Biographical / Historical
Underwood & Underwood was established at Ottawa, Kansas, by the young brothers Elmer and Bert Underwood in 1882. They initially operated as distributors for eastern photographers' stereographs to new markets in the West. Their activities included door to door canvassing with views by Charles Bierstadt, J. F. Jarvis, and Littleton View Co.(1) Underwood & Underwood, Publishers, opened a branch office in Baltimore in 1887.(2)
Soon Underwood & Underwood and other large stereograph publishers began recruiting college students to work as salesmen during summer months (1890). Underwood and Underwood claimed that their organization alone sent out as many as 3,000 college students in one Summer [sic]. With the other ... big companies each employing more than 1,000, it is easy to understand how the countryside of the Nation literally swarmed with stereograph salesmen throughout the summer months! ... The competition between the salesmen themselves was likewise aggressive, with no holds barred. Many successful business and professional men of today relate with considerable pride that they got their start on their careers in this practical and very effective school of salesmanship.(3)
The company moved its main office from Ottawa, Kansas to New York City (1891),(4) and gradually began to publish its own stereographs. Bert Underwood finally took photography lessons from M. Abel in Mentone, France during the same year.(5) B. L. Singley, erstwhile salesman for the Underwood & Underwood and James M. Davis & Co. firms, in 1892 formed the Keystone View Company of Meadville, Pennsylvania, which was to become Underwood & Underwood's chief competitor and imitator.(6)
Underwood & Underwood entered the education market (1895) by producing packaged sets of 100 or more stereographs with descriptive texts.(7) From 1897 the firm employed full time staff photographers as well as free lancers. By 1901 the Underwoods were publishing 25,000 stereographs per day (i.e.,total number of cards). Increasing production levels led them to gain control of the Jarvis, Bierstadt, and William H. Rau photoprinting facilities in 1897 1898.(8)
The Keystone view Company created its own Educational Department in 1898. This division sustained the Keystone View Company past the period of the stereograph's popularity. In this year Underwood & Underwood reprinted Oliver Wendell Holmes's series on the stereograph and stereoscope which originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly between 1859 and 1863. This eighty page booklet included testimonials from eminent scholars on the value of the stereograph in education. The company had been test marketing what itlater called "The Underwood Travel System." This consisted of a boxed set of stereo views of a country or region, a guide book describing the significance of the places shown, and a map showing their location and the viewpoints from which the stereographs were taken. Captions on the backs of the stereographs were sometimes printed in six languages.(9) As stereographs began to be used in schools as visual aids, the firm promoted its Travel System with endorsements from prominent educators, citing the usage of the system by various schools and universities.(10)
The H. C. White Company, which had manufactured stereoscopes for several decades, entered the stereo publication field in 1899.(11) Much of its production seemed to imitate Underwood & Underwood cards, including typography and the color of mount stock. Underwood & Underwood expanded into news photography by 1910 and gradually decreased its stereographic work. Few new stereo negatives were added to the file after 1912 except for a flurry of activity during the early war years, 1914 1916. The total number of Underwood & Underwood "titles" in stereo were from 30,000 to 40,000 (there might be a substantially larger number of actual negatives, since the files frequently were updated with newer views for old catalog numbers).(12)
Underwood & Underwood sold a portion of its negative file to the educational division of Keystone View Company in 1912,(13) and between 1921 1923 conveyed to this competitor their remaining stereo stock (presumably both cards and negatives) and rights.(14) In addition to its involvement as a news photographic agency, the company eventually opened portrait studios which flourished during the World war II years. A former Smithsonian employee, Vince Connolly, worked for Underwood & Underwood, which competed with Harris & Ewing in general portrait work during that period: he did portraiture and other photography, but says he was unaware of his employer's earlier stereo publishing activities.
