The Wilmington Story

Wilmington, Delaware has a rich history of photography, business, and advertising.

This map of Wilmington shows the locations of some of the businesses mentioned in this exhibition.

These images feature a teenage Polish American resident of Wilmington, Henry Szymanski’s photographs. He used a lightweight, portable Kodak Brownie camera to take portraits of businesses, clubs, and schools in predominantly black neighborhoods in the 1930s and 1940s. He likely earned some money from these photos, but he never operated a studio business. 

Located on the corner of 9th and Lombard Streets in Wilmington, the Kid’s Shop window featured advertisements for popular items such as Hershey’s ice cream and Coca-Cola beverages, aimed at drawing customers inside to purchase sunglasses, snacks, and other treats. Customers could also rent bikes or have their shoes shined here. Henry Szymanski pictured two well-dressed men proudly standing in front of, and inside, their shop. (Kid’s Shop, Henry Szymanski, photographer, 9th and Lombard Streets, Wilmington, Delaware; 1938–40, Silver gelatin prints, Szymanski Collection, Delaware Historical Society 2003.15.296, .299, .298)  

In contrast, the Arthur N. Sanborn Photographic Studios, at 404 Market Street in Wilmington from 1904 to 1959, was a full-service business. Arthur’s son, Arthur Nelson Sanborn Jr., continued to run the studio until 1964. The business photos created by Szymanski and Sanborn illustrate a lively commercial landscape in downtown Wilmington in the first half of the twentieth century. They also document the achievements of businesswomen and men in the face of residential and commercial segregation. (Arthur N. Sanborn on Market Street, Arthur N. Sanborn Studio, Wilmington, Delaware; 1920s, Private collection)

In 1968, following the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Wilmington experienced two days of civil disorder and looting, followed by a nine-month occupation by the National Guard. This period dramatically disrupted the downtown commercial district, disproportionately affecting black residents and small business owners of all backgrounds within the city.  

Click here to learn more about the businesses in Wilmington included in this exhibition.