The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, operated by The Dubuque County Historical Society, exists to explore, collect, preserve, and interpret, for present and future generations, the material culture and history of Dubuque County, the Mississippi River, and the rivers of America. The artifact collection is comprehensive in its scope from prehistoric geological specimens to objects of culture from the region’s First Peoples to today. From a dime-sized mussel shell button to the 270-foot long dredge boat William M. Black, the collection holds many stories of the region and rivers.

You can engage with our collections in a variety of ways. 

Explore objects virtually through the online collection, come see exhibits in person, read our collection spotlights, make research requests to see how the collection can support your curiosity, and reach out to us to donate objects.

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By the Numbers

26,000
 - Number of objects at The Dubuque County Historical Society which changes often through new donations and deaccessions of material.

2,898
 - Number of objects in the Richard Herrmann Collection. Donated in 1964, a founding businessman of Dubuque, Herrmann operated a museum from 1871-1956. Many of the natural history objects once on display, such as fossilized fish and mammoth teeth, are now part of the DCHS collection. Along with these objects related to natural history are materials of the European-settler experience such as journals and family photo albums. He also collected objects of Indigenous culture west of the Mississippi River. DCHS acknowledges the potentially harmful impacts of housing cultural objects. Since the 1970s, the organization has worked to identify, remove, and return those objects of significance to their home communities. For more on our commitment to equitable practices please see our About page

212 - 
Number of objects in the Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works Collection. The museum is located on the site of the Iowa Iron Works/Dubuque Boat and Boiler Works business which built boats from 1870-1972. Items in this collection include blueprints, contracts, correspondence, and more.


86 - 
Number of objects in the Betty Bryant Collection. A member of the National Rivers Hall of Fame, Betty Bryant began her showboat career as a child in the 1920s. The Bryant family performed and traveled through the Ohio River and its tributaries for over 20 years. Her collection includes memorabilia from riverboat theater productions as well as daily family objects and music sheets.

4,400 - 
The number of linear feet of archival material in the collection that includes lithographs, glass plate negatives, photographs, political ephemera, and more.

Archive boxes

Donate an Object

Since the 1950s, the collection of the Dubuque County Historical Society has grown through the generous object donations of individuals, families, and businesses. We continue to welcome offers to donate objects across a wide range of topics and times. 

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Library

Research Requests

The Captain William D. Bowell, Jr. River Library & Archives, located on the second floor of the National River Center at the River Museum, is open for in-person research requests by appointment.

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DCHS is dedicated to the history, heritage, and culture of Dubuque County and is committed to ensuring equitable advancement of knowledge and serving public audiences by sharing successful operational strategies. 

Collection Spotlight

Browse through collection items in these selected highlights. Each month a new object is presented by a member of the curatorial department for special focus. These objects are usually tied to recent object discoveries, research finds, or upcoming holidays and celebrations.

lead shot

Lead Shot

This rounded ball of lead was possibly formed during a 120 ft free fall from the top of the Shot Tower in Dubuque!A simple sounding invention, Shot Towers relied on the laws of physics and used gravity to do the heavy lifting to form its product. At…

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decanter

Steamboat Decanter

Full steam ahead into the new year!Beyond mere decoration, the true function of this ceramic steamboat is that of a whiskey decanter. Mass produced in the late 1960s, River Queen O.B.R. decanters, originally filled with Kentucky Straight Bourbon…

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Windlass

Windlass

It might seem unusual but arguably this object (though not exactly this one) is part of the reason why Dubuque exists today!It is a windlass, or at least part of one, and while it may look like simple machinery it was an integral piece of a business…

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bank notes

Bank Notes

These bank notes, paper-thin light and unassuming, are weighted with many layers of history. Their existence is a result of the ‘Free Banking Era’ (1836-1865). A “wild” period without regulation of banking systems that allowed stand-alone businesses…

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Green Dress

Green Dress

October ushers us into spooky season, and for those looking for a scare, we’re featuring a frightening piece from our historic collection. Most likely dyed with arsenic, this dress is a hazardous material and requires additional precautions to…

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Garrison Cap

Garrison Cap

While summer doesn’t formally end this year until the autumnal equinox on September 23, Labor Day marks the unofficial close of summer for many. Celebrated on the first Monday of September, the resulting three-day weekend for Labor Day offers a last…

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