Connecticut History

With our partner, The Connecticut Historical Society, WNPR News presents unique and eclectic view of life in Connecticut throughout its history. 

The Connecticut Historical Society is a partner in Connecticut History Online (CHO)  — a digital collection of over 18,000 digital primary sources, together with associated interpretive and educational material. The CHO partner and contributing organizations represent three major communities — libraries, museums, and historical societies — who preserve and make accessible historical collections within the state of Connecticut.


11:47 am
Fri April 18, 2014

Yankee Ingenuity: Curtis Veeder, a Mechanical Genius and Shrewd Businessman

“Curtis Veeder, Inventor of the Cyclometer, Riding a Bicycle,” Drawn by HH Art Studios Inc. for G. Fox & Co. 100th Anniversary, 1947. (Connecticut Historical Society, 1980.93.23)


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3:27 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

Eyewitness to History: The Treasury Guard Regiment Flag

The Treasury Guard Regiment flag spent over a century in this display box.
Connecticut Historical Society

In 1864, President Lincoln ordered his executive departments to each raise a force of troops for the defense of Washington should it be threatened by Confederate forces. The Treasury Department raised a full regiment of citizen-soldiers, and the women employed there presented a custom set of colors to the unit. The canton of the national flag bore hand-painted patriotic images and a banner identifying the unit, which spent months drilling on a dusty lot in Washington. In April 1865 the unit held a ball at Ford’s Theater celebrating Lee’s surrender.

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3:17 pm
Fri April 4, 2014

Katharine Hepburn: Dressing a Star

Katherine Hepburn as Babbie in The Little Minister.
Christopher P. Sullivan Kent State University Museum, 2010.3.208

Katharine Hepburn is known for her on-screen personality and her off-screen style.  In reality, the two were closely intertwined, since she used style, both on and off-screen, as a powerful reflection of character. 

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9:57 am
Fri March 28, 2014

The Adventure of a Lifetime: John Ledyard and Captain Cook’s Last Voyage

A View of Huaheine. Engraving after a drawing by John Webber, published 1783. Huahine, one of the Society Islands in the South Pacific, was visited by Captain Cook in 1777.
Daniel Wadsworth Connecticut Historical Society, 1848.16.3.21

In 1783, as Americans adjusted to peace time following the Revolutionary War, a young man’s incredible adventure story was published in Hartford. John Ledyard’s Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Voyage recounted Ledyard’s travels with the world-famous British explorer on his third and last exploration of the Pacific Ocean.

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9:46 am
Mon March 24, 2014

A Woman Ahead of her Time: Mabel Osgood Wright

Bird Sanctuary. Postcard, ca. 1914. View of the main building at the Bird Sanctuary in Fairfield, Connecticut, established by Mabel Osgood Wright.
The Connecticut Historical Society

Few professions were available to women in the second half of the 19th century, and certainly not the medical profession. Although thwarted in her ambition to become a doctor, Mabel Osgood Wright made a name for herself as both a writer and a photographer.

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10:53 am
Fri March 14, 2014

Behind the Stockade: Andersonville Prison

Sergeant Aretus Culver, 16th Connecticut Infantry. Photograph by William A. Terry, ca. 1862. The Bristol native died within six weeks of his release from Andersonville.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2010.66.113

Prisoners of war have long been an emotional subject. From 17th Century conflicts with Native Americans to the war in Afghanistan, the fate of POWs has aroused deep concern. Tales of mistreatment and brutality, from the notorious British prison hulks of the American Revolution to Vietnam’s “Hanoi Hilton” and beyond, have spurred contemporaries to protest and moved later generations to ponder man’s inhumanity to man.

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11:59 am
Fri March 7, 2014

Frances Laughlin Wadworth: Sculpting the Past

Interior of Frances Wadsworth’s studio. Photograph, 1940s. Frances made meticulously detailed models of her sculptures before creating the final sculpture.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1983.74.14

Frances Laughlin Wadsworth certainly left her mark on the art world.  She also left it scattered about the city of Hartford.  Frances Laughlin was born in Buffalo, New York, on June 11, 1909 to Frank and Martha Laughlin. She graduated from St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia, and studied art in Europe under the tutelage of famous sculptors.  An avid painter as well as sculptor, Frances identified painting as more of a hobby, like her interest in gardening, than as a serious art endeavor in line with her sculpture.

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11:51 am
Fri February 28, 2014

The Great Ice Storm of 1898

Greenwoods Road from Carl Stoeckel Mansion, Norfolk, Connecticut. Photograph by Marie Kendall, 1898.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1981.58.6

Ice. It is both a beauty and a menace, often simultaneously. From February 20 to February 22, 1898, an ice storm swept through northwestern Connecticut, coating tree branches and utility wires.

