Industrializing Illinois (1877-1917)

Following the Civil War, Illinois continued to grow in population, diversity, and complexity. Large-scale heavy manufacturing and a growing commercial sector joined agriculture as major employers of a rapidly growing population. Immigration continued, with African Americans from the South and southern and eastern Europeans joining more established groups. Conflicting interests sometimes led to unrest, strikes, and even violence. During this period, Illinois also became a center of exciting new movements in art, architecture, and literature.

The Joliet Prison Photographs: 1890 to 1930

Image of images of Joliet Prison life.
Richard Lawson was serving a sentence for marijuana possession in 1969 when he was assigned to serve as an inmate photographer at the Joliet Stateville Prison. During this time, he discovered a cache of glass plate negatives produced by inmates at about the turn of the century. Years later, when he became a professor at Southern Illinois University, he conserved and put together an exhibition of the images in 1981. So far, more than 100 images have been preserved and printed.

Piano Cover

Image of piano cover.

1892
Illinois State Museum, Illinois Legacy Collection
Gift of Zella Lewis & Earl S. Ramseyer, 1989.073.0001

Around 1890, two enterprising teenaged girls from Owaneco, Ida Ramseyer and Laura Fry, came up with an ambitious plan: they would write to the wife of each state’s governor to request swatches of fabric from their ball gowns, then use those swatches to create a crazy quilt.

Tramp Art Radio Cabinet

Image of tramp art radio cabinet.

1911
Illinois State Museum, Illinois Legacy Collection
Gift of Gaylon Sprimont, 2011.134

In the winter of 1910-1911, a drifter named Charles Bosquet stopped at Julian Sprimont’s farmhouse in Will County and requested room and board for the winter. A deal was struck whereby Bosquet promised to create this large cabinet for Sprimont’s battery-operated radio in exchange for his stay. The two men went from tavern to tavern that winter collecting the wooden cigar boxes that Bosquet needed for his work.

Noiseless Carpet Sweeper

Image of noiseless carpet sweeper.

c. 1885-1889
Illinois Legacy Collection, Illinois State Museum
Gift of Bissell, Inc., 1993.018.006

This noiseless carpet sweeper was manufactured by the Prindle Manufactuing Company of Aurora, Illinois, in the 1880s. When pushed along the floor, the brushes would rotate, sweeping dirt and dust from the floor into the dust pan. Devices like these saved homeowners from the laborious process of taking carpets and rugs outside to beat them.

Photo of the Snow Bird Club

Image of "Snow Bird Club" members photo.

c. 1884
Illinois Legacy Collection, Illinois State Museum
Gift of the Sangamon State University Foundation, 1995.242.68

Those who survived the "winter of the deep snow” called themselves snow birds and considered themselves the true original settlers of Illinois. In 1882, a group of male snow birds formed a Snow Bird Club for the purpose of calling on old settler ladies every New Year’s Day. A copy of this photo, depicting the 23 members of the Club, was given to each lady they visited in 1884.

Russian Candlesticks

Image of Russian candlesticks.

c. 1890-1910
Illinois Legacy Collection, Illinois State Museum
Gift of Cornelia Young, 1962.21.750049

Cornelia Young of Hillsboro purchased these candlesticks from peasants in Sorochinskoye, Russia, after World War I. They were cherished possessions, yet the peasants were desperate to raise money in order to buy warm clothing and food.

Ojibwa (Chippewa) Beaded Vest

Image of Ojibwa beaded vest.
Clothing worn by Native American men and women was often colorfully decorated, as is the case of this beaded vest made between 1880 and 1900. Beads were first strung together before attaching them to the surface, allowing the maker more freedom in creating curved designs. The floral patterns probably indicate a strong, French colonial influence. The Ojibwa, or Chippewa people, lived in the northern United States and Canada around Lake Superior.

Senate Desk of John C. McKenzie

Image of original Illinois State Senate desk used by Jonh C. McKenzie.

original desk from the floor of the Illinois State Senate
This desk was from the original furniture purchased and used in the current Senate Chamber of the State Capitol Building in Springfield.
circa 1888 - 1900

John C. McKenzie (1860-1941) began his career as a lawyer in the small village of Elizabeth in northwestern Illinois. He served in the Illinois House from 1892 to 1896 and in the Illinois Senate from 1900 until 1911.  He used this desk until the State ordered new ones for both chambers.

Cradle Reaper

Image of cradle Reaper used on the Glenn Droegmiller family farm, near Elizabeth, Illinois.

Cradle Reaper used on the Glenn Droegmiller family farm.
used on their Snipe Hollow farm near Elizabeth in NW IL
late 1800s

A cradle reaper was used to cut crops such as wheat, oats, and hay and then rake the cut crop into a single row. Pitchforks would then be used to throw the harvested crop into a wagon to be hauled to the farmer's barn for storage. This particular cradle reaper was used on the Snipe Hollow Farm near Elizabeth, Illinois, sometime in the late 1800s. 

Telegraph Instruments

Image of telegraph instruments, telegraphy bay at the railway depot in Elizabeth, Illinois.

Installed by the Minnesota & Northwestern Railroad in 1888, which became the Chicago Great Western Railway in 1892, then the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1968, abandoned in 1972

The telegraph, invented by Samuel F.B Morse in 1844, opened nearly instant communication with the wider world, and railroads quickly lined their tracks with telegraph poles, continuing to use this infrastructure long after later inventions such as the telephone were commonplace. Today, a train's diesel horn still sounds the letter 'Q' in Morse code at all grade crossings: dash, dash, dot, dash.

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