William Henry Jackson was born in Keeseville, New York in 1843. He began selling his drawings and retouching photographs at an early age and, after serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, Jackson opened his own photography studio with his brother Edward in 1867. Jackson spent less than three years at his new studio, however, before leaving it in the care of his wife and two of his brothers while he headed West, photographing landscapes, railroads, railroad workers, and many new settlements. In 1870 Professor Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden invited Jackson to join the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey expedition. For the next 8 years (1870-78), Jackson took thousands of photographs and many stereograph images of the West, particularly in Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. During this time, Jackson produced the first published photographs of the Yellowstone area. His work played an important role in persuading Congress to name Yellowstone the first national park in the United States in 1872.
In 1879, funding for Survey expedition ended and Jackson again opened his own studio, this time in Denver, Colorado. There he continued photographing the West, taking on many side projects photographing for hotels and railroad companies like the Mexican Central, New York Central, and the Baltimore & Ohio. In 1893 many of these photographs were displayed at the World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Moreover, Jackson was asked to be the official photographer of the fair, a job he desperately needed after losses during the Panic of 1893. Soon thereafter, Jackson was offered an all-expenses paid trip around the world by railroad publicist Joseph Pangborn as part of the World’s Transportation Commission. Jackson traveled to and photographed many parts of Europe, Asia, North Africa, and Australia.
Jackson returned from his trip in 1896 and in 1897 he became a partner in the Detroit Photographic Company. There he began to experiment with color photography, thanks to the recently developed Photochrom processing. Thousands of postcards and prints were issued by the company, now that they were able to colorize Jackson’ new and old negatives. In 1924, due to the decline in postcard sales after WWI and the expense of the Photocrom process, the Detroit Photographic Company went out of business and Jackson went into retirement.
Jackson wrote two autobiographies after he retired. The first, published in 1929, was entitled The Pioneer Photographer: Rocky Mountain Adventures with a Camera. Jackson’ second autobiography, Time Exposure: The Autobiography of William Henry Jackson, was published in 1940. Jackson died at the age of 99 in 1942.
Biography courtesy the University of Chicago Library.