Arthur C. Pillsbury Photograph Collection

Interested in seeing panoramic photos of Seattle and Alaska at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush? We recently digitized 197 photographs taken by Arthur C. Pillsbury between approximately 1896 and 1900, documenting the Gold Rush and scenes from California, Oregon and Washington. The collection includes a mixture of photograph sizes, many of them panoramic images that measure nearly three feet in length.

Pioneer Square, Seattle, 1899

The majority of the photographs in the collection show scenes from the Klondike Gold Rush. Pillsbury first traveled to Alaska in 1898, shortly after his graduation from Stanford University. (By this time, his interest in photography was already well established. To help fund his education at Stanford he operated a combination bicycle and photography shop and for his senior project at the University, he invented the first circuit panorama camera.) His father accompanied him on his travels and the two men experienced a fair share of adventure on their journey.

After setting out from Seattle and traveling hundreds of miles up the coast, they wrecked their small boat in a storm near Cape Fox, Alaska. Miraculously, neither Pillsbury’s camera nor his camera supplies (which were in airtight metal canisters) were damaged in the wreck but they did lose their maps and navigation charts. Once ashore, Pillsbury and his father created a temporary shelter from the boat’s wreckage and Pillsbury walked ten miles to a Tlingit village (which he remembered being marked on the now lost maps) for help.

Main St. in Nome, Alaska, September 22, 1899

Pillsbury obtained a new boat, resupplied and spent the following two years traveling through Alaska, British Columbia and the Yukon capturing panorama photographs of the mining fields and towns of the Gold Rush. To fund his travels, he sold photographs to prospectors along the way in exchange for gold dust and worked as an official photographer for the United States Census Bureau. Between 1898 and 1899, Pillsbury covered thousands of miles, documenting the treacherous White Pass and Chilkoot Trails used by prospectors to cross the mountains and traveling by boat along the length of the Yukon River. His photographs were featured in publications such as Harper’s Weekly and McClure’s Magazine and he was the first photographer to share photos of the booming gold rush town of Nome, which he left just before the sea froze for the winter.

The collection also includes some early views of Seattle where many miners departed from to seek their fortune in the Klondike, scenes from Portland, Oregon and two shots of Stanford University, Pillsbury’s alma mater. Also included are several photographs of Yosemite National Park where Pillsbury operated a photography studio between 1897 and 1927, creating and sharing educational films with park visitors and inventing a time-lapse camera to document the growth of the park’s flora and fauna.

While you browse the photographs, be sure to check out the photograph map we created allowing you to explore the collection by specific location. For more information on Arthur Pillsbury’s remarkable life, visit the Pillsbury Foundation website where you can find both a biography and an autobiography.

~posted by Jade

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