Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

Capitol Fire of 1904

Posted by Larry Nix
Larry Nix
Larry Nix has not set their biography yet
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, June 07, 2016 in WLA 125
Two of Wisconsin's most significant libraries were dramatically impacted by the fire that began in the late evening of February 26, 1904 and destroyed most of the State Capitol in Madison. Stanley H. Cravens article "Capitals and Capitols in Early Wisconsin" in the Wisconsin Blue Book for 1983-1984 contains an excellent account of the 1904 fire. A pdf version of that article is located HERE. The first library impacted was the Wisconsin State Library (now the Wisconsin State Law Library). Through quick action the library's collection was mostly saved.  Cravens describes the rescue as follows:
"University students continued to arrive to aid in the rescue and fire-fighting efforts. Because of thick smoke filling the building, they were unable to use the stairways and several ladders were secured and raised to the windows in the north wing, which contained the State Law Library. Once inside, they began throwing volumes out the windows to snow banks below; others below began stacking the books haphazardly until State Supreme Court Justice R. D. Marshall arrived and organized the students into lines to pass the books hand-to-hand to nearby stores and later, to waiting wagons. According to Solon J. Buck (who later became archivist of the United States), then a senior attending the University of Wisconsin, this effort grew to five to six hundred people 'and it began to get too crowded to work'."
The second library impacted, the Wisconsin Free Library Commission, did not fare nearly as well. Henry E. Legler, Secretary of the Commission, described the impact in the Fifth Biennial Report of the Commission. Legler wrote:"The Commission sustained a severe loss by reason of this fire, not only as regards the records, but in the books and material then on hand, and manuscript copies of important publications contemplated.... The Document department [later the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau] which had acquired an exceedingly valuable collection of pamphlets and books, was entirely destroyed.  Much of the destroyed material cannot be replaced, inasmuch as, prior to the fire, most of the state departments had transferred to the Document department the accumulated files gathered for years past.... During the eight years of the Commission's existence, large and useful collections had been made of plans, photographs, and half-tone engravings of library buildings throughout the country, bibliographies, books on library economy, bulletins, reports, blanks, collections of children's books, sample bindings, library devices, and technical tools of every sort.  All of these collections, many of which were thought to be the best extant, were consumed. Of the traveling libraries, 28 were destroyed." Legler continues:  "Libraries throughout the country responded most generously to the request for material.  To the Carnegie library of Pittsburgh, the Commission is indebted for a set of printed cards for 1,000 children's books.  The New York state library sent complete files of its own publications and other library literature.  The public libraries of Cleveland, Providence, Cincinnati, and many older cities supplied valuable publications.  The library of the University of Wisconsin made large contributions of library literature."
About the postcard shown above, Cravens writes:"One of the first Madisonians to awake to the sight was 15 year-old Joseph Livermore, who had the presence of mind to use his vest-pocket Kodak to take a most spectacular, if not the only, night photograph of the Capitol fire. Livermore later made copies of the photograph to sell for 10 cents apiece to earn enough money to purchase a bicycle; his father, however, felt the price too exorbitant and made Joseph reduce the price to 5 cents. One of Livermore’s customers was a postcard printer, who ran off and sold hundreds of the postcards, without sharing any of the profits with the boy."


Ginny Moore Kruse Tuesday, June 07, 2016

I've never known about this fire. Thank you for such a comprehensive and yet brief report.

Leave your comment

Guest Sunday, July 15, 2018


Popular Tags

Clinton Public Library Historical Register state historical society Pinback buttons caly film Postcards Wilbur Lyle Eberhart UW-Madison school of library and information studies Exhibits Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends 14 Library People Hall of Fame 2015 Evansville Wisconsin Jerome P. Daniels Hall of Fame 2015 Anniversaries Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Woman's Congress Library celebrations Portage Public Library Library Buidlings Black River Falls John J. Jax Buttons 10 Wisconsin State Law Library Hall of Fame 2015 Eratus Swift Wilcox Ruth Ann Montgomery S. Janice Kee Peter G. Hamon Sandra Friedman Dolnick WAAL Parcel post People Uncategorized Hall fo Fame 2012 Jane K. Billings DeForest Area Public Library Black River Falls Public Library Carl Spitzweg Hall of Fame 2015 Ruby Roeder library exhibit 27 anniversaries Charles Bunge Library e Lowell W. Wilson Hall of Fame 2013 buil School of Library and Information Studies Hall of Fame 2010 Library people Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries 21 20 presentations caly film Bernard Schwab Hall of Fame 2015 Superior Carnegie Libraries William J. Wilson Wisconsin Library Bulletin ca Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services 24 Carnegie libraries Tower Hill Wisconsin Irene W. Newman library legislation traveling libraries Increase A. Lapham Public library systems UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies Hall of Fame 2017 Library Buildings Middleton Public Library Library Trustees Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Academic Libraries 23 Pewaukee Public Library Ice Storm Hartford Public Library Larry T. Nix Gilbert H. Doane Beaver Dam Public Library bookworm Meter mail slogans J. D. Witter Louise S. Robbins Lutie Stearns Elroy Public Library campa Events & Meetings Beloit Public Library WWI Library War Service Brown Deer Public Library White House Conference on Library and Information Services WLA 125 Ripon Public Library National Library Week Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries cam Lutie Eugenia Stearns Matthew S. Dudgeon Gerald A. Somers Postcards Academic Librarians Marjorie Sornson Malmberg campaign 22 Wisconsin Free Library Commission Richard E. Krug 11 Nolan I. Neds Clarence Brown Lester caly film Sarah Janice Kee Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Madison Public Library James Huff Stout Special libraries Hall of Fame 2009 Milwaukee Art Museum Cam James Duane Doty Rusk County Community Library Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians CCBC Hall of Fame 2011 Council on Library and Network Development Inform Wisconsin bed and breakfast School libraries library memorabilia Capitol Fire 1904 Oshkosh Public Library UW-Milwaukee Libraries Marketing-Publicity Suring Area Public Library Anniversaries Campaign American Library Association Orrilla Blackshear Eager Free Public Library Hall Edward Asahel Birge Brown Deer Public Library Hall of Fame 2012 Postcards background Milwaukee Public Library 28 hall of Zona Gale Appleton Public Library Soughton Public Library World War I Campaign Wisconsin Library Association COLAND Hall of Fame 2012 Dianne McAfee Hopkins Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Hall of Fame 2016 Delia Ovitz Library History Hall of Fame 2014 American Library Association Library War Service Amer McMillan Memorial Library WHCLIS Campaign Dorothea M. Krause campaign Manitowoc Public Library books-by-mail Wisconsin Free Library Commission Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Public libraries T. B. Scott Free Public Library archives Public libraries Frank Avery Hutchins Bookmobiles Publications Cooperative Children's Book Center Klaus Linderfelt Milwaukee Public Library Hall of Fame 2008 campaign Wisconsin Rapids National Bookmobile Day Hall of Fame 2012 Gertrude Thurow Library Artifacts library education membership libraries Events & Meetings State Law Library Digital Collections Library Systems trav Katharine MacDonald Jones Centennial WLA 125 Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Wayne A. Wiegand Wisconsin Historical Society Brown County Library John Miller Chancellor WLA 125 Cornelia Marving Pierce Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee WLA 125 I Love Libraries Events Library people Postcards Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo