Toledo's Attic is reaching 25 years this year! Since 1997, Toledo's Attic has been Toledo's and Northwest Ohio's virtual museum with a focus on the region's commercial, industrial, and social history from the late 19th through the late 20th centuries. It began as a co-operative project of the Ward M. Canaday Center of the University of Toledo, the UT Department of History, the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, the Maumee Valley Historical Society, and WGTE Public Media.

The site offers visitors historical essays, research articles (in Northwest Ohio History) photo galleries, videos, virtual exhibitions, and other resources needed for school, private, and scholarly research. Educators may peruse these collections for teaching history and preparing students for History Day and other events. The collections may also support other innovative projects using various digital technologies.  Moreover, Toledo's Attic is open to housing student projects in the area of public history  and digital storytelling.  Toledo's Attic and its social media sites will continue to help researchers connect and discover relevant digital and traditional resources at the participating archives, libraries, and museums in Northwest Ohio. This site continues to foster collaboration among interested scholars, students, and citizens, and invites contributions of historical essays and photographs.

We thank Tedd Long for his generous support and the many volunteers who have contributed to the project throughout the past 25 years.

 

Reviewed by the National History Education Clearinghouse.

Toledo’s Attic: The Beginnings

Timothy Messer-Kruse

Toledo’s Attic Virtual Museum sprung from discussions among leaders of Lucas County’s historical preservation community in the mid-1990s. In 1995, Lucas-County Maumee Valley Historical Society, whose uncatalogued collections of local industrial artifacts filled several rooms of a vacant office building downtown, organized a committee to explore establishing a museum of Toledo’s modern history.

Leaders of this early effort included John Squire, president of the LCMVHS, Ernest Weaver, Jr., an emeritus professor engineering at the University of Toledo, Roger Ray, at UT professor of history, Jim Marshall and Irene Martin of the Toledo Public Library, George Jones of the Miniger Foundation, Dale Fallat of the Andersons, and local attorney Carl White. Their vision at the outset was of constructing a Toledo industrial museum in the old steam plant on the Maumee riverfront. Soon the Toledo Blade was pushing the idea from its editorial pages calling on the city to remember “the glory days of our city’s industrial heritage” and describing it as a “thrilling prospect.” (Blade Dec. 28, 1995, p. 14). Mrs. Henry Dodge, whose husband served as CEO of Libbey-Owens-Ford for many years, offered to donate her 1913 Ohio Electric automobile, the only surviving example of a Toledo-built car from that early era, for the museum.

Quickly, the daunting costs of securing a permanent location and a permanent staff were apparent and project organizers realized that the fundraising alone would take the better part of a decade. The idea of displaying some of the historical society’s artifacts and presenting some of Toledo's rich industrial history online was originally thought of as a temporary alternative to a traditional museum, not a replacement of it. However, as the potential of a “virtual museum” came into focus, it began to be thought of as an alternative model for the entire project. Perhaps, most powerful in driving enthusiasm for a virtual museum was the realization that the artifacts and exhibits being planned for the internet (as it was commonly referred to then) could be publicly and physically displayed in temporary locations as well.

Compared to the soaring ambitions to construct a riverfront museum that first brought the project together and for a moment attracted the interest of local corporations and foundations, the funding the materialized was rather modest. The Clement O. Miniger Foundation contributed $14,000 and the Ohio Humanities Council provided a grant of $3,000. UT provided a summer stipend for the project organizer and funds for a graduate assistant to help with digitizing collections.

Toledo’s Attic’s original concept of being a hybrid between virtual and physical spaces when its first exhibit opened in the SeaGate Convention Centre in downtown Toledo in August of 1999. (Blade, June 11, 1999). Subsequent plans for a series of “registration days” when the public would be invited to bring their own historical treasures and have them photographed and cataloged for the website never materialized.

