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The Altered Landscape: 1850s–1860s

Von Storch Breaker

As America industrialized, technological innovations such as steamships and railroads sped up the pace of life and fundamentally altered the eastern landscape. Accompanying this transformation was the rise of a genre of industrial and railroad views—subjects found in the graphic arts but seldom in paintings. A technical feat in its own right, photography was the perfect medium for making pictures of these massive, often breathtaking ventures. Such photographs were frequently marketed in stereographic format to the public, or were commissioned as promotional material or documentation by companies or the government.

Chouteau’s Mill Creek, East from Thirteenth and Gratiot, Showing Construction of Mill Creek Sewer

The development of the coal and oil industries attracted photographers who celebrated the engineering achievements used in the extraction and production of fossil fuels. The railroad, however, was perhaps the most photographed industrial subject, with numerous railways employing photographers to publicize their growth. Photography also helped draw attention to the dramatic transformation of cities—for example, the daguerreotypes of Thomas M. Easterly capture the evolution of Saint Louis from an agrarian to an industrialized economy.

Above: Thomas H. Johnson, American, 1821–death date unknown, Von Storch Breaker, c. 1863–1865, albumen print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Alfred H. Moses and Fern M. Schad Fund

Below: Thomas M. Easterly, American, 1809–1882, Chouteau’s Mill Creek, East from Thirteenth and Gratiot, Showing Construction of Mill Creek Sewer, 1868, daguerreotype, Missouri Historical Society, Saint Louis, Thomas Easterly Daguerreotype Collection