Snapshots from Tucson’s past

This blog post, highlighting resources in the Cele Peterson Arizona Collection, is written by Marnie G., Joel D. Valdez Main Library.

The localest of local history: Tucson City Directories

Whatever your purpose when exploring Tucson’s history—family history, house history, neighborhood history, simple curiosity—city directories are invaluable. They are one of the most important resources for urban history at the most local level.

City directories list the year’s individual residents by name as well as their occupations, spouses, and addresses. They often also include criss-cross (reverse) listings—that is, residents listed by address. If you’re lucky, you can follow your ancestor through the years, where they lived, what they did, who they lived with, and who lived next door. You can find local businesses and civic, religious, and social institutions. You can see who the mayor, sheriff, and school superintendent were. Are you trying to figure out what business was at a specific location in 1921? Or how many grocery stores there were in 1912? Are you a novelist trying to recreate a specific Tucson neighborhood in 1935? Are you curious about who lived in your house in 1950? Find out in city directories.

The earliest city directory in the US was published in 1785 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the trend took off rapidly in other cities and regions. Tucson’s first city directory was published in 1881. At first, Tucson’s directories were printed every few years, but starting in 1899, with a few exceptions, directories were compiled and printed annually.

PCPL does not have every copy, but between our holdings and the Arizona Historical Society, and the online sources of or Arizona Memory Project, you have access to every directory year for Tucson that exists up to 2003.

Print and microfilm copies of the Tucson City Directories are available at Joel D. Valdez Main Library, 3rd floor reference desk.

Come and explore this fascinating resource—they are truly snapshots from moments in Tucson’s past.

Fun facts from Tucson City Directories


"A wagon, harness and two good mules were purchased for town use.” Then, later that year, “The two good mules, wagon and harness sold by reason of being too expensive to operate."


Tucson had 100 miles of streets that are “macadamized [paved] through principal business district.” The Carnegie Library was valued at $60,000.


The Santa Rita Hotel had 200 rooms—100 with baths.


The combined yearly payroll for Tucson was over $14,000,000. In 1941 it was $12,000,000.


Facts About Tucson stated that Tucson was, “Located on.. U.S. 80 - ‘The Broadway of America’ - all year, high gear, coast to coast highway, 100% paved.”


Tucson had 37,603 telephones in service and 54,000 automobiles registered. University student spending in Tucson was calculated to be about $6,000,000.


Tucson had two newspapers: the Arizona Daily Star (morning and Sunday) and Tucson Daily Citizen (afternoon). There were eleven AM radio stations and two FM, and three television stations not including an educational TV outlet from the University of Arizona. There were 28 hotels, 146 motels, and 26 guest ranches in the Tucson area.


Tucson had 14 movie theaters: seven regular and seven drive-ins.


Residents are still listed individually but occupations are no longer included. Interestingly, some additional features were added including a street-by-street map of Tucson, postal carrier routes, and detailed neighborhood demographic information.