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History Through the Lens

Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln, 1862. CHM, ICHi-022199; Mathew B. Brady, photographer.

Today is World Photography Day, which celebrates the art, craft, science, and history of photography. The Chicago History Museum’s
Research Center is home to more than 6.5 million images, making it the single largest source of pictorial information for the Chicago metropolitan area from the early nineteenth century to the present. Notable photographers whose works are in the collection include:

  • Mathew Brady, a nineteenth-century photographer known for his portraits of politicians and scenes of the Civil War. 
  • Jun Fujita, a Japanese American photojournalist who documented major Chicago events in the early twentieth century, such as the Eastland Disaster, the 1919 Race Riot, and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
  • Declan Haun, who captured major US and Chicago events during the Civil Rights Movement, such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Selma to Montgomery March, open housing marches, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral. 
  • Mildred Mead, a Hyde Park resident who documented the city’s built environment for the Metropolitan Housing and Planning Council, and also captured everyday life on the South and Near West Sides, such as churches, parades, and kids at play, as well as Fulton Street and Maxwell Street Markets in the 1950s. 
  • Ron Gordon, whose work focused on Chicago’s built environment in the late twentieth century. He captured the city’s historic preservation efforts as well as the demolition of notable structures such as Comiskey Park and the Chicago Coliseum. 
Diver with diving bell leaping into the Chicago River near the Eastland disaster site, Chicago, July 24, 1915. CHM, ICHi-030724; Jun Fujita, photographer.
A mother and her daughter sitting at a piano in their residence at the Brooks Homes public housing complex, Chicago, 1954. CHM, ICHi-024561; Mildred Mead, photographer.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in Washington, DC, August 28, 1963. CHM, ICHi-051643; Declan Haun, photographer.
The Chicago Coliseum on Wabash between 14th and 16th Streets during its demolition, Chicago, 1982. CHM, ICHi-174005; Ron Gordon, photographer.

Without the vision, talent, and hard work of these photographers, so much of Chicago and US history would not have been visually documented.  

Visit our online portal, CHM Images, to see a selection of images that have been digitized. See more images.

PhotoStore by Chicago History Museum Images

Peruse our online PhotoStore for high-quality photographic reproductions, all-occasion gifts, and souvenirs based on our collection of historic artifacts, artwork, and photography. Images are suitable for use as home décor and may be matted and framed, cropped, or enlarged to suit your decorating needs. Proceeds support the Chicago History Museum, helping us fulfill our mission of sharing Chicago’s stories. Shop now.


Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories