One of the greatest landscape photographers during the latter half of the Nineteenth Century was William Henry Jackson (April 4, 1843 – June 30, 1942). A native son of the Adirondacks Jackson was born in Keeseville, New York to George Jackson and Harriet Allen. Harriet was a talented water-colorist and William inherited her artistic flair. His first job as an artist in 1858 was a re-toucher for a photography studio in Troy New York.
In 1866 after serving in the Civil War, Jackson boarded a Union Pacific train to the end of the line in Omaha, Nebraska. There he entered the photography business. The Union Pacific gave him a commission in 1869 to document the scenery along their routes for promotional purposes. It was this work that was discovered by Ferdinand Hayden who invited Jackson on the 1870 U.S. government survey (predecessor of the U.S. Geologic Survey) of the Yellowstone River and Rocky Mountains. He was also on the 1871 Hayden Geologic Survey which led to the creation of Yellowstone as America’s first National Park. It was Jackson’s images that played an important role in convincing Congress to establish the Park in 1872.
Jackson worked with as many as three cameras when he traveled including a stereographic camera. His photography used the collodion process which involved the use of fragile, heavy glass plates that were coated, exposed and developed on site before the wet collodion emulsion dried. There was no light metering and emulsions varied in sensitivity to light so exposure times required educated guesswork and would vary from five seconds to twenty minutes. It could take the better part of an hour to complete one image to see if the exposure was correct. The weight of the glass plates and portable darkroom limited the number of possible exposures on any given trip so each exposure was precious. He continued to travel on the Hayden Surveys until the last one in 1878.
Jackson established a studio in Denver Colorado and continued to photograph land marks of the west as well as photographing for railroad companies. In 1893, he accepted a commission from Marshall Field to travel the world photographing and collecting specimens for his new museum in Chicago. This experience in world travel led to his becoming a member and photographer for the World’s Transportation Commission from 1894 to 1896. He traveled the world again on this expedition and produced more than 900 photographs.
In 1897, he returned to Denver and shifted his focus to publishing his photographs. He sold his entire stock of more than ten thousand negatives and his services to the Detroit Photographic Company (later the Detroit Publishing Company- owned by William A. Livingstone). DPC had acquired the exclusive American ownership and rights to the Photochrom process. An early process for colorizing black and white photographs, Photochrom was the creation of a Swiss lithographer named Hans Jacob Schmid in 1888. It is considered the earliest example of commercially viable color photography, although the process is actually a hybrid of traditional photo-developing techniques and stone lithography.
William Jackson joined DPC in 1898 as President. During the summer of 1902, he made one of his last photographic tours. The subject was his native Adirondacks. He took more than three hundred images many of which were colorized using the Photochrom process. The attached Adirondack photographs show the original black and white print and the colorized version. The first is titled “An Adirondack Carry” and the second is titled “Blue Mountain from Eagle Lake”. These images were made into some of the first color post cards of the region.
During its height, Detroit Publishing produced an estimated seven million prints a year. World War I saw a decline in the sale of post cards and with the introduction of new, cheaper printing methods used by competing firms, the Detroit Publishing Company went into receivership in 1924. The company’s assets were liquidated in 1932. Jackson’s forty thousand negatives went to the estate of owner William Livingstone. In 1936 Edsel Ford, bought the negatives and they were divided between the Colorado Historical Society and the Library of Congress.
William Jackson moved to Washington D.C. in 1924 and did mural painting for the new Department of the Interior building. He attended the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg and was recognized as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans when he died in 1942. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Photos from above: Black and white of An Adirondack Carry; Colorized An Adirondack Carry; Black and white Blue Mountain from Eagle Lake; Colorized Blue Mountain from Eagle Lake; and William H. Jackson later in life.
A version of this story was first published at Adirondack Almanack, the online journal of the Adirondacks.