Underwood & Underwood donated approximately 6000 negatives to the Section of Photography of the Division of Graphic Arts (1964). These photographs are primarily 4" x 5", captioned glass plate and film negatives. The subjects are news events and theatrical, sports, and political subjects of the early 20th century. In a letter to the Smithsonian of March 25, 1966 (in accession number 270586), Mrs. John M. Stratton described another collection of Underwood & Underwood photographs, stating that her husband had been a partner in Underwood & Underwood Illustrations and owned Underwood & Underwood News Photos. In November of the same year Mr. and Mrs. Stratton donated this collection of glass plates by Underwood & Underwood and other publishers to the Division of Photographic History (then the Section of Photography of the Division of Graphic Arts) . This material consists of both negative and positive stereographic plates, as well as non stereoscopic plates, chiefly copies made from the stereographs, with some catalogs, stereoscopes, and other material. The donor estimated 12,900 plates, but in 1983 the Smithsonian Institution inventory yielded a total of approximately 28,000 plates.
The Keystone View Company's stereoscopic production continued much later than Underwood & Underwood's. It was not until 1939 when declining interest in stereography led the firm to discontinue stereograph production and enter the field of visual optometrics. The stereoscopic negative collection, including material obtained from Underwood & Underwood and other firms, was placed in storage in concrete vaults. The Mast family of Davenport, Iowa, eventually purchased the collection in 1963, and in 1977 donated the collection to the University of California for its California Museum of Photography in Riverside. The University took physical possession of this vast collection in 1979.(15)
Many of the Underwood & Underwood plates donated by the Strattons (which were transferred to the Archives Center in 1983), in effect have been cancelled by having diagonal lines (double "X" marks) scratched into the emulsion of either the left or right image of each stereo pair (never both sides). These cancellation marks do not appear on the Underwood & Underwood plates in the Keystone Mast Collection in Riverside. This leads to several theories: (a) that these cancellations were in fact the reason that the Smithsonian plates were not purchased by Keystone in either 1912 or 1921, since Keystone clearly intended to use the Underwood material for stereograph production and the defaced plates would be of no value to them for this purpose; or (b), as stereo collector John Waldsmith suggests, that the cancellations were part of an agreement between Underwood & Underwood and Keystone: Keystone may have asked Underwood & Underwood to cancel one side of each stereoscopic plate not being sold to Keystone so that Underwood & Underwood would no longer be able to compete with Keystone in the stereo market. The defaced plates, as well as other material which Keystone did not purchase, apparently remained in Underwood custody and eventually were acquired by Mr. and Mrs. Stratton. The cancellation marks in the Smithsonian's collection are the subject of further conjecture. Edward Earle at Riverside feels that, since Underwood & Underwood sought to abandonded stereograph production much earlier than Keystone's departure from the field in order to enter the non stereoscopic lantern slide market, the cancellation may have served to indicate which side of each sterescopic pair should be converted to lantern slide production use; the existence of the 4" x 5" copy negatives and positives from stereographs in this collection seem to corroborate this. The Underwood & Underwood conversion from stereograph to lantern slide materials seems to coincide with the ascendance of lantern slide projection as visual aids in schools. The company apparently modified the type of photographic product which they published at least partially in recognition of this new educational trend.
1. edward W. Earle, ed., Points of View: The Stereograph in America A Cultural @ Visual 'g . E!Ltory, Rochester, F.Y., Th Studies Workshop ress, 1979, p. 60; William Culp Darrah, The World of Stereographs, Gettysburg, Pa., 1979, p. 46.
2. Tbid., p. 62.
3. George E. Hamilton, Oliver Wendell Holmes, His Pioneer SLtuereoscope and Later Industry, New York, New )men Society, 1949, p. 17, quoted in Points of 1=e w:, 6 4 . P.
4. Points of View., p. 66.
5. Darrah, p. 47.
6. points of View, p. 66.
7. Ibid., p. 68.
8. Darrah, p. 47.
9. Points of View, p. 70.
10. Howard S. Becker, "Steteographs: Local, National, and International Art Worlds," in Points of View, p. 95. 11. points of View, p. 72.
12. Darrah, p. 48.
13. Darrah, p. 48, quoted in Points of View, P. 82.
14. Darrah, p. 48.
15. Chris J. Kenney, introduction to "Perspective and the Past: The Keystone Mast Collection," CMP Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1982.