There were many other digital history projects and online museums sprouting up in those days, but few others attempted to combine the virtual and the physical in the way Toledo’s Attic’s organizers did. It soon drew attention from neighboring state historical organizations and from the professional museology and local history associations. Interest in this model of historical preservation probably peaked when the Chicago Tribune sent a staff writer to Toledo to write a feature about it. Noting that the internet was causing a “revolution” in the museum community, the Tribune proclaimed, “In an unlikely setting–the gritty, Rust Belt city of Toledo…one of the major new ‘shots’ in this revolution has been fired.” (Mike Conklin, “Nothing But Net: Museum’s Virtual Reality May Just Be a Life Without Walls,” Chicago Tribune, Aug. 13, 2000). Soon after this the Ohio Senate awarded Toledo’s Attic the state’s Ohio Historic Preservation Award.

            Toledo’s Attic never quite had the resources to realize its full vision of a hybrid institution, one that combines the virtual with temporary physical exhibits. Nevertheless, such a possibility materialized spectacularly in the spring of 2002 when the Toledo’s Attic project teamed with the Toledo Museum of Art to produce the landmark exhibit, Toledo Designs: The Alliance of Art and Industry for a Modern America. Organized largely by Davira Taragin, a curator at the TMA at the time, Toledo Designs brought together the top specialists in industrial history and design from around the nation to uncover and celebrate Toledo’s central role in shaping the aesthetic of postwar American consumer goods. TMA’s exhibit was praised by critics and proved popular with the public.

Well before Web 2.0 made social media interactivity the standard of online sites, Toledo’s Attic experimented with incorporating public posts into its content, though the technology for doing so quickly exceeded what could be accomplished by a single server in an office of Tucker Hall. For the most part, Toledo’s Attic remained an exhibit platform rather than an interactive one. Through the early 2000s, a stream of new exhibits continued to be debuted, including the first-ever public release of the FBI file of Toledo’s longtime labor boss, Richard Gosser. But by 2005, interest in the website and the project waned as the plan for periodically holding temporary physical exhibitions did not materialize and many of the organizers moved on to other projects. The server itself and all its content moved first from the UT History Department to WGTE and then to the UT Library under the direction of Barbara Floyd where it has been well maintained ever since.

Timothy Messer-Kruse, July 14, 2022

Dr. Messer-Kruse's announcement of Toledo's Attic in 1997

Early History of Toledo's Attic

New on Toledo's Attic

Toledo's Attic is reaching 25 years on Labor Day, 2022.  Read "Early History of Toledo's Essay" (Virtual Museum Opening, Fall 1997)

The History of the Toledo and Lake Erie Boating and Fishing Association and The Middle Bass Club

The Middle Bass Club Chapel Story (added March 2022)

The Middle Bass Club: Veteran Biographies (added April 2022)

Memories of Semi-Pro Basketball in Toledo: Twisters of 1961-62 and Tartans of 1962-63 (essay)

From Bicycles to Furniture: A Brief Historical Sketch of the Toledo Metal Furniture Company’s First Decade (essay and slides)

Recorded Lectures and Presentations (WGTE/KnowledgeStream)

See what our friends are doing...

Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections

"Faith, Vision and Hard Work: The University of Toledo, 1872-2022" (Exhibition focusing on the history of the University of Toledo) [More on this exhibition...]

[Virtual exhibition]

Past Exhibits

Maumee Valley Historical Society

Special Events

Toledo Lucas County Public Library

Calendar of Events (for History and Genealogy-related events, click on Program Type and check the box for "History/Travel/Genealogy")

WGTE Public Media

Watch "Toledo Stories" on your device

Northwest Ohio Cultural Heritage Group

 Download and Print the Northwest Ohio Cultural Heritage Passport

Visit the Northwest Ohio Cultural Heritage Group Website to find out how to participate in the passport.

 

Toledo's Attic and all contents herein are to be used for educational and scholarly purposes. U.S. and international copyright laws protect digital contents in this collection. Commercial use or distribution of the image is not permitted without prior permission of the copyright holder. Toledo's Attic by www.toledosattic.org is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at www.toledosattic.org.