Friday, October 07, 2016

685 (2016 #40). Portrait of Route 66

by T. Lindsay Baker

My interest in this book is due more to the use of the Curt Teich Postcard Archives than the subject of Route 66.  Like my ancestors on my father's side, Curt Otto Teich (1877-1974) was a German immigrant who came to Chicago and was very successful.  From its opening in 1898 through 1978, the company produced postcards for businesses and attractions across the country.  The records of this postcard production company, once the largest in America, originally wound up at the Lake County Forest Preserve District's Discovery Museum in Wauconda, Illinois.  Now the collection is about to be transferred to the Newberry Library in Chicago.  Some of the collection is available online in the Illinois Digital Archives.

(As an aside - the former archives had posted a great guide (very useful for collectors) to dating Teich postcards based on their stock numbers that is no longer online on the original archives URL.  Fortunately, it's been preserved in a Flickr group.  The company is also known for its "big letter" postcards, featuring the words "Greetings from [some town]," where the letters in the town's name were made of images of attractions there.  Also, it's very possible some of my ancestors and Teich knew each other, as the location of his company from 1898 through 1907, address 59-61 Clybourn Avenue in Chicago then - is very near Clybourn's intersection with Division, where my Dienes ancestors owned a hat store.)

T. Lindsay Baker, a history professor at my place of employment (Tarleton State University), visited the Teich archives and researched in the production files for postcards along historic Route 66, the former U.S. highway that ran 2500 miles across eight states from Chicago to Los Angeles.  Many of the production files included the original black-and-white photographs that were used to create these postcards between 1925 and 1954, an era before color photography was prevalent.

The book features 112 sites (organized geographically starting in Chicago) along Route 66, presented in double-page spreads.  One side of the spread includes the black-and-white photo (often with notations on cropping and colors to use) along with the finished postcard (except in one case, where apparently a postcard was never made).  The other side of each spread includes Baker's research about the business or attraction pictured and the production of the postcard.  Baker also includes a brief description of what (if anything) was at that location in July 2014, when he and his wife took a road trip along the entire Route 66 looking for these sites.

The only things I would have liked to see in the book are:

  • a small image of the text on the back of the postcard (always quite interesting), and
  • either an image of what was on the site in July 2014, or an address or GPS coordinates so one could look for oneself (on Google Maps Street View, for example).

Nevertheless, this is an outstanding book and a great addition to Route 66 history.

© Amanda Pape - 2016

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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