Roads were treacherous and slippery. Tree branches, weighed down with ice, broke and fell, rendering some streets impassable. The storm knocked out electricity and telegraph and telephone communications, and closed the trolley lines in parts of the state. The railroad trains kept running, though their tracks had to be cleared of branches and debris, and they arrived well behind schedule.

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10:45 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Battling Bat Battalino: One of Hartford’s Heroes

Christopher "Bat" Battalino, born 1908. He won the world professional championship as a featherweight from Frenchman Andre Routis in September 1929 at the Velodrome in East Hartford.
The Connecticut Historical Society, Manuscript Collection

From the streets of Hartford to Madison Square Garden was a giant leap for featherweight boxer Christopher “Bat” Battalino. Born in Hartford in 1908, Battalino quit Brown School after the fifth grade to work in a tobacco factory. He got his boxing start in amateur bouts, and went all the way to the national amateur featherweight championship before turning pro when he was 21 years old.

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12:41 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

The Sweetheart’s Portrait

The Sweetheart’s Portrait. Hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, 1860s. The miniature portrait the cats are playing with probably dates from the 1830s.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1981.122.1

In the 1860s, the Kellogg brothers of Hartford, Connecticut published a lithograph called “The Sweetheart’s Portrait.” The print was so popular that it was reissued at least once and it was also reproduced as a photograph.  It shows two fluffy white cats playing with a small oval painted portrait of a young woman attached to a ribbon and chain.  Such portraits had gone out of fashion twenty years earlier, when photography replaced painting as the primary means of portraiture.

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2:41 pm
Fri February 7, 2014

Black on White: Silhouettes of Hartford’s Morgan Family

Joseph Morgan. Silhouette cut by Peter Choice, ca. 1817. Morgan and his family moved to Hartford from Springfield in 1817.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2001.111.1

Made of cut paper, silhouettes present a black image on a white background. The technique was widely used for small profile portraits, which enjoyed great popularity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In an age before photography, a silhouette was an inexpensive way to record the features of a loved one. Many were the work of itinerant artists who traveled from town to town cutting portraits.

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3:36 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Connecticut Yankee and Millstone: 46 Years of Nuclear Power

Artist’s rendering of the Connecticut Yankee Power Company Plant, Haddam Neck. Postcard published by the Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, ca. 1968.
Connecticut Historical Society, 2000.24.1

Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company, Connecticut’s first nuclear power plant, began commercial operation, in Haddam Neck, on January 1, 1968. It was a time of high expectations for the economic potential of peaceful nuclear energy. An enthusiastic 1962 article in the Hartford Courant, titled “Atoms Now Power Homes,” predicted that nuclear power would soon compete with coal and oil. New England’s first station, Yankee Rowe, had begun operation in Massachusetts in 1961.

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11:47 am
Fri January 24, 2014

The Astronomical Event of the Century

Total Eclipse of the Sun, January 24, 1925. Turner took his photograph at 175 North Street in Willimantic.
Photograph by Fred Turner, 1925 The Connecticut Historical Society, X.2000.7.52

Snow covered the ground and the temperature hovered at zero degrees on the morning of January 24, 1925. Businesses were closed—or planned to open late—as crowds gathered on hilltops and rooftops throughout Connecticut. Special trains brought visitors from Boston and elsewhere in Massachusetts and scientists from around the country joined colleagues at Yale, Wesleyan, and Trinity. The sun had come up as normal, but about 8:30 am it began to grow dark again, as the moon passed between the earth and the sun.

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2:59 pm
Fri January 17, 2014

Dressing Gowns: Loungewear of Old

Byron and Marianna. This lithograph by Hartford’s Kellogg brothers provides a glimpse of early nineteenth-century leisure wear. Note how Byron (d. 1824) is depicted in a dressing gown rather than a restrictive jacket.
Hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, 1845-1846. 1994.13.0. Connecticut Historical Society

Today many people cannot wait to arrive home after a long day at work and exchange their work clothes for something more relaxing, comfortable, and cozy. This is not a new phenomenon. Even before the nineteenth century, men and women sometimes wore informal and less confining clothing at home and in informal social settings. These dressing gowns, as they were primarily known, allowed people to appear fashionable while remaining comfortable.

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4:20 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

Tragedy at Tariffville: The Railroad Wreck of 1878

One of the coaches of the CWRR train hangs from the end of the first span over the Farmington River. Detail of stereograph published by N. R. Worden of New Britain.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2004.27.2

The year 2013 was not a great one for the Metro-North Commuter Railroad, with a collision, a major power outage, and, most recently a fatal derailment making the six o’clock news around the country. What this series of mishaps actually points out, however, is that when one considers the number of freight, passenger and commuter trains running in this country, rail travel is still a pretty safe way to get around. This was not the case a century or more ago, when railroad accidents and disasters were frequent and deadly.

