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The Wisconsin Diabetes Registry Study (WDRS) cohort consisted of patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the same geographic region as, but 8–34 years later than the Wisconsin Epidemiologic Study of Diabetic Retinopathy (WESDR) cohort, providing a unique opportunity to assess changes in complications. We estimated the current prevalence and severity of diabetic retinopathy at 20 years of diabetes duration, compared these between eras, and evaluated the influence of diabetes management.Twenty-year examinations, including fundus photographs, were completed on 305 WDRS subjects during 2007–2011. A subgroup of the WESDR cohort participated in one of four study visits during 1980–1996, at similar diabetes duration (n = 583). Adjusted ordinal logistic regression with three retinopathy severity categories was used to estimate odds ratios (ORs) of more severe retinopathy with diagnosis during an earlier era.Mean hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) was lower in WDRS than in WESDR (8.0% vs. 9.3% [P < 0.001], and 93.4% vs. 21.3% [P < 0.001]) used ≥3 daily insulin injections or an insulin pump. In WDRS, 18% had vision-threatening levels of retinopathy vs. 43% in WESDR. The adjusted OR of more severe retinopathy in the earlier era (OR 3.0 [95% CI 2.2–4.0]) was reduced by including 20-year HbA1c in the model (OR 2.2 [1.6–3.0]).Retinopathy severity at a diabetes duration of 20 years is lower in the more recent era of type 1 diabetes. Updated projections should be used when informing newly diagnosed individuals of prognosis and for health care cost assessments. Current glycemic control explained a limited amount of the difference.