The Happy Invention: History and Significance of Picture Postcards

A Road Scholar Program by Katherine Hamilton-smith

Vintage Postcard Katherine Hamilton Smith Road Scholars

Mar 14, 2023




Open to the public

The first picture postcards were published for the 1889 Paris Exposition, celebrating the completion of the Eiffel Tower. In America, the first picture postcards were printed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago —making Illinois the birthplace of the American picture postcard. Since those flowery Victorian originals, uncountable billions of postcards of every aspect of life have been printed, depicting train stations and bandstands, street views and cartoons, ads for products and services, ‘beauties’ and ‘freaks,’ social history both whimsical and dark, and everything in between. An early mention of postcards is in the 1870 diary of a Welsh curate, who called them “a happy invention.”

Vintage Postcard Katherine Hamilton Smith Road Scholars

In 2016, the world’s largest public collection of postcards and related materials, the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, was given to the Newberry Library by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. Katherine Hamilton-Smith, the founding curator of the Teich Archives, presents a look at the documentary power and significance of picture postcards. She touches on the Curt Teich Company of Chicago, the role Illinois played in the history and development of postcards, and on the picture postcard as a cultural icon.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Adrienne Coleman at

Learn more about Katherine Hamilton-Smith, this program, and how to book it.


Champaign County Genealogical Society Archives