New Life for Millions of Disappearing Books


Free eBooks in the public domain are now available in huge numbers. Learn here about that initiative, and how our website helps you find the books you’ll like.

This website, History of the Great Lakes States, has two online libraries of free ebooks; one for the history of the five states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, and one for the Century Past Library, with books that might have been in any American public library in the 1920s. Both collections provide public access to free ebooks and online journal articles, maps and documents that were published from the 18th century until 1923, with a few titles from later in the 20th century.

Thanks to computer technology and to the efforts of many organizations, these works and millions of others have been given new lives. Now they’re available online and free to anyone with access to the internet.

None of the digital files for the works listed on this site are saved on our server. Instead, entries on the site have links to files at other online collections, usually sponsored by non-profit organizations, state universities, or state historical societies. Some entries are linked to servers at for-profit companies, which provide free online access to some portion of their collections. The chief examples of such for-profit companies used by History of the Great Lakes States are Google, Historic MapWorks and David Rumsey Map Collections. Links to these organizations are below.

Below are some of the non-profit and state government organizations that History of the Great Lakes States relies upon for most of its free ebooks and other digitized resources. Feel free to visit them and make use of their vast collections.


Major Non-Profit Digital Collections


Internet Archive

This non-profit organization was founded in 1996 to build an internet library of historical collections. In addition to free ebooks, it offers digitized audio, software and archived web pages. Access is open and free, and the collection is enormous and still growing. According to the site’s “About” page, the Internet Archive has over 3 million users per day.

Open Library

According to the Site’s “About Us” page: Open Library is a project of the Internet Archive (see above). Their goal is to have one web page for every book ever published. It is a ‘wiki’-type project, being done largely through contributions of books and the time of volunteers. They now have over 20 million records, and have over 1 million public domain books available to anyone with internet access.

Internet Archive and Open Library are the preferred free ebook sources for History of the Great Lakes States, with more than half our book entries linked to their servers. They frequently have multiple copies of a work, at least one of which is a high-quality facsimile of the original. Both sites enable anyone to download most of their titles in several file formats. For reading online, both sites provide the same excellent document viewer.


Hathi Trust Digital Library

According to the Home page, HathiTrust is a partnership of academic and research institutions, offering a collection of millions of digitized titles from libraries around the world. If you are not a member of a ‘partner institution’ such as a participating university, you won’t have full use of all materials. However, anyone with internet access can normally read HathiTrust‘s public domain books online.

Here’s a background article on HathiTrust and Google Books from Computers in Libraries magazine.

And here’s a U.S. Library of Congress guide to “Online Repositories & E-book Libraries” with more info about the sites above.


Finding Books of Interest on Internet Archive or HathiTrust

See our guide, Searching for Free eBooks, for help in finding titles of public domain books on subjects that interest you, and for then finding free online versions of those titles on Internet Archive or HathiTrust.


U.S. Library of Congress American Memory

According to the site’s “About” page, “American Memory provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.” The Library of Congress began the project in the early 1990s and now offers more than 100 collections and 9 million individual items.


Making of America

The Home page says, “Making of America (MOA) is a digital library of primary sources in American social history primarily from the antebellum period through reconstruction. The collection is particularly strong in the subject areas of education, psychology, American history, sociology, religion, and science and technology. The book collection currently contains approximately 10,000 books with 19th century imprints.”


State Historical Societies and Universities

State historical societies and state universities in all five states covered in History of the Great Lakes States (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin) offer digital collections of historical materials for free public access. Collections differ a great deal from institution to institution, and from state to state. History of the Great Lakes States relies upon these organizations mainly for history journals, vintage maps, and facsimiles of important historical documents. However, all these collections include a far wider range of items, and are well worth an online visit.


The Abraham Lincoln Association


Illinois Digital Archives


Illinois Harvest – University of Illinois


Road to Indiana Statehood


Seeking Michigan


North Carolina Digital Collections


Ohio Historical Society


Toledo’s Attic: Gateway to Toledo and Northwest Ohio History


Chronicles of Oklahoma


Historic Pittsburgh & Western Pennsylvania


Portal to Texas History


State of Wisconsin Collection


Wisconsin Historical Society




Map Sources


Indiana Historical Society


University of Pittsburg Press


Darlington Digital Library – University of Pittsburg


David Rumsey Map Collection


Historic MapWorks