n the early 20th Century, postcards were huge. Postcards were invented in Germany in the 1870s. In the United States, they became widespread around 1900. As it did so many other things, the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair popularized picture postcards.

The floodgates opened and Americans sent postcards by the hundreds of millions. The tide didn’t abate until after the First World War.

Views of the Ohio State University area were an obvious subject for postcards. The university was a major landmark and point of pride for Columbus residents. As the state capitol, home of the state fair, and destination for all sorts of conferences and expositions, Columbus received thousands of visitors each year. These visitors wanted to share what they had seen and the university was an obligatory stop for sight-seers.

Ohio State students were a natural market for postcard manufacturers. They wanted to stay in touch with faraway friends and family. Busy students, however, found it hard to write letters as often as they would have liked. A paragraph on the back of a postcard let them stay in touch and ask for money without devoting an afternoon to drafting a letter. Postcards also mailed for half the price of a letter--important to financially strapped collegians. As a bonus, picture postcards let them show all the folks back home what life was like at state university. Mother and father, sister Sarah, Grandma, Aunt Eugenia, and Cousin Mabel could see where they lived, where they studied, and where they played.

Mirror Lake (or The Spring as it used to be called) is the principal natural beauty spot on campus and, as such, was a popular subject of early 20th Century picture postcards such as these.

So have a look, read the messages, and step back a century or so to see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same.


December 24, 1903

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Mirror Lake Hollow viewed from the southwest.

Late afternoon, judging from the light and shadows. Photographed in fall or early spring. Many trees are bare.

Grotto near the spring looks almost like a cave entrance.

Mailed to: FALL RIVER, MASS.

May 28, 1906

Dear Nephew, I take many a cool drink from this spring and watch the fish come up to the top for crumbs.


Really like this one. I like the font. I like the colors and the hazy quality of the light.

I like the "slice-of-life" feel. The two charming little girls have a wagon and some sort of coffee pail they've been filling from the spring. I assume that's their father sitting there to the right.


December 5, 1907

I am getting along fine. I would rather be out west of Circleville though.

Uncommon view looking east, up Mirror Lake Hollow. Cave-like Grotto and The Spring are on the left. Building peaking through the trees is Orton Hall (built 1893).

Notice the difference between this and the earlier cards above. A March 1907 postal regulation change allowed mailers to write on the reverse (address) side of the postcard so room for text on the front was no longer needed.

Mailed to: KENT, OHIO

December 19, 1907

Got through both of my Physics and Mech all right. You got a (M) in Mech. (94) on exam. I am going to work {at} the Adams Express Company during my vacation. begin to-morrow morning at [6 o'clock] and work until 6 P.M. How do you like the hours, I am not stuck on them. Wishing you a Merry Xmas + Happy New Year.

Children, adults, and the elderly enjoying a summer afternoon in verdant Mirror Lake Hollow.


November 19, 1909

Why is it you don't write nothing... I don't know what to think, do I?

Close-up of The Grotto and The Spring.

Grotto looks like a cave entrance with vines draped over it. Four tin cups rest on the rim of The Spring for thirsty passers-by.

In the background, some of Orton Hall can be seen. Ghostly blur disappearing behind tree is probably a student who wandered into the shot.


Mailed to: KALONA, IOWA

October 12, 1908

Hello Cousin-- How are you? School is OK and they are making us work harder than ever. The pictures of Rosa H___ are no good. The films were bad so they are all spoiled.


Two fashionable ladies take a drink from the spring with a dipper. Wonder if they brought it from home or if there was always one there?


April 23, 1910

No message.


Mirror Lake on a sunny afternoon, looking west. Can't see the island but notice the bridge at the far end. Don't know what the guy sitting cross-legged by the spring is doing.



May 28, 1910

No message.


Mirror Lake on a rainy spring night, looking west. Great atmosphere in this one. An island (There used to be islands.) is visible to the left.



August 18, 1913

Hope you are feeling better. It certainly is warm.


Quite a company enjoying the lake late on on a sunny afternoon. A couple ladies are having a picnic on the island. Don't know how they got out there. The object in the foreground is some sort of partially submerged flower planter.


September 9, 1913

This is beautiful and the University is very large... I'm having the loveliest time here and in Cincinnati.

Unusual long and narrow postcard. Panoramic view of the lake, grotto. islands, and hollow. Lovely tinting.


March 10, 1915

The B.P. bunch give their show at Jeromesville Sat. night and if the roads are not too bad and you want to go, we'll go up.


The artist who tinted this view of the lake and grotto seemed to be going for fall colors.


March 2, 1923

I wish I knew the story behind this vintage postcard of Ohio State’s Mirror Lake.

On March 2, 1923, a young woman named Eleanor mailed it from Columbus to her parents back home in rural Perry County.

A few weeks ago, I saw this card on eBay and bought it. It took a while to get here. When it arrived, I saw why. It came all the way from Bucharest, Romania.

So how in the intervening 89 years did this card wind up in Eastern Europe?