William Henry Jackson (April 4, 1843 – June 30, 1942) was an American painter, photographer and explorer famous for his images of the American West. He was a great-great nephew of Samuel Wilson, the progenitor of America's national symbol Uncle Sam.
Jackson was born in Keeseville, New York, on April 4, 1843 (the year, when Francis Scott Key died), as the first of seven children to George Hallock Jackson and Harriet Maria Allen talented water-colorist, a graduate of the Troy Female Academy, later Emma Willard School. Painting was his passion since the very young age. By 19 he became the skillful, talented artist of American pre-Civil-War Visual Arts, of whom Orson Squire Fowler wrote as being “excellence as a painter”.
After his boyhood in Troy, New York and Rutland, Vermont, in 1862 Jackson guided by patriotic fillings joined as a private in Company K of 12th Vermont Infantry and fought in the American Civil War, including the battle of Gettysburg, then returned to Rutland, VT, where he eventually got into creative crisis as a painter in post-Civil-War American society. Having got broken his engagement to Miss Carolina Eastman he left Vermont forever, for American West.
In 1866 travelling by Union Pacific Jackson reached its end, a point some hundred miles west of Omaha, where he joined as a bullwhacker a wagon train heading west to Great Salt Lake, on the Oregon Trail. In 1867 he settled down in Omaha, NE and got into photography business with his brother Ed.
In 1869 Jackson won the commission from the Union Pacific Railroad to document the scenery along their route for promotional reasons. The following year, he got a last-minute invitation to join the 1871 U.S. government survey (predecessor of USGS) of the Yellowstone River and Rocky Mountains led by Ferdinand Hayden. Painter Thomas Moran was also part of the expedition, and the two artists worked closely together to document the Yellowstone region. Hayden's surveys (accompanied usually by a small detachment of the U.S. Cavalry) were annual multidisciplinary expeditions meant to chart the largely-unexplored west, observe flora (plants), fauna (animals), and geological conditions (geology), and identify likely navigational routes, so Jackson was in a position to capture the first photographs of legendary landmarks of the West.
William Henry Jackson, as a member of the U. S. Geological Survey exploring the Teton country in 1872Jackson worked in multiple camera and plate sizes, under conditions that were often laughably difficult, photography was based on the collodion process invented in 1848 and published in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. Jackson traveled with as many as three camera-types– a stereographic camera (for stereoscope cards), a “whole-plate” or 8×10″ plate-size camera, and one even larger, as large as 18×22″. These cameras required fragile, heavy glass plates (photographic plates), which had to be coated, exposed, and developed onsite, before the wet-collodion emulsion dried. Without light metering equipment or sure emulsion speeds, exposure times required inspired guesswork, between five seconds and twenty minutes depending on light conditions.
Preparing, exposing, developing, fixing, washing then drying a single image could take the better part of an hour. Washing the plates in 160 ºF hot spring water cut the drying time more than half, melting mountain less than 32 ºF snow with own hands of not more than 98.2 °F for processing water slowed down the working substantially. His photographic division of 5-7 men carried photographic equipment on the backs of mules and rifles on their shoulders – Siouxess still made scalping – Jackson's life experience (as military, as peaceful dealing with Indians) was welcomed. The weight of the glass plates and the portable darkroom limited the number of possible exposures on any one trip, and these images were taken in primitive, roadless, and physically challenging conditions. Once when the mule lost its footing, Jackson lost a month's work, having to return to untracked Rocky Mountain landscapes to remake the pictures, one of which was his celebrated view of the “Mount of the Holy Cross.”
A noon meal in Ferdinand V. Hayden's camp of the U.& Geological Survey. Red Buttes, Wyo. Terr., August 24, 1870. Hayden sits at far end of table in dark jacket; W. H. Jackson stands at far right.Despite these difficulties Jackson came back with photographic evidence of western landmarks that had previously seemed fantastic rumor: the Grand Tetons, Old Faithful and the rest of Yellowstone, Colorado's Rockies and the Mount of the Holy Cross, and the uncooperative Ute Indians. Jackson's photographs of Yellowstone helped convince the U.S. Congress to make it the first National Park in March 1872.
Jackson exhibited photographs and clay models of Anasazi dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He continued traveling on the Hayden Surveys until the last one in 1878. He later established a studio in Denver, Colorado and produced a huge inventory of national and international views. Commissioned to photograph for western state exhibitions at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, he eventually produced a final portfolio of views of the just-shuttered “White City” for Director of Works and architect Daniel Burnham. Thrust into financial exigencies by the Panic and Depression of 1893-95, Jackson accepted a commission by Marshall Field to travel the world photographing and gathering specimens for a vast new museum in Chicago; his pictures and reports were published by Harper's Weekly magazine. He returned to Denver and shifted into publishing; in 1897 he sold his entire stock of negatives and his own services to the Detroit Photographic Company (superior William A. Livingstone), a mass-producer of photochrom pictures ranging from postcards to mammoth-plate panoramas.
The company failed in 1924. Later, in 1936 Edsel Ford backed by his father Henry Ford bought Jackson's 40,000 negatives from Livingstone's estate for “The Edison Institute” known today as Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Eventually, Jackson's negatives were divided between the Colorado Historical Society (views west of the Mississippi), and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all other views).
Jackson moved to Washington, D.C. in 1924, and produced murals of the Old West for the new U.S. Department of the Interior building. He also acted as a technical advisor for the filming of Gone with the Wind.
In 1942, he was honored by the Explorer's Club for his 80,000 photographs of the American West. SS William H Jackson Steamship was in active service in 1945. Jackson died at the age of 99. Recognized as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
JACKSON, WILLIAM H
PVT CO K 12TH VT INF USA
DATE OF DEATH: 06/30/1942
BURIED AT: SECTION FOD SITE 5331-M-1
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard