Detroit Publishing Company Collection

Biographical / Historical Note

The Detroit Publishing Co. became a comprehensive publisher of photographic images around the turn of the century. Started in 1895 in Detroit, Michigan, it was known until 1905 by its two subsidiary operations, the Photochrom Co., dealing with the

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The Detroit Publishing Co. became a comprehensive publisher of photographic images around the turn of the century. Started in 1895 in Detroit, Michigan, it was known until 1905 by its two subsidiary operations, the Photochrom Co., dealing with the production of color prints, and the Detroit Photographic Co., responsible for the publishing and distribution of photographic views made by the company. A timely joining of entrepreneurial energies helped assure the early success of the company.

William A. Livingstone (an engineer and son of wealthy Detroit shipping magnate, newspaper publisher, and financier, William Livingstone, Jr.), joined forces with a local photographer, Edwin H. Husher, to form the company. Husher and Livingstone obtained from the Photoglob Company of Zurich, Switzerland, the North American rights to an astounding new photolithographic process called Photochrom, to produce, in quantity, color prints that retained their photographic verisimilitude while capturing the vibrant colors of the popular chromolithographs of the late nineteenth century. Husher even persuaded an expert in the process, Albert V. Schuler, and a small crew of draftsmen from Switzerland to work for the new company. Since color photography as we know it did not then exist, holding exclusive rights to this Swiss method gave the company a significant advantage over its competitors. Besides producing these distinctive Photochrom color prints, the company also published color postcards, sepia-toned photographic prints, and lantern slides, all based on a huge inventory of photographic negatives.

The keystone of the company's success, pioneer American photographer William H. Jackson, joined the venture in late 1897, bringing 10,000 of his superb glass-plate negatives to form the core of the visual publication material. In his early years with the company, Jackson traveled throughout the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean, taking his own photographs and purchasing the photographic stock of local photographers. In 1902, Jackson and a crew of cameramen traveled throughout the country in a specially equipped railroad car containing a photographic studio and gallery. At its peak, the company drew upon 40,000 negatives for its publishing effort. Jackson and the other company photographers captured images ranging from the exotic to the ordinary, including special events, daily activities, resorts, cruise ships, and views of cities and countrysides throughout the United States and the world. The company also made photographs of businesses to be used in advertisements and promotions, and photographically reproduced art works from the collections of various museums.

By 1903, Edwin Husher, who had overseen the production of the color prints, resigned from the Photochrom Co. and Jackson began devoting most of his energies to supervising the publishing work in Detroit, but always keeping a hand in the making and acquiring of new photographic negatives. He supervised a crew of forty artisans and a dozen traveling salesmen at a time when the company sold seven million prints annually. By this time the company had developed an impressive distribution system combining worldwide retail sales, sales at resorts and tourist attractions, and mail-order sales. They maintained retail outlets in Detroit, New York City, Boston, and Los Angeles. They had retail exchange agreements with the Swiss company Photoglob and with the English licensees of the Photochrom process, the Photochrom Co., Ltd., in London. Public libraries and schools led the mail-order sales, but sales to individuals and independent retail outlets were not ignored by the company. The company's encyclopedic coverage of photographic images and wide variety of sales approaches demonstrated its eagerness to produce and distribute material to the broadest possible audience.

The Detroit Publishing Co.'s sales boom in the early years of this century slowed considerably when its line of business was categorized by the federal government during World War I as "non-essential," i.e., not vital to the war effort. It was, therefore, difficult to acquire material or keep workers employed for the duration of the war. Never really recovering from this slowdown, and feeling the bite of competitors using newer and less labor-intensive visual-reproduction methods, in 1924 the company went into receivership and continued on a smaller scale. Robert B. Livingstone, brother of William A. Livingstone, attempted to carry on the company after William's death in 1924, although most of his efforts were directed toward selling the more than 2,000,000 postcards and prints still on hand.

In 1932, the negatives owned by the Detroit Publishing Company were purchased by the Ohio Art Company, and moved taken to Byron, Ohio. The negatives were used as the basis to form a new company. Unfortunately, the name of the company is unknown. Robert B. Livingstone, however, formed a syndicate with which to buy back the Detroit Publishing Company negatives in 1934. The negatives were moved back to Detroit. The company shut its doors for good after the Livingstone’s death in 1936.

Even during its most vigorous years, the Detroit Publishing Co. did not produce prints or postcards from all of its photographic stock. After Robert Livingstone's death, the company's extant photographic negatives, master photoprints, sepia and color prints, postcards, and negative record log began a journey that has preserved them for today's researchers.

The Edison Institute (now known as The Henry Ford) acquired the remaining Detroit Publishing Co. materials in 1937 from the estate of Robert B. Livingstone. After a decade of persistence by William H. Jackson's son, Clarence, the institute agreed to donate the negatives of Western views to the Colorado Historical Society to join the growing collection of Jackson material there, and the negatives of Eastern United States and foreign views to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The company's negative record log was also sent to Colorado. The Detroit Publishing Co. material in the collections of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village today consists of vintage photoprints, postcards, and, color and sepia photomechanical prints. The original photographs are contact prints made by the company from the original glassplate negatives. They often contain written information about the topic, instructions concerning reproduction methods, and, occasionally, retouching marks. In this way the photographs serve as a visual record documenting the company as well as an era in American life.

Please note that this text, written by Cynthia Read Miller, was originally published in Main Street U.S.A., in Early Photographs: 113 Detroit Publishing Co. Views. It is based on information found in the Detroit Publishing Company accession file. Additions were made by Rosalie Ehrlich in 1999 and Cynthia Read Miller in 2001.

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Scope and Content Note

The Detroit Publishing Company (DPC) collection is comprised of several thousand items. It includes approximately 30,000 small format photographs, 1,000 oversize photographs, 5,000 photolithographic prints, and 15,000 postcards. These depict a wide...

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The Detroit Publishing Company (DPC) collection is comprised of several thousand items. It includes approximately 30,000 small format photographs, 1,000 oversize photographs, 5,000 photolithographic prints, and 15,000 postcards. These depict a wide variety of subjects. The photographs in this collection were used to produce color prints and postcards using the Photochrom process between 1897 and 1936. (For a description of the Photochrom process, see the book entitled, The Birth of a Century, by Jim Hughes.) The majority of prints/postcards, however, were produced between 1897 and 1914.

The DPC collection is comprised of three series. They are 1. Photoprints, 2. Color Prints, and 3. Postcards. Descriptions of the materials in each series, are contained in the finding aid section preceding the box list for a particular series. It should be noted that the Photoprints series offers valuable information about the working processes of the DPC. This is especially important because of the limited number of company records in existence today. Researchers using this collection should be aware of related materials in collections at the Library of Congress and the Colorado Historical Society.

The Colorado Historical Society has a large collection of glass negatives, prints, Photochrom prints, and postcards created by the Detroit Publishing Company. Images are mostly views west of the Mississippi River. The collection also includes the Detroit Publishing Company negative log. The Colorado Historical Society is located in Denver, Colorado.

The Library of Congress has glass plate negatives of views east of the Mississippi. Many of the negatives held by the Library of Congress have been digitized and can be viewed online. Digitized images from the Detroit Publishing Company can be found at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/det/.

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Collection Details

Object ID: 37.102.0
Creator: Detroit Publishing Co. 
Inclusive Dates: 1880-1936
Size: 17.2 cubic ft. and 46 oversize boxes
Language: English

Collection Access & Use

Item Location: Benson Ford Research Center

Access Restrictions: The collection is open for research.

Credit: From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

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Digitized Artifacts From This Collection

In many cases, not all artifacts have been digitized.
Contact us for more information about this collection.

1905 Catalog of Detroit Publishing Co. Photochrom Prints, "Aäc Photographs of Scenery and Architecture"

  Details

1905 Catalog of Detroit Publishing Co. Photochrom Prints, "Aäc Photographs of Scenery and Architecture"

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Trade catalog

Date Made

1905

Object ID

37.102.59

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

1905 Catalog of Detroit Publishing Co. Photochrom Prints, "Aäc Photographs of Scenery and Architecture"

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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A Berkshire Road, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, circa 1910

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A Berkshire Road, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, circa 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

By 1900, railroads had long taken over long-distance travel. Hard-surfaced roads tended to only reach as far as city lines. Most country roads -- like this one -- were dirt or gravel, creating a cloud of dust in good weather and a mire of mud in bad. But the growing popularity of automobiles would soon convince the federal government to get involved.

