Camera and Locomotive: Two Tracks across the Continent: Stereographs as Souvenirs

The following is the fourth in a series of guest posts by Micah Messenheimer, Assistant Curator of Photography, Prints and Photographs Division, that discuss the parallel development of two technologies in the 19th century: railroads and photography.

A previous blog post examined Andrew J. Russell’s background as a photographer during the Civil War and his achievements in photographing the sites of the transcontinental railroad. John Carbutt (1832-1905), a prolific publisher and printer of stereo cards in Chicago, briefly preceded Russell in working for the Union Pacific Railroad, but Carbutt’s work for the railroad was of much more limited scope. He was hired to document a promotional event celebrating the company’s progress: the October 1866 Union Pacific Excursion to the 100th Meridian, the symbolic start of the arid west. The Union Pacific had completed almost 250 miles of rail nearly a year ahead of schedule to reach the point depicted in the stereograph below.

Westward, the monarch capital makes its way. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00077

Westward, the monarch capital makes its way. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866 Oct. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00077

Carbutt had made several popular series from his extended travels up the Mississippi and to Niagara Falls. Given the ease of rail construction over the relatively flat Plains, his engagement with the excursion differed substantially from this earlier work. Here, his primary responsibility was the creation of souvenir stereo cards for the railroad boosters, funders, politicians, and journalists from the major newspapers invited on a special train. Bound to the event from Chicago, the excursion traveled complete with a band, a saloon car, and a menu of elaborate meals.

While Carbutt photographed solely in stereo, his photographs from the excursion took little advantage of the 3-D potential of the format. Most of his pictures are of people lined along the level horizon. Only the rare image gives any indication of the progress of the railroad.

The Elkhorn Club on the banks of the Platte. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00078

The Elkhorn Club on the banks of the Platte. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00078

 

The directors of the U.P.R.R. at the 100th Mer. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00083

The directors of the U.P.R.R. at the 100th Mer. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00083

Carbutt would join a repeat trip for members of the press in 1867 before returning to Chicago to concentrate on his photographic endeavors. Perhaps prompted by his time spent in the field, he would later become the first to produce and market dry-plate glass negatives that allowed photographs to be made without the need for immediate processing.

The Platte River and Kinsley's Brigade. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00079

The Platte River and Kinsley’s Brigade. Photo by John Carbutt, 1866. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/stereo.1s00079

Learn More:

2 Comments

  1. Mike Rhode
    January 31, 2018 at 11:40 am

    John Carbutt also licensed a process called the Woodburytype that made a print that looked like a photograph. The Army Medical Museum hired him to do pages for the Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion. A few years ago, I noted, “In Philadelphia, he established the American Photo-Relief Printing Company, and in 1871, he was able to begin printing. Carbutt began working for the Museum that year, printing a plate for Museum curator JJ Woodward’s Report to the Surgeon General of the United States Army on an Improved Method of Photographing Histological Preparations by Sunlight. Like the lithographers, Carbutt printed the plate page titles, tipped-in the woodburytype and returned a completed page for binding by the printers. Carbutt began working for the Museum that year, printing a plate for Woodward’s Report to the Surgeon General of the United States Army on an Improved Method of Photographing Histological Preparations by Sunlight. Like the lithographers, Carbutt printed the plate page titles, tipped-in the woodburytype and returned a completed page for binding by the printers. Surprisingly enough, the cost for a reproduction as either a lithograph or a woodburytype was about the same. Museum director George Otis said, “By either method the editions would cost about three hundred and fifty dollars for five thousand and a little less than double that amount for ten thousand copies.” Otis preferred to use woodburytypes, writing to Carbutt, “…I have regarded this process as most valuable for scientific illustrations, and have wished to largely avail of it.” Unfortunately, in early 1875, Woodward began finding problems with his prints lifting off the paper support and while first editions of the History were illustrated mostly with the woodburytypes, the second had many of them replaced by another photomechanical process or lithographs. The second Surgical volume (1876), second Medical volume (1879), third Surgical volume (1883) and third Medical volume (1888) all have some tipped-in woodburytype prints since Woodward and Otis had purchased enough of some of the plates for both editions. In spite of Woodward’s fears, the woodburytype prints in the books remain in excellent shape, and today still closely mimic a photograph.”

  2. Micah Messenheimer
    February 8, 2018 at 4:59 pm

    Mike–Thank you for the additional background information on Carbutt’s work for the Army Medical Museum. Woodburytypes offer some of the truest mechanical renderings of a photographic image and—while this wouldn’t have been known to Woodward and Otis—suffer from little of the degradation common to photographic prints from the era due to the use of carbon as the pigment material.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.