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1:29 pm
Fri January 3, 2014

From Kiln to Collection: Norwich Pottery and Its Makers

Pottery at Norwich, Norwich, ca. 1830. This drawing purports to show an 18th-century pottery in Norwich. The building with the smoking chimney is the kiln where the pottery was fired.
Connecticut Historical Society, x.1986.23.0

Stoneware was the commonest form of houseware in America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Americans started making stoneware in the early 1700s. One of Connecticut's first potteries began making stoneware in Norwich as early as 1769.

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5:55 pm
Fri December 27, 2013

Skating Through Winter

Francis and Co. Trade Card. Late 19th century. This trade card shows a pair of skates made to attach to a pair of sturdy boots.
The Connecticut Historical Society

The centuries-old tradition of ice skating during the winter season began as a simple way to get from place to place. However, by the 1850s, better-designed skates and the increased interest in outdoor activities made ice skating a popular leisure activity. Skaters might be found on virtually any frozen body of water: small ponds, rivers, even town reservoirs.

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11:00 am
Fri December 20, 2013

What Did Santa Bring? Presents Under the Tree 100 Years Ago

Armstrong Christmas tree surrounded by presents. Photograph by William Dudley, ca. 1924. Muriel Armstrong lived in Groton, Connecticut.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1995.36.1583

"For Muriel Armstrong From Santa" These words are written on a child’s easel blackboard sitting next to a tree decorated with tinsel, beads, glass ornaments and even an American flag. Other presents, including dolls, a sewing set, Bradley’s Toy Village, and “Denslow’s One Ring Circus and Other Stories” surround the tree. This black and white photograph captures the Christmas morning scene for a comfortable Connecticut family about 100 years ago.

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11:53 am
Fri December 13, 2013

An Inconvenient Season: Charlotte Cowles’s Letters from December 1839

Catherine. Hand-colored lithograph by E.B. & E.C. Kellogg, ca. 1840. Nineteenth-century women wrote a lot of letters. The young woman in this print was a contemporary of Charlotte Cowles.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2003.147.0

Today we do not think of Farmington and Hartford being distant from each other, but in 1839 it was a journey not to be taken lightly. That is why Charlotte Cowles in Farmington wrote frequently to her brother Samuel in Hartford, asking him to do errands for her. On December 5, 1839, she requested that he procure the type of whale bones generally used in bonnets from Mrs. Orcutt, a milliner. Charlotte also asked him to find a yard and three quarters of “backing” to put under the stove in their keeping room.

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2:00 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Transit of Venus: German Scientists Visit Hartford

Map of the 1761 transit of Venus, from Astronomy Explained Upon Sir Isaac Newton’s Principles, by James Ferguson, F.R.S, London, 1794.
The Connecticut Historical Society, Thomas Robbins collection, 14 Connecticut Historical Society

In December 1882, a German scientific commission sent a team of astronomers to Hartford, Connecticut to observe a rare astronomical event. The transit of Venus (when the planet passes between the earth and the sun) occurs in eight-year pairs, and those pairs occur every 121½ or 105½ years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the transit was an important opportunity for scientists to calculate the distance between the earth and the sun—the basis for the astronomical unit.

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1:23 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

The Last Wolf in Connecticut

Putnam’s Cave or Wolf Den. Drawing by John Warner Barber, ca. 1835. The story of Putnam and the wolf was an oft-repeated tale throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Connecticut Historical Society, 1953.5.313
Connecticut Historical Society

Israel Putnam is a name that stands out in the colonial history of Connecticut as a war hero of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Prior to his wartime glory, he earned the nickname “Wolf Putnam” by killing what was believed to be the last wolf in Connecticut when he was a young farmer in the eastern Connecticut town of Pomfret.

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5:20 pm
Fri November 22, 2013

Battle Among the Clouds: the Chattanooga Campaign

Street view of Chattanooga. Photograph by an unknown photographer, ca. 1865. Like other photographs in this sequence, this one was evidently taken shortly after the war. The Connecticut Historical Society, 2013.225.2
Connecticut Historical Society

The words of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, memorializing the Civil War’s largest battle to date, were still echoing when Union and Confederate forces engaged in yet another large scale engagement in late November 1863. This time around the North’s rising military star, Ulysses S. Grant, commanded the Union forces.

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2:58 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

Hartford's "Little Italy"

Mazzafera Family Photographs, photographed by Di Gangi Studio, early 20th c. Ida Mazzafera, one of the little girls on the right, was Gennaro Capobianco’s mother. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Gennaro J. Capobianco, 2005.180.21.1
Connecticut Historical Society

In the early 1900s, Hartford was a booming economic center. Italy, on the other hand, suffered both economically and socially. Hundreds of thousands of Italian men looked for unskilled work in other countries, with many eventually headed to the United States. Hartford’s potential job opportunities attracted Italians and soon the city’s number of immigrants increased dramatically. Many of the Italian men became construction laborers building factories, housing, and railroads.

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10:34 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Eighty-Five Hundred Souls: the 1918-1919 Flu Epidemic in Connecticut

Ward 83, American Red Cross Military Hospital Number 1. Photograph, 1918. Many American soldiers suffered from influenza while serving in the United States and Europe during World War I. The Connecticut Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Fritz W. Baldwin.
Connecticut Historical Society

Every year, each winter, flu season hits. Citizens are urged by the government and healthcare workers to get flu shots, to protect themselves and others against the disease. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that between the years 1976-2007, the number of deaths from flu in the United States has ranged from 3,349 in 1986-87 to 48,614 in 2003-04. It is the 1918-1919 outbreak of Spanish influenza (also classified as H1N1), however, that is remembered as one of the deadliest natural disasters in history.

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4:05 pm
Fri November 1, 2013

Saving the Scattered Remnants: Samson Occom and the Brotherton Indians

Reverend Samson Occom. Lithograph, 1830s. This later portrait is based on an engraving made in Europe during the 1780s. The Connecticut Historical Society, 1843.6.00
Connecticut Historical Society

Today the word Mohegan evokes thoughts of a casino, the Mohegan Sun. In the 18th century the most famous Mohegan was probably Samson Occom, a Native American preacher and teacher, who also served as a tribal councilor, herbal doctor, fisherman, hunter, farmer, and was a father, husband, and brother.

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10:59 am
Wed October 30, 2013

Creepy Connecticut: Thrills and Chills on a Behind-the-Scenes Tour at CHS

Corpse Preserver. Sold by C. Rogers & Co., ca. 1876. Behind-the-Scenes Tour guests thought our “corpse preserver” was creepy. The Connecticut Historical Society,Gift of William C. Ruot, 1994.128.1
Connecticut Historical Society

Shivers ran down the collective spine of visitors, and at least one person took several steps back, and stayed a safe distance away. What scared the history out of these participants in a Behind-the-Scenes tour at the Connecticut Historical Society one Saturday early in October? The Corpse Preserver, a coffin-shaped contraption raised on ornate metal legs, which was designed to preserve bodies and allow them to be viewed by mourners. 

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1:55 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Through a Different Lens: Three Connecticut Women Photographers

Through a Different Lens: Three Connecticut Women Photographers is on view now at the Connecticut Historical Society through March 29, 2014. It explores the work of three photographers, and uses objects to provide technological history.
Connecticut Historical Society

Today, many people carry cameras around with them in their pockets or purses; the iPhone 4, 4s and 5 are the three most popular cameras on the photo-sharing site Flickr. With cameras all around us, it’s difficult to imagine an era in which making a photograph was a time-consuming process that required an understanding of chemistry and a willingness to cart around heavy equipment and inhale noxious fumes, but upon its invention in 1839, and for several decades after, it was just that.

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12:36 pm
Fri October 11, 2013

Reckoning With the Dutch: the Treaty of Hartford, 1650

New Netherlands and New England. Map published by Willem Blaeu, Amsterdam, 1635.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 2012.172.1

In 1650, representatives from New Netherlands and New England met in Hartford to try to settle their boundary disputes. The Dutch trading post called the Huys de Hope—the House of Hope—located on the Connecticut River at the mouth of the Little River had been established in 1633; Thomas Hooker and his party had arrived three years later, establishing Hartford just upstream from the Dutch post. English settlers kept pouring in during the 1630s and 1640s, establishing new towns up and down the river and along the coast.

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Shellfish History
11:21 am
Sat October 5, 2013

Any Month with an “R” in It: Eating Oysters in Connecticut

An Oyster Supper, 1852-1853. Hand-colored lithograph by Elijah Chapman Kellogg . Oysters were a popular food in Connecticut during the 19th century.
Connecticut Historical Society, 1980.43.2

An old myth maintains that you should only eat oysters during those months with the letter “R” in their names. This was both because of the higher bacteria content—and therefore the greater chance of disease—during summer months, and because of the health hazards associated with shipping raw seafood in an age before refrigeration.

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6:14 pm
Fri September 27, 2013

Yung Wing's Dream: The Chinese Educational Mission, 1872-1881

Yung Wing. Wood engraving from Harper's Weekly, 1878.
The Connecticut Historical Society, 1979.46.21B

Yung Wing had a dream. He wanted Chinese youth to study American technology to improve China’s engineering and infrastructure. As a boy, he had attended Monson Academy in Massachusetts and then graduated from Yale in 1854. Upon his return to China, he became a strong advocate for the western education of Chinese students, and was able to convince the Chinese government to support his project. He was assisted in large part by the 1868 Burlingame Treaty that provided for mutual rights of residence and attendance at public schools for citizens of the United States and China. 

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