Object ID

P.DPC.039881

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

A Berkshire Road, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, circa 1910

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

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  Details

"A Busy Day in the Canal," Tugboat Towing a Lumber Schooner, Charlevoix, Michigan, 1900

  Details

"A Busy Day in the Canal," Tugboat Towing a Lumber Schooner, Charlevoix, Michigan, 1900

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1900

Summary

Large vessels were easy to maneuver on the open water, but much harder to control in tight spaces -- a particular problem in narrow Great Lakes harbors. Tugboats moved larger watercraft through these confines and positioned them into constricted docks. Bow thrusters -- additional propellers built into a large vessel's forward end -- have eliminated much need for tugboats on the Great Lakes.

Object ID

P.DPC.012294

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

"A Busy Day in the Canal," Tugboat Towing a Lumber Schooner, Charlevoix, Michigan, 1900

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

A Country Road, Tracy, Minnesota, circa 1890

  Details

A Country Road, Tracy, Minnesota, circa 1890

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

Buggies were affordable, convenient vehicles for people who wanted a taste of personal mobility. They were especially affordable if you already owned horses for farm work. These two are driving a buggy down a country road in Tracy, an agricultural and railroad town in southwest Minnesota. Where are they going? The horizon stretches out over fields of corn and hay.

Object ID

P.DPC.04539

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

A Country Road, Tracy, Minnesota, circa 1890

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

A Quebec Caleche, circa 1900

  Details

A Quebec Caleche, circa 1900

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Summary

French Canadians called this two-wheeled carriage a caleche. With a folding hood and seats for two riders, they were used for everyday transportation. Some caleche drivers -- without passengers -- also participated in informal races. Though automobiles eventually replaced horse-drawn vehicles for most ordinary travel, the caleche remained popular among sightseeing tourists in places like Montreal and Quebec City.

Object ID

P.DPC.012770

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

A Quebec Caleche, circa 1900

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

A Typical Bed Chamber in the Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, circa 1905

  Details

A Typical Bed Chamber in the Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, circa 1905

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1905

Summary

Yellowstone National Park, established 1872, was America's first national park. Old Faithful Inn, a grand hotel built alongside Old Faithful geyser in 1903-4, was the first true rustic-style western resort. Architect Robert Reamer designed it to fit in with nature rather than--like other fancy resorts--to provide an escape from it. The interior continued the rustic look.

Object ID

P.DPC.018202

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

A Typical Bed Chamber in the Old Faithful Inn, Yellowstone National Park, circa 1905

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

Along the Towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Washington, D.C., circa 1915

  Details

Along the Towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Washington, D.C., circa 1915

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1910-1913

Summary

Moving heavy goods and materials on water is a cost effective shipment method. On this canal, boats traveled 184 miles from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland beginning in 1831 until 1924. Here a typical 19th century canal boat is pulled by two mules through the city. It is below the level of the streets allowing the boat to maintain momentum.

Object ID

P.DPC.068214

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

Along the Towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Washington, D.C., circa 1915

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

"'America,' Most Famous Yacht in History, Brought Cup to America in 1851," 1903 Postcard

  Details

"'America,' Most Famous Yacht in History, Brought Cup to America in 1851," 1903 Postcard

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Postcard

Date Made

1903

Summary

From 1895 to 1924, the Detroit Publishing Company was one of the major image publishers in the world. It had a wide-ranging stock of original photographs, many of which were colored using the company's patented "Phostint" process. Popular "Phostint" postcards, the Detroit Publishing Company claimed, were delicately "executed in Nature's Coloring" to be truthful, tasteful, beautiful, and educational.

Object ID

37.102.140

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

"'America,' Most Famous Yacht in History, Brought Cup to America in 1851," 1903 Postcard

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details

American Steel & Wire Company Plant, Cleveland, Ohio, 1901

  Details

American Steel & Wire Company Plant, Cleveland, Ohio, 1901

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

Artifact

Photographic print

Date Made

1901

Summary

From 1895 to 1924, the Detroit Publishing Company was one of the major image publishers in the world. The company's wide-ranging stock of original photographs documented life and landscapes from across the nation and around the globe. From the tens of thousands of negatives, the company created prints, postcards, lantern slides, panoramas, and other merchandise for sale to educators, businessmen, advertisers, homeowners and travelers.

Object ID

P.DPC.012862

Credit

From the Collections of The Henry Ford.

Location

By Request in the Benson Ford Research Center

Get more details in Digital Collections at:

thehenryford.org

American Steel & Wire Company Plant, Cleveland, Ohio, 1901

View in our Collectionson thehenryford.org 

What is The Henry Ford?

The national attraction for discovering your ingenuity while exploring America’s spirit of innovation. There is always much to see and do at The Henry Ford.

VIEW CALENDAR

  Details