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, May 19, 2019


Popular Tags

Helen Adams Peter G. Hamon library legislation 28 Wisconsin Library Association Dianne McAfee Hopkins Matthew S. Dudgeon Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Uncategorized Superior Carnegie Libraries Brown Deer Public Library Hall fo Fame 2012 hall of state historical society School of Library and Information Studies Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians Hall of Fame 2013 WLA 125 Orrilla Blackshear Elroy Public Library Nolan I. Neds Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services anniversaries T. B. Scott Free Public Library William J. Wilson Bookmobiles I Love Libraries Library People Portage Public Library UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies Beaver Dam Public Library Wisconsin State Law Library McMillan Memorial Library Evansville Wisconsin Hall of Fame 2015 Library Buildings WLA 125 Hall of Fame 2011 DeForest Area Public Library Ice Storm Hall of Fame 2009 CCBC S. Janice Kee 11 Oshkosh Public Library Gerald A. Somers Library celebrations Frank Avery Hutchins Hall of Fame 2015 books-by-mail Jerome P. Daniels Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide Clinton Public Library Hall of Fame 2017 Richard E. Krug caly film Campaign Brown County Library Public libraries Library Artifacts Exhibits American Library Association Postcards campa Louise S. Robbins Larry T. Nix Anniversaries Hall of Fame 2015 Wisconsin Free Library Commission 21 Hall Hall of Fame 2018 Historical Register James Duane Doty 10 Amer Digital Collections Hall of Fame 2008 Gilbert H. Doane Gertrude Thurow Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Public libraries library memorabilia Capitol Fire 1904 Academic Librarians Publications Milwaukee Art Museum 24 WHCLIS John Miller Chancellor National Library Week Buttons Parcel post Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Cooperative Children's Book Center Delia Ovitz Hall of Fame 2012 Irene W. Newman Meter mail slogans 14 Library Systems Public library systems Special libraries World War I Brown Deer Public Library Library people Postcards Madison Public Library Black River Falls Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Council on Library and Network Development Cornelia Marving Pierce Suring Area Public Library presentations archives 23 Jane K. Billings Wisconsin Historical Society Anniversaries Academic Libraries Manitowoc Public Library Inform Wisconsin Ripon Public Library National Bookmobile Day cam Events Zona Gale 20 Lutie Eugenia Stearns Clarence Brown Lester Edward Asahel Birge Sarah Janice Kee membership libraries campaign Eratus Swift Wilcox Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Pinback buttons library exhibit UW-Milwaukee Libraries Ruby Roeder Katharine MacDonald Jones caly film library education Marjorie Sornson Malmberg COLAND Black River Falls Public Library Postcards Eager Free Public Library Campaign Marketing-Publicity Wisconsin Free Library Commission American Library Association Library War Service J. D. Witter White House Conference on Library and Information Services Wisconsin Library Bulletin Woman's Congress Cam traveling libraries Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries James Huff Stout Carnegie libraries Lutie Stearns 27 campaign Postcards Hall of Fame 2014 Increase A. Lapham Bob Bochfer Bernard Schwab Events & Meetings Charles Bunge Beloit Public Library Milwaukee Public Library Ruth Ann Montgomery Middleton Public Library WWI Library War Service Hartford Public Library Wisconsin Rapids Events & Meetings trav campaign Library people Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries bookworm Campaign Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Dorothea M. Krause Hall of Fame 2010 Milwaukee Public Library Hall of Fame 2015 Hall of Fame 2015 Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Library Trustees background Hall of Fame 2016 Library Buidlings Library History Appleton Public Library Carl Spitzweg buil Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Hall of Fame 2012 UW-Madison school of library and information studies WLA 125 John J. Jax State Law Library caly film Lowell W. Wilson Library e Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Pewaukee Public Library 22 WAAL Soughton Public Library Hall of Fame 2012 Wayne A. Wiegand School libraries Centennial bed and breakfast People Tower Hill Wisconsin Klaus Linderfelt Sandra Friedman Dolnick Robert Bocher Lucy E. Smith Morris WLA 125 Rusk County Community Library Hall of Fame 2018 ca

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo