Historic Des Moines, Images of Des Moines, 1904 - 1914

About Historic Des Moines

The Historic Des Moines collection gives a glimpse of Des Moines, Iowa as it entered the 20th century. This was a period of substantial growth for the city, and a time when Des Moines was growing away from its origins as an outpost in the West. The collection was created by scanning images from the original sources held by the Special Collections Department of Drake University's Cowles Library. Each image was researched, described, and indexed. The result is a searchable collection filled with the history of Des Moines. Accompanying the collection is an article written by local historian John Zeller. In his article, From the Real to the Ideal; Images of Des Moines in the Progressive Era, Mr. Zeller describes the times in which these images were captured and how they relate to each other.

Using the collection

Search or browse through the individual records. When looking at a list of records, click on the thumbnail image to view the full record. Some of the records include the field Current image. If a record has this field it means the building is still standing, and you can see a current picture of the structure on the Polk County Assessor's webpage. Click on the link provided and in a new window, you will be taken to the image on the Polk County Assessor's website.

The images used for the Historic Des Moines Collection were taken from three sources held in Drake University's Cowles Library.

Art Work of Des Moines

Art Work of Des Moines is a boxed set of nine bound volumes of photographic plates printed by photogravure. This resulted in velvety highlights and subdued shadows reminiscent of expensive platinum prints. Together the nine volumes contain 159 images of the Des Moines area. All of these images are included in this online collection. Art Work of Des Moines was published in 1915 by the Gravure Illustration Company of Chicago Illinois. Gravure published collections of photographs for many major cities across the country in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The images include private homes, churches, commercial and civic buildings, street scenes and parks.

Iowa State Atlas, 1904

The Iowa State Atlas was published in 1904 by the Iowa Publishing Company of Davenport under the supervision of Melchoir Huebinger. The book contains 99 plates of images from across the state. These are presented in a photomontage style, with many different images of a town or city on the same page. There are also many pages devoted to images of prominent citizens of Iowa. Of the 99 plates, we have included five that are dedicated to images of Des Moines.

Des Moines, the Pioneer of Municipal Progress and Reform of the Middle West..., 1911

Published in 1911 by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company of Chicago, this two volume set is best known by its spine title History of Des Moines and Polk County, as the original title is just too long. These volumes are the work of Johnson Brigham. Mr. Brigham was the first State Librarian of Iowa, and in 1923, Drake University bestowed upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. This set contains hundreds of images of Des Moines and its pre-1911 settlers. The images range in quality and size, and from these hundreds of images, we scanned 28 that fit the theme and time period of our collection. Cowles Library also holds the WPA-produced index for these volumes.


The images were all scanned on a Epson Expression 1640 XL flatbed scanner, and processed using Adobe Photoshop software. The images were all scanned at 600 dpi and the resulting master files have been archived in TIFF format and are stored at Cowles Library. From these master files smaller JPEG files were created for web access. The collection was constructed with CONTENTdm digital collection management software, using Dublin Core metadata.

Individual images were researched using a variety of sources from the Cowles Library collection. These resources include Des Moines city directories published by R.L. Polk & Company, Johnson and Brigham's History of Des Moines and Polk County, Charles Ritchey's Drake University through Seventy-five Years, and Sara Mullin Baldwin's Who's Who in Des Moines, 1929. Various resources from outside the library were also used, including resources from the State Historical Society of Iowa Library and the Polk County Assessor’s Office. The Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials I was used to create a controlled vocabulary.


Bart Schmidt, Digital Projects Librarian
Kathy Lincoln, Digital Metadata & Cataloging Associate
Sarah Clark, Digital Projects Assistant

Additional support and help came from Scott Phillips, Claudia Frazer, and Bruce Gilbert. We would also thank to thank John Zeller for his wonderful article that accompanies the collection.

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Copyright © Drake University 2005. All rights reserved. Please include this statement with any copies you make. The materials included in this web site are freely available for private study, scholarship or non-commercial research under the "fair use" provisions of the U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, United States Code). Noncommercial, non-subscription Internet editions created for an educational purpose may freely link to the site or individual pages. Any use beyond the provisions of "fair use", including but not limited to commercial or scholarly publication, broadcast, redistribution or mounting on another web site always require prior written permission and may also be subject to additional restrictions and fees.

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