As a public speaker, and founding curator of the Teich Archives at the Newberry Library, Katherine Hamilton-Smith brings a fascinating piece of cultural history to life: the invention of the picture postcard, right here in Illinois!
Over the course of her career, Hamilton-Smith has given hundreds of presentations, to audiences large and small — including NPR and Canadian Public Radio, the American Alliance of Museums, the Society of American Archivists, at museums across the county, and more. As a Road Scholar, she has enjoyed meeting people throughout Illinois to share the significance of postcards and their invention in Illinois.
The Happy Invention: History and Significance of Picture Postcards
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.”
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.
The presentation 60-minute presentation can be done virtually. It’s followed by a Q&A and is tailored to the town in which it is being given by weaving examples of postcards from that town into the presentation. This presentation requires a laptop and projector/screen. The speaker will provide a thumb drive housing the PowerPoint presentation.
Katherine Hamilton-Smith is a museum and archives professional with 30+ years of experience in public history, historic sites management, exhibitions and interpretation, collections development and care, National Historic Landmarks, and fundraising.
Katherine is the founding curator of the Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection—a core collection of the Newberry Library, Chicago. Her work with the Teich Archives gave her special expertise in the history and significance of picture postcards. She holds an MA in Art History from the University of Chicago and a BA in Art History from the University of Nebraska, and studied art history and music history at St. Andrews University in Scotland, where she specialized in early medieval manuscript illumination and American Abstract Expressionism.
Book this Road Scholar
Follow the steps below to book a presentation.
- Contact Katherine to schedule a date and time via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at (847) 417-2572.
- Once you and Katherine have agreed upon a date and time, complete the online Road Scholars Host Organization application.
Director of Statewide Programs