Photographs from the Chicago Daily News, 1902-1933

About the Collection

The Chicago Daily News was founded in 1875 and ceased publication on March 4, 1978. In April 1960, its owner, Field Enterprises, gave the newspaper's approximately 83,000 glass negatives to the Chicago Historical Society (now known as the Chicago History Museum). Of these, the oldest negatives were selected for digitizing in this project because they seemed the most unusual, they are not available to researchers because of their fragility, and their long-term survival was most at risk. For more details, see:

Description of the Online Collection

This online collection consists of images of urban life captured on glass plate negatives between 1902 and 1933 by photographers employed by the Chicago Daily News, one of Chicago's leading newspapers. The approximately 55,000 images relate to an enormous variety of topics, but most of the photographs were taken in the same geographic area: Chicago, Illinois, or nearby towns, parks, or athletic fields.

Probably only twenty percent of the images in this collection actually were published in the newspaper. Thus many images are available to the public for the first time as part of American Memory.

Topics of the images include businesses and commercial street scenes in Chicago; buildings under construction, new bridges and statues, and Chicago sites during major events, such as political conventions and labor strikes; children assisted by social welfare workers and children on their way to summer camp; working men and women on the job; prominent politicians, socialites, actors, heroes, triumphant athletes, and people accused of lurid crimes; police officers and fire fighters; judges, lawyers, and defendants in courtrooms or offices; World War I civilian Liberty Loan campaigns and military recruiting, parades, and victory celebrations; disasters, such as the sinking of the Eastland; railroad trains, streetcars, horse-drawn wagons, and automobiles; Chicago parks and beaches; and many athletes and sporting events, including football games (some between university and high school or club teams), baseball players, boxers, ice skaters, and golfers -- women as well as men.

In addition to many Chicagoans, the images include politicians, actors, and other prominent people who stopped in Chicago during their travels, individual athletes and sports teams who came to Chicago to play in local events, and photographs from occasional out-of-town trips by the Daily News's photographers to important events, such as the inauguration of presidents in Washington, D.C.

It is useful to remember that the photographers capturing these images usually expected them to illustrate an article in the newspaper and perhaps to be cropped to show only the relevant portion of an image when published. Therefore, details may appear within the foreground or background of images that hold historical interest now but were not particularly relevant to the purpose for which an image was made. For example, image DN-0001226 shows a police officer standing on a city sidewalk in front of a store and two boys, one of them a newsboy. When the newspaper published this image on August 19, 1903, only the head and shoulders of the policeman were visible. The accompanying news article mentioned the police officer as a hero for saving a young girl from being hit by an automobile.

Some of the online images show objects related to news stories, such as a framed photograph of a person who was a crime victim, a newly painted portrait of someone who was honored by a local organization, or art works or artifacts that were going on exhibition at Chicago museums.

Many photographs in the collection relate to operations of the Chicago Daily News itself: its reporters, artists, and photographers; its switchboard operators, drivers, printers, and presses; children on the way to the fresh air sanitarium that the newspaper supported on Chicago's lakefront; performers and staff at the newspaper's radio station WMAQ; newsboys and their band and marching group sponsored by the newspaper; and crowds in front of the Daily News building in Chicago's Loop reading the news hot off the press.

The Tradition and History of the Chicago Daily News

The Chicago Daily News was an afternoon newspaper that for many years kept its price at one cent so that it was easily affordable to working people on their way home from a day's labor. Newspapers were the primary media of mass communication before radio became widely available, and the Chicago Daily News played its public role with zest. Founded in 1875, the newspaper successfully appealed to a popular mass market as it passed through the hands of several publishers. In 1927, the Chicago Daily News claimed a daily circulation of 446,803.

During the period when the negatives in this collection were made, the Chicago Daily News was headed by Victor F. Lawson (publisher 1876-1925), Walter A. Strong (publisher 1925-1931), and Frank Knox (publisher 1931-44). During this period, the newspaper promoted the establishment of parcel post delivery and postal savings banks and the formation of the Sanitary District of Chicago and the Cook County Forest Preserves. The newspaper also sponsored a fresh air sanitarium along Chicago's lakefront to try to improve the health of children living in congested urban conditions and sponsored a band and marching groups for its newspaper delivery boys. The Daily News had been one of the first newspapers to establish a foreign news bureau (1898) and won awards for its coverage of foreign events (although foreign sites are not pictured in the images in this collection). For over five decades, the Daily News also published a substantial annual Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year-Book (1885-1938, 1946).

