Among its many treasures, Chicago’s independent research library—established in 1887, with the fortune amassed by American businessman Walter Loomis Newberry—holds a massive collection of postcards, many of which are from the Curt Teich company.
Teich, born in present-day Germany in 1877, immigrated to the United States in 1895, and set up his own postcard operation in Chicago a few years later. Over time, his firm became known for churning out postcards in the “Greetings From” style, which silhouetted a city’s distinctive architectural features in letters that spelled out its name.
Souvenir postcards caught on at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, where there was plenty to write home about. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Congress passed a series of acts clarifying exactly what could be sent through the mail. By 1907, they’d approved privately printed cards with divided backs—one side for the address, the other for a message—and images on the front. Flurries of postcards started flying. According to post office estimates, 700 million of the cards were mailed between June 1907 and June 1908. As people hit the road for adventures, they wanted to take friends and family along with them, or at least jot off a note to fill them in on what they missed.
Teich’s company shuttered in 1978, and its extensive archives lived in the Lake County Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois, for many years before landing at the Newberry in 2016.
The Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection contains more than 2.5 million objects. These span the 19th and 20th centuries, and depict some of the major forces that were shaping America, among them, highways, cities, amusements, and fairs and expos that were obsessed with visions of the future. It’s also rich with images of public works projects—those water treatment facilities and other plants that might not have been tourist destinations, but kept a city running.
Any visitor aged 14 or older can view the collection by appointment—just contact a librarian at least two business days in advance. In the meantime, before you set foot in the library, you can send a digital postcard from the archives, no postage necessary. Choose between a glance up Michigan Avenue, in 1942, or a nighttime look at the glittering buildings lining Wacker Drive. As it rockets to its recipient, take a moment to recall the days when news of journeys big and small traveled slowly and through the post.