At its beginning, photography required innovators. Clever problem solvers envisioned the next innovations and then invented the solutions that would make those innovations possible.
One of these was Chicago’s John Carbutt, who invented—among other things—the celluloid film that made motion pictures possible. Carbutt, of course, also photographed Minnehaha Falls on several occasions in the 1860s. Another Minnehaha photographer who was a prominent photographic inventor and who worked at the turn of the last century was another Chicagoan: George Raymond Lawrence perfected aerial photography. It was quite a feat. Airplanes had not yet been invented.
As early as 1863, there was a hotel at Minnehaha Falls, providing meals and accommodations to those who had come to Minnesota. Some were settlers, who came pouring into Minnesota by the tens of thousands throughout the 1860s. Others were tourists, perhaps come to partake of our famously invigorating climate. A great point was made to both groups to see our world-renowned waterfall out on the frontier of the “Great Northwest.”
The Minnesota State Historical Society created a directory of early Minnesota professional photographers. It’s an indispensable tool for photo-historians and researchers.
This picture was taken by Joel E. Whitney. He was notable for taking the very first picture of Minnehaha Falls while working with Alexander Hesler in 1852. They took a few dozen daguerrotypes of the Falls on that day, and perhaps a few survive today. This is not one of them.
It’s that fence that helps date this picture. Most likely it was taken after the scandalous 1857 purchase of Fort Snelling by Franklin Steele and his shadowy partners from Back East. That was the first time that Steele owned the Falls of Minnehaha.
Mollie Carbutt is, again, quite prettily posed against the butternut tree, while the Wilsons gaze across the gorge. Edward L. Wilson was a prominent publisher of the “Philadelphia Photographer” magazine, which seems to have had some national acclaim. And John Carbutt was among the most inventive and studious of early photographers. This image was printed as a photograph and pasted into the “Philadelphia Photographer.”
Chicago’s John Carbutt took this picture of his wife and Mr. and Mrs. Edward L. Wilson in October 1866, and it’s interesting for several reasons. That very first bridge across the creek is in terrible condition with obvious broken railings. It’s now a few years old.
John Carbutt, based in Chicago, was among the most innovative of 19th century photographers. He was the first to print on celluloid, opening the door to the entire film industry. And he perfected the printing of X-ray photographs on glass plates.
Carbutt also took commissions for series of images on the frontier. He was most celebrated for his images taken along the Union Pacific Railroad as it rushed west across Nebraska towards the 100th Meridian and the completion of the trans-continental railroad. But Carbutt also took a few series of pictures in Minnesota, including some for the Northwestern Packet Company.