MEET THE FAMOUS STEREO PHOTOGRAPHERS
Underwood & Underwood
BERT (1862-1943) ELMER (1859-1947)
These are the famous Underwood brothers from Illinois. Elmer Underwood was born in Fulton County and Bert was born in Oxford. These guys became two of the greatest in the stereograph business. They were in stereoview business from 1882 to 1920.
In 1882 Bert started a distributing company and soon Elmer followed. You could say they were the inventors of “canvassing”: house-to-house selling, mostly by college students. This was quite a success. Serious photographers gave distribution of their views in the hands of Underwood & Underwood: Charles Bierstadt, James Jarvis, The Littleton View Company, George Barker, William Rau. They only “outsourced” distribution, so – at least for that time – they remained the publishers of their own views. This created a lot of different messages. But all cards say: “sold only by Underwood & Underwood”.
In the early 1900’s U&U was at the top of it’s growth. Photo printing facilities were bought of several photographers and publishers. Subsequently photographers were hired and production starting growing a great lot. Underwood & Underwood became a major company, with impressive production numbers….
A major selling point was the “boxed set”. Not just a lot of any views, piled up in a box. It was a carefully integrated sequence of views from countries, cities and events. A descriptive guide book was available too. These guide books contained maps, showing the position of the camera when each photograph was taken.
In this way, stereoviews more and more served educational purposes. Accompanying the very popular sets of Palestine and “The Travel Lessons on the Life of Jesus”, the company even had a “Bible Study Department”.
Starting in 1897, U&U employed a full-time staff of photographers. Furthermore there were free lance operators for special assignments. Unfortunately we do not know the names of most of these men. Except for a few though. You can meet them below.
This sure is one of our favorite views. It shows what Bert Underwood means as he says in his unpublished reminiscences:
“The able photographer sees all the possible pictures before he used his plate for the best one. The best one must get at the heart of the subject, the hub around which all the action revolves”.
The total number of stereoview titles will probably reach up to 40.000. After 1910 the company got more focused on news photography. News services became quite a strong and profitable division. This means few new stereo negatives were added to the files after 1912, except for the World War I views that were shot in the early war years 1914-1916.
Subsequently the company couldn’t keep up with the competition of the Keystone View Company. In 1923 all stereo stock and rights were conveyed to Keystone. Keystone kept issuing Underwood negatives, renumbering the images with a V prefix.
And so this stereo image – once part of a U&U Italy set – was now reissued as part of a 1930’s Keystone set: “V14656 T The Leaning Tower and the Eleventh Century Cathedral, Pisa, Italy”.
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