Libraries recently published the video archives of the Milwaukee Gay/Lesbian Cable Network (MGLCN), an important media collection relating to local LGBT history. MGLCN was a volunteer group that produced regular and special programming on gay and lesbian issues for Milwaukee’s public access channel from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. Its most significant programs were Tri-Cable Tonight and New Tri-Cable. When the first episode of Tri-Cable Tonight aired on October 27, 1987, Milwaukee joined the ranks of only ten other cities in the United States with regular gay/lesbian programming. The 30-minute programs were produced monthly (with a few exceptions), and each show broadcast about three times a month on Warner Cable Channel 14. Programs combined in-studio news presentations, interviews, and discussions with on-location coverage of community events. Regular features included a discussion of homosexuality in history, guest editorials, legal advice, and film reviews. In addition to covering local news, the program covered events of statewide and national significance, such as the National March on Washington D.C. for Lesbian/Gay Rights on October 11, 1987; the Democratic National Convention in 1988; efforts by the Rawhide Boys Ranch to exempt itself from Wisconsin’s civil rights law; and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. The program concluded in December 1989. During its two-year run, Tri-Cable Tonight earned many awards, including first place in the 1989 Hometown USA Video competition, several MATA awards, and the Cream City Business Association’s President’s Award.

The New Tri-Cable consisted of moderated panel discussions on a specific issue. Topics included racism, homophobia, safer sex, serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The program lasted from November 1990 through March/April of 1992 and consisted of 28 episodes. Both Tri-Cable Tonight and New Tri-Cable aired during a historical period marked by the AIDS crisis and rising political opposition from the Religious Right.

These programs can now be found online as the Milwaukee Gay/Lesbian Cable Network Programs. Digitization of the collection was supported by an endowment for the Archives and Special Collections established by Joseph R. Pabst and the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Johnson and Pabst LGBT Humanity Fund.

The Cannons of Kosciuszko Park

By Dan Hauck

The Roman Kwasniewski photograph collection includes many photographs of the Tadeusz Kosciuszko monument at Kosciuszko Park on Milwaukee’s south side. Most of the photographs were taken in the 1920s when the monument was located in its original location on the north side of the park. Those photographs all include two cannons flanking the mounted general. I frequently pass the park these days, and there are no cannons next to the monument anymore. Naturally I thought, “What happened to the cannons?”


While conducting research on a set of parade photographs that were taken around 1937, I found the key to the cannon mystery. Using the Google News database I found a Milwaukee Journal article from April 26, 1976. The article reported on a tribute the Old South Side was having for two of its famous monuments, that of Kosciuszko and another for Casimir Pulaski, two Polish heroes of the American Revolutionary War. The article quoted Kosciusko Park supervisor James Filut, who noted that the heavy cast iron cannons had been disassembled and melted down to supply armaments for the war effort in 1943.


It seems fitting that even as late as World War II, the spirit of Kosciuszko was still fighting for the United States when the cannons were melted.

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.’

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, 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.

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.

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.

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 (kw001105)
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 (kw001106)
Kielar’s adversting structure for cigarettes (kw001106)

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

Kosciuszko Reds George Disch swings and misses

A player for the Union Giants 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.