Manitowoc Local History Collection

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URLs to browse or search the collections

Explore the history of Manitowoc and the surrounding communities through a wide selection of images, historical texts, and maps and plat books that date back to the mid 19th century. Whether for historical or genealogical research, school assignments, or business or civic presentations, this collection provides an in-depth look at Manitowoc’s rich history.

About Hermann C. Benke

Though he was only lived in Manitowoc for a short time, Hermann C. Benke documented the city and surrounding county in portraits and postcards for 20 years. Benke was born in Zempelburg, Germany, in 1869. His family immigrated to the United States in 1872, eventually settling in Kansas. Hermann finished school and became a teacher at age 17, with photography as his hobby.

In 1894, Benke moved to Wisconsin to teach. During summer breaks from school teaching he traveled around Manitowoc County taking photographs of families and businesses. When he moved to Manitowoc, Benke took advantage of the penny postcard craze and made a suitable living photographing the city’s scenes and events and then printing postcards. When a convention was in town, he would photograph the parade or city decorations and have postcards available for attendees the next day.

Benke’s legacy now rests in the images he captured of Manitowoc County at the turn of the century. Some grace the walls of the Manitowoc County Courthouse , while others continue as avidly-collected postcards. For a more in-depth biography of Benke, see Hermann C. Benke, Manitowoc Photographer. His short autobiography, Life sketches, 1869-1946, is also available in Manitowoc Public Library’s Manitowoc Collection.

About Francis M. Kadow

Francis M. Kadow was born in 1899 and grew up in Manitowoc. He left school at age 16 to help his father run the Mikadow Theater, which opened in 1916. He eventually owned and operated both the theater and the radio station WOMT, headquartered on the second floor of the theater. The radio station went on the air in November 1926; it was the third radio station in Wisconsin at the time. The call letters WOMT stood for “World’s Only Mikadow Theater.” The station broadcast the news every hour on the hour, taken largely from the United Press wire service teletype, the first one ever installed at a radio station. Kadow was also an amateur photographer and took photos of Manitowoc that are included in this collection. Francis Kadow sold WOMT in 1966 and died in 1973. His tombstone in Evergreen Cemetery has an old-fashioned radio microphone carved on it.

Additional Resources

  • Manitowoc History
  • Manitowoc Public Library Digital Collections — includes images of city directories


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Searching the Collection

In addition to the pre-selected searches available at the top of the page you can search by keywords for items in the collection.
There are many different subject headings to search by in the collection. These would include:

  • Subjects, for example: Carriages & coaches
  • Family names, for example: Torrison family
  • Business names, for example: Schuette Brothers
  • Street names, for example: South Eighth Street (Manitowoc, Wis.)
  • Places, for example: Washington Park (Manitowoc, Wis.)
  • Decades, for example: 1890s
  • Oral History Recordings: personal narratives

An “atlas” search is available to search items by county. Look for this button at the top of the page. You can also search by the name of the city or town as a subject search (for example: Mishicot, Wisconsin).

Full Text Histories:

Get a more in-depth look into Manitowoc’s history through the Manitowoc Public Library’s historical texts. Learn more about different aspects of the county’s history, from farming and education to the impact of World War II. You can view any of the books simply by clicking on the title.

Plat Books and Maps:

Each of the links below allows you witness the growth of Manitowoc County since 1851.

Oral History Recordings

In the 1970’s, Wisconsin Public Radio, along with a local group, interviewed over 40 Manitowoc County residents. Copies of those interviews have been digitized to preserve this interesting personal history of Manitowoc County.


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The Manitowoc Local History Collection is collaborative project completed by the UWDCC and the Manitowoc Public Library.

The Manitowoc Local History Collection was funded, in part, through 2005, 2006, and 2007 Library Services and Technology Act(LSTA) grant. This grant provided financial support for public libraries to digitize and make available online, their local library resources. For more information about LSTA grants in Wisconsin, contact the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Division for Libraries and Technology or visit the LSTA grant Web site at