Before the internet and social media, how did local businesses advertise their services? One way was with business cards! At the Northside Neighborhood History Collection, we have a small collection of historical business cards, mostly from proprietors in and around the Ravenswood and Lake View neighborhoods. The cards are mostly undated, but they appear to be from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many are brightly colored and carefully illustrated, no doubt hoping to catch the eyes of potential customers. They promote a wide range of goods and services, from roofing companies and breweries to dressmakers, dentists, and chemists. Fish, tents, furniture, and shoes were among the goods they offered for sale.
While many of the goods and services look similar to those offered today, some of the cards also show us how things have changed over time. One particularly interesting card advertises the services of "house movers and raisers." There are many moving services in the city today, but in nineteenth-century Chicago house moving often meant physically moving the house itself, not just its contents. Another business seen less frequently today is a livery stable, which offered a place to board a horse or rent one by the hour or day. Making use of privately run livery stables was just one way people got around Chicago before the city began to fund and coordinate public transportation in the twentieth century. As this Chicago Tribune article explains, there were livery stables located throughout the city in the nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, and a few even lasted in to the 1960s.
If you would like to look through these business cards or learn more about early Ravenswood and Lake View, the Northside Neighborhood History Collection welcomes researchers by appointment. You can also browse historical images of the area in our digitized Ravenswood-Lake View Community Collection photographs, which are available through CPL's digital collections.
Do you have memories of a unique local business that used to operate in Chicago? Tell us about it in the comments!