Katherine Hamilton-Smith


For our Road Scholars Speakers Bureau, this scholar is fully booked through 2024. 
However, you may book them outside of any Illinois Humanities affiliation using the contact information in the “Booking Information” section below.

As a public speaker and founding curator of the Curt Teich Postcard Archives, now 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.

Fully Booked

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.

Program Logistics

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.

Vintage Postcard East Main St Galesburg IL

Vintage Postcard displaying East Main Street in Galesburg, Illinois


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, now at the Newberry Library, Chicago. Her work with the Curt Teich Postcard 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.
  1. Contact Katherine to schedule a date and time via email at khamiltonsmith@me.com or phone at (847) 417-2572.
  2. Once you and Katherine have agreed upon a date and time, complete the online Road Scholars Host Organization application.
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Fairouz AbuGhazaleh
Director of Statewide Programs

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