In the first decades of the 20th century, Wauwatosa was well on its way to becoming a bedroom suburb of Milwaukee. Families were moving into newly developed subdivisions built on land that once grew grain, fruit, and vegetables for the large Milwaukee market. The village of Wauwatosa had banks, businesses, schools, churches, and two streetcar lines that transported commuters to-and-from Milwaukee several times a day. It also had the large Lefeber Brothers’ Department Store!

The Wauwatosa Historical Society is fortunate to be the permanent caretaker of over 2,000 glass plate negatives documenting the Lefeber family from 1900 to about 1935. Cornelius Lefeber, who took many of the images, was one of three brothers who owned and operated the Lefeber Brothers Department Store at the corner of State Street and Harwood Avenue in the heart of the Wauwatosa village.

Many of the images portray the children of Cornelius and May Lefeber. The couple married in 1910, and their first child, Edward, was born in 1911. Three more children followed – Eleanor in 1913, Ruth in 1917, and Cornelius Jr. in 1926. This unique and extensive collection of images allows a first-hand look into the lives of an upper-middle-class family during the early 20th century in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.

The images allow the viewer to look into the home of Cornelius and May, who have created a beautiful and welcoming space for their family of six. Numerous photographs of the Lefeber children show them at play with their many toys. These images differ significantly from the studio portraits that were so popular then – the children’s facial expressions are candid and authentic, with no forced smiles or staged backdrops.

Over a century has passed since Cornelius Lefeber began taking photographs of his family. Today, with new technology, this treasured collection of glass plate negatives can be scanned and shared online – a project currently underway at the Wauwatosa Historical Society.

–Written by Carol Rosen, January 2024

The 1913 image of Edward Lefeber and his treasured security blanket is from the Wauwatosa Historical Society’s Lefeber Glass Plate Collection.

Below you’ll find a selection of photographs from the Lefeber Glass Plate Collection at the Wauwatosa Historical Society. Click on the images to find out more about the photographs and the Lefeber family.