Hundreds of newly public old photos showcase everyday life in 1920s Chicago


Vienna “Red Hot” sandwiches cost 5 cents. Cecil B. DeMille’s “Dynamite” was playing at one of the city’s grandest movie palaces. And, it seemed, everyone smoked – playing tennis, on the golf course and even while wading in Lake Michigan.

Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon came to America from Norway in 1926, but his was not an immigrant story. He came to Chicago as a young man to learn how to build with steel and concrete — and then he went back home four years later. But during his time here, he took hundreds of photographs of a place so different from his Scandinavian home — from the movie palaces ablaze in white lights to the skeletal frame of a rising skyscraper.

Roar’s granddaughter, Vibecke Knudtzon Gausel, recently posted those images on her personal Facebook pages as well as one featuring old photos of Chicago, drawing hundreds of curious and nostalgic viewers.

There are pictures of everyday life — of Knudtzon and his family playing along the shores of Lake Michigan, clustered around a dinner table at Christmas, pushing infants in old-fashioned baby carriages. There are photos said to be from “Norwegian Day” as well as pictures of Buckingham Fountain, the University of Chicago and Michigan Avenue, among other city landmarks.

“I think he just wanted to go to America to learn,” said Gausel, 54, speaking from her home in Oslo.

Her grandfather’s family would eventually settle in the Norwegian city of Trondheim, where Knudtzon was born. He went to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, and worked as an engineer in the U.S. and France. He even was part of the Norwegian resistance during World War II, said Nils Kristian Eikeland, a senior engineer at the NTNU University Library. He died in a car crash in 1985 at the age of 85, Gausel said.

Gausel recently donated 4,000 of his images from around the world to his alma mater, which maintains a collection of 1 million Norwegian-themed photos, including 100,000 that are searchable online, dating back to 1899.

“What’s exciting about Knudtzon’s photographs is that they’re captured by an amateur photographer” who took “more spontaneous and candid shots than those taken by a professional photographer,” Eikeland said. “The sheer amount of photographs also provides a detailed view of the age they lived in.”


This 1928 photo was taken outside 7632 N. Bosworth Ave., where Knudtzon’s family lived while in Chicago.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929: Inside the family apartment at 7632 N. Bosworth Ave.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


University of Chicago’s Ryerson Hall in 1929
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


7632 N. Bosworth Ave. (1928)
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


The Stevens Hotel which was billed as the”World’s Largest Hotel” when it opened in 1927 on Michigan Avenue. The hotel, which is now the Chicago Hilton and Towers, is “where we spent our first night in Chicago,” according to a description on the back of the photo.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


May 17, 1929: Norway`s Constitution Day. In front of the statue of Leiv Eirikson, the first Norwegian that came to America.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


Field Museum 1928
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


A photo taken in Chicago in 1930.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


Festivities for May 17, 1929, Norway`s Constitution Day
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929: Jackson Park in front of “a ruin from the World Exhibition in 1889,” the back of the photo says.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929: After a snowstorm outside 7632 N. Bosworth Ave.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1928: The lion outside The Art Institute.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1927 – Buckingham Fountain
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929 – Buckingham Fountain
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929: Outside the Norwegian Club, near 2350 N. Kedzie.
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929 Civic Opera House
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon


1929 – May 17, 1929: Crowds gather for Norway`s Constitution Day
Roar Brodtkorb Knudtzon