Madison history lesson: Winter 1936

A look back at a snowy scene on State Street, during a time cars could still drive down the iconic street.
fully wintery scene of state street in winter
Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society Archives Image ID 2138

It had only been seven long winters since the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression. Twenty-three years since Henry Ford’s assembly line revolutionized the automotive industry, and still nearly four decades before State Street would begin to reject those vehicles in favor of pedestrians and bicycles.

A vintage lamppost next to a nearly unchanged 21st century Coca-Cola logo is wonderfully disorienting. The opulent Capitol Theatre — not yet the Civic Center, not yet the Overture Center for the Arts — only 8 years old, was still a silent movie house. Even the state Capitol building, destroyed by fire, was already in its third iteration.

Today, as iconic State Street remains in flux, this photograph by Harold N. Hone reminds us that it has always changed shape, yet somehow stays the same. The Yost-Kessenich and other department stores have gone. The shopkeepers, buskers, poets and passersby have changed faces. But come winter, be it 1936 or 2021, the snow still falls.

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