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 uwm.edu/mkepolonia.
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!