History Collections

The Museum's history collections contain more than 18,000 objects that enhance understanding of life in Illinois. The collection focuses on objects of historical and cultural importance that were made in Illinois. They primarily document domestic life and include food service tools and equipment, food processing tools, furniture, household accessories, bedding, lighting devices, phonographs and recordings, clocks, window and floor coverings, toys and games, clothing, personal gear, and personal adornment. In addition, the collection includes armaments, small numbers of tools (farm and woodworking), paperweights, and documentary artifacts. 

We're Building Our Collection

The Illinois State Museum is seeking donations to its d History collections to fill existing gaps so that we can better reflect the stories of the people of our state. We’re looking for great objects with great stories behind them to preserve and interpret for the benefit of future generations.

Items on our wish list include objects connected to the following themes and events: 

PDF iconRoute 66
Suffrage movement
Civil Rights movement
Flu pandemic of 1918-1919
Prohibition
Great Migration
Illinois abolition/antislavery
Native American relocation (19th and 20th centuries) 
as well as objects that speak to the Black, Latinx, LGBTQ+, Indigenous, Asian-American, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu experience in Illinois. 

Click here for more information about donating an object to the Illinois State Museum's History Collection.

Visitors tour the Research & Collections Center during Open House program.

History Collections Online

Amish Quilt Gallery
You can learn about the history of quilts created by Illinois Amish women of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The images and information are from the Museum publication Illinois Amish Quilts: Sharing Threads of Tradition, which can be purchased from the Museum by consulting the Publications Web page or telephoning the Museum.

Bevier Historic Dress Collection
Choice in clothing demonstrates social class, identity, individual aspirations, as well as available technologies at the time. Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as debate raged about women’s place in society, their fashions reflected wider social expectations. The historic costume collection featured in this website reflects highlights of the dresses in the Bevier Historic Costume and Textile Collection.

Frank Sadorus Photograph Collection Introduction
Learn about the photographs of Frank Sadorus (1880-1934), a descendant of a pioneer family who founded Sadorus in east central Illinois. He lived and worked on the family farm, but during the off-season he photographed the people and landscape he knew intimately.

Frost Trade Bead Collection
Beginning in 1848, Stephen Allen Frost peddled beads and broadcloth among the Plains Indians as an itinerant merchant. His enterprise lasted longer than that of other traders because of his business acumen and that of his son, Dan. Learn about this collection of 71 trade bead sample cards from the Stephen A. Frost and Son Company and the men behind this interesting company.

Harvesting the River Archives
Explore multimedia archives pertaining to the life and natural history of the Illinois River in the early 20th Century.

Morton D. Barker Paperweight Collection Gallery
View the renowned Barker Collection of 252 glass objects including Classical French, British, American, and other Paperweights.

WPA Art Collection Introduction
Learn about the history Works Progress Administration in Illinois and view a sample of the Museum’s extensive Illinois WPA Art Collection.