The first colour photographs of America

 July 4th – A celebration of color photographs (no red white and blue here).


Old State House, Court St, Boston

This article in yesterday’s UK Telegraph looks at the first color photographs of the United States. There are 23 more images in the read more tab.

In August at CCS as part of the 2016 IDSA International Conference: Making Things Happen conference in Detroit, we’ll be looking at color in the context of the city of Detroit in 2016. Fortunately there remain many sites, buildings and landmarks that retain their original color and materials. The Witness Detroit, Color Workshop invites participants to research Detroit, it’s culture and environment creating  and selecting colors that characterize Detroit and its values. It won’t be a retrospective but a “remix” of old and new, more on this later.

In the meantime, here’s an extract from the article in the Telegraph.

‘The following images show American cities, towns and attractions at the turn of the 20th century – and in colour. They were created using the Photochrom technique pioneered by Photoglob Zürich AG, which sees colour manually added to black-and-white negatives. The Swiss firm licensed the process to other companies such as the Detroit Photographic Company in the US and the Photochrom Company of London. The following images are among the most striking produced during the period…”

Mulberry Street, New York

Mulberry Street, New York




Wabash Ave north from Adams Street, Chicago. The Elevated Railroad, or 'L' (or El), in Downtown Chicago, better known as The Loop

Wabash Ave north from Adams Street, Chicago. The Elevated Railroad, or ‘L’ (or El), in Downtown Chicago, better known as The Loop

The Photochrom Process

Photochrom prints, also called Aäc, are ink-based images produced through “the direct photographic transfer of an original negative onto litho and chromographic printing plates.” Hans Jakob Schmid (1856-1924), who worked for the Swiss firm Orell Füssli, invented the technique in the 1880s. Füssli published the prints through a company with the imprint Photochrom Zürich, later Photoglob Zürich. Other companies that licensed the process starting in the mid 1890s included the Detroit Photographic Company (later Detroit Publishing Company) in the United States and the Photochrom Company in London, England.


History of the Collection

The Detroit Photographic Company began as a photographic publishing firm in the late 1890s. The founders, Detroit businessman and publisher William A. Livingston, Jr., and photographer and photopublisher Edwin H. Husher, obtained the exclusive rights to use the Swiss color photolithography “Photochrom” process. This process permitted the mass production of color postcards, prints, and albums for sale to the American market. In 1897 William Henry Jackson became a partner in the firm, adding thousands of negatives to the inventory, some taken as early as the 1870s. In 1905 the company changed its name to the Detroit Publishing Company. It went into receivership in 1924, and liquidated its assets in 1932.