Commerce and Entertainment
William Henry Jackson’s career was intricately linked to the development of the railroads. An 1869 commission to document scenery along the Union Pacific Route led to his discovery by Hayden and invitation to work on the survey. Much later in his career, Jackson worked as a photographer for the railroads again, serving on the World’s Transportation Commission.
It is no coincidence that Jackson moved easily between surveys and railroads, as the two were closely connected. Western surveys mapped land so it could be developed by the government and private interests. The United States then granted millions of acres of land to railroad companies to help construct their lines and improve transportation to new territories. The passage of the Pacific Railway Act in 1862 prioritized the development of a transcontinental railroad that would connect the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. By greatly increasing the rate of expansion, railroads brought exponentially more settlers west. This migration was incredibly detrimental to Native Americans’ ways of life as lands, customs, and values were subsumed by the colonialist expansion of the country.
Through an artistic lens, photographs of the western rail lines were more than documentation of natural features and the industrializing country. Photographers were hired by transportation companies to capture the grandeur of the western landscape in order to promote travel on the railroads. Advancements in printing technology, including the development of the Albumen print, made it affordable to publish books and albums for promotional purposes. Although the books on display here were printed in the 1920s, they are good examples of the type.