Beyond these accomplishments, the newspaper's reputation was based on its reporters and columnists, who included Eugene Field, George Ade, Ben Hecht, Finley Peter Dunne, and Carl Sandburg, among many others. The Chicago Daily News was known for decades as "a writers' newspaper," with a tough and breezy style. Hecht drew on his experiences at the Daily News and other Chicago newspapers when he and Charles MacArthur wrote, "The Front Page," a play and later a movie, about high-jinks and ruthless competition among reporters working for rival newspapers.

In the early twentieth century, there were an array of influential Chicago newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, the Inter Ocean, Chicago Daily Journal, Chicago Evening Post, Chicago Record Herald (later Herald Examiner), and the American. The Chicago Daily News outlived all of them except the Chicago Tribune.

Field Enterprises purchased the Chicago Daily News in 1959, and Marshall Field IV became its publisher. In April 1960, Field Enterprises gave the newspaper's approximately 83,000 glass plate negatives to the Chicago Historical Society and printed an article about "10 Tons of Chicago History Moved from Daily News." In 1973, Field Enterprises also donated about 205,000 more recent film negatives from the Chicago Daily News to the historical society. The Daily News continued to publish for five more years, but afternoon newspapers across the United States were suffering declining circulation, partly because of competition from television news programs. Field Enterprises also owned the Chicago Sun-Times, a morning newspaper, and chose to continue publishing it when the Chicago Daily News became unprofitable. The Chicago Daily News closed on March 4, 1978.

Technical Note for the Online Collection

The online images are displayed as positives rather than negatives, but no other major manipulation of the original images was carried out. The images always appear in correct orientation so that signs in buildings shown within the images are readable. The online images show the current condition of the original negatives; there was no retouching or cropping, for example, to omit cracks or the broken edges of some glass plate negatives. Some original negatives were relatively light or dark and that shading is still visible in the online images.

Sometimes handwriting is visible around the edges of the online images. Staff of the Chicago Daily News labeled the negatives when they were new. These handwritten notes appear in reverse orientation online because they were written on the back of the negatives.

There are some groups of similar images in the collection that show only slight variations as the photographer shifted the angle of his camera, but near duplicates are included because they often show different details in the background or foreground.

Glass plate negatives were the preferred medium for newspaper photographers in the early twentieth century and produced many excellent images. But the technology was cumbersome, and the style of many images seems relatively anchored by the slow shutter speed and the heavy camera required to handle glass plate negatives. Therefore, many sports images show athletes posed in a typical position, such as a boxer in a fighting stance, rather than a frozen moment in the midst of an actual boxing match.

Availability of Newspapers for Researchers

The Chicago Daily News is not widely available on microfilm. But researchers interested in reading news stories contemporary with the images in this collection may find related articles in other newspapers. For example, when Charles A. Lindbergh made the first non-stop solo flight from the United States to France, May 20-21, 1927, his exploit was reported in many newspapers around the world. By the time he visited Chicago later in 1927, he was a major celebrity and photographers of the Chicago Daily News took many pictures of him.

Researchers interested in a topic that involves other visitors to Chicago shown in the images of this collection may be able to find articles about the visitors or about the same event, such as a baseball game, in the hometown newspaper of the visitors. For example, this collection contains photos of the 1919 World Series games between the Chicago White Sox (American League) and the Cincinnati Reds (National League). The same games were discussed by articles in newspapers published in Cincinnati and in other cities.

Researchers working on Chicago topics may be able to borrow the Chicago Daily News on microfilm through interlibrary loan offices (although not from the Chicago History Museum). However, if researchers cannot arrange access to the Chicago Daily News on microfilm, they may be able to find articles about the same topics in other Chicago newspapers from the same years. The Chicago Tribune for the time period covered by this collection is available on microfilm at many university libraries and major public libraries.

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