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About this collection

William Wallace was a prominent early resident of Omaha who had a successful career in the Omaha National Bank. We will remember him best, however, as an avid amateur photographer who left behind a collection of several thousand photographs, lantern and stereopticon slides, and negatives documenting early twentieth-century views of Omaha, Nebraska; his vacation home at Lake Okoboji, Iowa; and his travels abroad and through the United States.  This collection, at his behest, was donated after his death to Omaha Public Library, an institution he staunchly supported during his lifetime. The collection is notable for the many rare views it provides of scenes not often documented in early photographs, including poor areas of town, settlement houses, building interiors, and many casual, unposed shots of people and pets.

Biography of William Wallace

William Wallace was born in Summit County, Ohio, May 1, 1841, and at the age of 8 moved to Canton, Ohio, with his family, where he resided until joining the army. He served in the Fourth Ohio Infantry from April 1861 until June 21, 1864, and was promoted to captain. He then entered the office of the governor of Ohio at Columbus and worked there until the fall of 1865 when he came to Omaha at age 24. He was bookkeeper for Hurford & Company, hardware dealers, until July, 1866, when he became a bookkeeper at Omaha National Bank. In 1869 he was appointed assistant cashier; subsequently he was promoted to cashier and later to vice president, remaining in that capacity to the end of his life. In 1889 he and other native Ohioans, F. P. Hanlon and Lewis Ley, started the Omaha Tinware Manufacturing Company, a lucrative business which manufactured fruit, cracker, and cracker cans, and supplied Swift & Hammond, the Omaha Packing Company, and Silberhorn Packing Company of Sioux City with lithographed lard pails. They also furnished all cans required by the Consolidated Coffee Company. The company outgrew their location on Jones Street and moved to the former City Mills at 1207-1213 South 20th Street, employing 120 people.

Wallace was appointed to serve on the first Omaha Public Library board in 1877 and was vice president of the board from 1880 to 1882 and president from 1884-1896. During those early years of growth there were so many cards to be issued that he assisted the librarian, Jennie Allen with her work. It was during his tenure as president that the “Old Main” library, designed by local architect Thomas Kimball and still standing at the southeast corner of 19th and Harney Streets, was built, opening July 4, 1894. Wallace was active in philanthropic work and Unity Church, and, with his wife, was a founder of the Omaha colony at Lake Okoboji, Iowa. His wife, Mary Grant Wallace, died September 14, 1905, and he died March 21, 1915, at their residence, located at 2420 Harney Street. Both were buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery. They were survived by their daughters, Janet and Mary, and son, James.

Browse the Collection

William Wallace biography file, Omaha Public Library

Kalish, Philip A. “The Early History of the Omaha Public Library: A Thesis presented to the Department of History, Municipal University of Omaha.” March 1964, p. 28-29.

Lethem, John. Historical and Descriptive Review of Omaha: Her Leading Business Houses and Enterprising Men. Omaha: 1892, p. 194

“Mrs. Mary Wallace Is Dead: Passes Away After a Short Illness.” Omaha World-Herald, 15 September 1905.

“William Wallace Dead at Age of 74: Vice President of Omaha National Bank, Resident of Omaha Since 1866, Started Work in Bank as Bookkeeper in July, 1866.” Omaha World-Herald, 22 March 1915.

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