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William Henry Jackson Photochrom Collection

Identifier: MA.00193

Scope and Contents

The William Henry Jackson Photochrom Collection is composed of 444 photochrom images of American landmarks, both natural and man-made. Scenes of Mexico and Cuba are depicted as well. The photochroms date from 1898 to 1908, with the bulk falling between 1898 to 1904. The photochroms were all produced by the Detroit Publishing Company, the majority of them were taken by William Henry Jackson, with the rest being taken by other photographers working for the company.


  • Creation: 1898-1908


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to the collection for research use. Particularly fragile items are restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the collection for research use should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

The photochrom is a color photo lithograph created from a black and white photographic negative. Color impressions are achieved through the application of multiple lithograph stones, one per color. The process was developed in Switzerland and brought to the United States by the Detroit Publishing Company in 1897. Anticipating the success of the photochrom for the mass production of color prints, the Detroit Publishing Company recruited William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), a successful American photographer, to become a partner. He accepted, bringing with him more than 10,000 black and white negatives to add to the company's inventory. Jackson had been a photographer with the U.S. Geological Survey in the 1870s, which took him all over the west and cemented his reputation as one of the foremost landscape photographers of his time. During the 1880s Jackson continued to travel extensively, photographing hotels, city views, railroad lines, important buildings, and more. Jackson was taken with the photochrom process because it captured color so naturalistically, and he would devote himself to it in his last years of active photography. The collection contains more than four hundred of his photochroms with views from all over North America.

William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) was an American painter, photographer and explorer famous for his images of the American West. Born in Keeseville, N.Y., he spent his boyhood in Troy, N.Y. and Rutland, Vt. He joined an infantry regiment in the U.S. Civil War, fighting in the battle of Gettysburg, and mustered out after nine months. Soon thereafter he set out for the American West. He settled in Omaha, Neb. and started a photography business with his brother Ed. During this time he made many photographs, now famous, of Native Americans of the region. In 1869 Jackson won a commission from the Union Pacific Railroad to document the scenery along its route for promotional purposes. The following year, he was invited to join the 1870 U.S. government survey (predecessor of USGS) of the Yellowstone River and Rocky Mountains. He was also a member of the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871 in the Yellowstone region; in this way Jackson captured the earliest photographs of legendary landmarks of the West. Jackson's photographs of Yellowstone helped convince the U.S. Congress to make it the first National Park in March 1872.

After traveling the world collecting views and specimens on a commission from the Field Museum in Chicago, Jackson returned to Denver and focused on publishing. In 1897 he sold his entire stock of negatives and his own services to the Detroit Photographic Company, owned by William A. Livingstone, after that company had acquired the exclusive ownership and rights to the photochrom process in America. Jackson joined the company in 1898 as president, bringing with him an estimated 10,000 negatives which provided the core of the company's photographic archives, from which they produced pictures ranging in size from postcards to enormous panoramas. In 1903, Jackson became the plant manager, thus leaving him with less time to travel and take photographs. In 1905 or 1906, the company changed its name from the Detroit Photographic Co. to the Detroit Publishing Co. The Detroit Publishing Co. enjoyed a period of enormous success as a world-wide publisher of photographic prints and postcards, but its sales began to decline during World War I, and with the introduction of new and cheaper printing methods used by competing firms it was forced to go into receivership in 1924. In 1932 the company's assets were liquidated.

In 1936 Edsel Ford bought Jackson's 40,000 negatives for "The Edison Institute," known today as Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich. Eventually, Jackson's negatives were divided between the Colorado Historical Society (views west of the Mississippi), and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all other views).

William Henry Jackson died in 1942 at the age of 99. Recognized as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

[Source for this note: "William Henry Jackson," Wikipedia,]


2 Linear feet (3 archives boxes, 1 half archives box, 1 oversize file)

Language of Materials



444 photochrom images of American landmarks, both natural and man-made, dating from 1898 to 1908. Scenes of Mexico and Cuba are depicted as well. The majority of the photographs were taken by William Henry Jackson, with the rest being taken by other photographers working for the company.


This collection is organized into three series:

  1. Series 1: Regular Size Photochroms
  2. Series 2: Matted Photochroms
  3. Series 3: Panoramic Photochroms


Images are arranged within each series in the Detroit Publishing Co.'s catalog number order.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Howard and Anne Gottlieb, 2006.

Related Materials

At Amherst College:

  1. See the Amherst College online library catalogue for books by and about William Henry Jackson and government reports from 1875-76, which including plates of Jackson's photographic images.

At Other Institutions:

  1. Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
  2. William Henry Jackson Papers, New York Public Library Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York, New York
  3. William Henry Jackson Collection, Colorado Historical Society, Denver, Colorado
  4. Detroit Publishing Company Collection, Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan

Processing Information

Processed 2006 December

Mariah Leavitt, Archives and Special Collections Assistant.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299