The Photo Birdman

While the Wright Brothers experimented at Kitty Hawk, a photographer named William Jennings believed he and his friends were making aviation history

THE FIRST BALLOON FLIGHT in America lifted off from Philadelphia in 1793, and the 100th anniversary of the event prompted a reawakening of interest locally. That year a group of Philadelphians banded together to build a series of balloons, the last and largest of which, christened Ben Franklin , began flights in 1907. By chance, the group acquired the services of an official photographer, William Jennings.Read more »

The Year In Pictures

… 1885 that is, month by month

THERE’S NO REAL REASON why past events should take on an added piquancy just because they happened exactly a century ago. And yet they do. All the usual questions somehow become more interesting: what was happening, what did people wear, what did they eat, what made them laugh, what were they reading, what were they earning? Read more »

The Aero View

For sixty-five years this photographic company has been recording America from overhead

LIKE MANY World War I fighter pilots returning from Europe in 1919, Wesley Smith hoped to find a career that would keep him aloft. He had flown missions out of England during the war. Afterward he settled in Philadelphia and found work as a pilot for the brand new Aero Service Corporation, which had been founded in July of 1919 and was struggling to survive by delivering packages and taking passengers on joyrides. The company would have failed several times if Miss Mary K.Read more »

Our Town, 1900

A recently discovered collection of glass-plate negatives offers a remarkable look at our grandparents



THE DAYS WHEN this country was made up of people who were born, lived, and died in small, self-sufficient towns seem impossibly remote. But a set of photographs that turned up recently—a collection unusual in its size as well as its quality—gives an extraordinarily vivid portrait of the residents of one such town in the early years of this century. Read more »

The Old Ball Game

A portfolio of rare photographs recalls baseball’s rough-and-tumble vintage era

PARADISE LOST . It is a sweet and on the whole harmless vision that prettifies the past of America and the game dearest to its heart. Just as the romanticists among us imagine a golden age of unspoiled landscapes and simple, decent folk, so baseball fans pine for the days when the game was played not for money but for love—a legendary epoch identified with the time of one’s youth or, by those with some dim sense of history, with an Edenic nineteenth century. Read more »


An all-but-forgotten San Francisco photographer has left us a grand and terrible record of the destruction and rebirth of an American city

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Paintings From a Picture Palace

George Eastman didn’t think the posters the movie companies supplied were good enough for his theater. So he commissioned a local artist to paint better ones.

IN 1922 GEORGE EASTMAN, the great photographic industrialist, built an elaborate movie house in his hometown of Rochester, New York. Eastman paid close attention to its every detail, from the massive, imported chandeliers to the seating capacity of the second balcony. Since the mass-produced studio artwork of the time didn’t meet Eastman’s standards, he commissioned a young local artist named Batiste Madalena to herald his picture shows. Read more »

Faking It With Pictures

What do you do if there’s no photographer around when Valentino meets Caruso in Heaven?

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but one day in 1926 a picture was worth one hundred thousand extra readers. In August of that year, New York City’s newspapers were in the middle of one of their usual summer circulation wars. Of all the papers the most eccentric and sensationalist was the tabloid-size New York Graphic . The circulation-boosting picture showed nothing less than Rudolph Valentino’s entry into Heaven. Read more »

Meet Me In St. Lewis, Louie

A collection of little-known early-twentieth-century photographs of St. Louis recalls the author’s unfashionably happy childhood

Fireflies? Glowworms? Whatever the right name for them, in St. Louis we called them lightning bugs. On summer evenings we used to chase them across our lawns, which were not divided from one another, and collect them, when caught, in little medicine bottles. We had grandiose ideas of getting enough lightning bugs together to make lamps, but it never worked out like that because they died first. I remember that they had a not unpleasant smell when clutched in my sweaty hand, a smell like that of a dilute miner’s lamp, and their glow was greenish.Read more »

The Very Odd Vision Of F.W. Guein

Fitz W. Guerin, shown here in a moment of solemn whimsy, was a St. Louis photographer who ordinarily took his work very seriously. Born in Ireland in 1846, he joined the Union Army at fifteen, apprenticed himself to a photographer after the war, and then, until shortly before his death in 1903, made a good living photographing well-to-do citizens of his city.Read more »