Org. Lot 140
Name and location of repository
Level of description
Kiser Photo Co. Photographs
- 1901-1999 (Creation)
- bulk 1901-1927 (Creation)
14.5 cubic feet, (3,015 photographs and other material in 11 document cases; 21 oversize boxes; and 11 folders in oversize flat files)
Name of creator
Brothers Fred H. (1878-1955) and Oscar H. Kiser (1883-1905) started photography as a hobby, but Fred gained recognition as one of the most successful commercial photographers and one of the best artistic mountain photographers in the nation during the first quarter of the 20th century. Through his Kiser Photo Company and other enterprises, he produced and sold prints, albums, stereographs, postcards, and glass lantern slides, many of which were hand-colored in oils. As the official photographer for the Lewis and Clark Exposition at Portland, Or., in 1905, Kiser gained a wide audience. His photographs helped promote Crater Lake National Park and establish Glacier National Park. During World War I, Kiser also served as director of photography for the Emergency Fleet Corporation’s Oregon Division.
Before he was ready to embark on a career in photography, Fred studied business and commercial law at Portland Business College from 1898-1901. He and his brother, Oscar, explored photography as a hobby, which developed into a business in 1902, when they discovered that scenic images of the Columbia River Gorge appealed to visitors at their parents’ Columbia Beach Hotel in Warrendale, Or. One of their early commissions established Fred’s on-going relationship with Crater Lake National Park in 1903, when photographer and park promoter William G. Steele invited them to photograph a promotional expedition from Medford, Or. to the newly-created national park. Fred and Oscar Kiser also established a studio in the Abington Building in Portland in 1904, under the name of Kiser Bros., Scenic Photographers. They issued a hardbound book of scenic views taken during the 1903 Crater Lake expedition, Pacific Coast Pictures, under their own imprint, Wonderland Souvenir Company, Inc., the first of many businesses that Fred created during the next three decades. In 1904, Fred Kiser worked as the official photographer at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis, Mo., and in 1905, he established the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition Official Photographic Company during the exposition's duration in Portland that year, with himself as vice-president and director of photography. The company published many of his photographs in a Souvenir Book of Views of the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition and Oriental Fair.
Fred and Oscar Kiser's partnership as Kiser Brothers ended in 1905, even before Oscar’s accidental drowning in November of that year. Following this, Fred established the Kiser Photo Company in the Lumber Exchange Building in Portland. By this time, he had perfected a system for mountain photography expeditions, and from 1903 through 1914, he provided official photography services for most of the Mazamas’ annual climbing outings to Northwest peaks. Fred Kiser recruited teams of energetic, mountaineering photographers who could get the heavy cameras and other equipment to practically any remote place and mountaintop in the Northwest. While his teams made many climbing photographs, Kiser’s marketing depended on the scenic views they produced during these expeditions.
Color made Kiser’s work nationally known and helped to create and promote national parks in the Northwest, including Crater Lake and Glacier. He selected the name “Artograph” to describe his “hand-colored in oil” images. Kiser developed the art of hand coloring into a mass-production line that allowed him to market his Artographs widely as individual images, in mounted sets, and in leather-covered albums. In 1907, he assembled a touring show of approximately 1,000 of his Artograph scenic views, which traveled to Oregon locations and to 20 cities across the country, including New York and Chicago. Maie Ely, who had made her name as an art colorist with a portfolio of Yellowstone Park images, hand-colored these photographs in oils.
During the decade before World War I, Kiser embarked on a whirlwind of photographic and promotional enterprises. The Southern Pacific and Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railroads used many Kiser images in their promotional literature, but his contract with the Great Northern Railway in Montana had the greatest impact on the National Park system. Beginning about 1909, Kiser and his team photographed the spectacular scenery of northwestern Montana, working from headquarters in a specially outfitted railway car provided by the Great Northern. An exhibit of more than 100 of his Artograph prints at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., was credited with providing the final push to gain Congressional approval for establishing Glacier National Park in 1910. Kiser marketed his Glacier Park photographs at the Great Northern’s tourist facilities for many years.
After several moves in its early history, Kiser Photo Company, with Fred as president, operated from a studio and sales gallery at 240 East 32nd Street, Portland, Or., from 1909 through 1914. He also developed a national sales network through agents in eastern cities, including John Wanamaker in New York and Philadelphia. Clarence L. Winter, who had extensive experience in mountain photography and operated a studio in Eugene, Or., joined the company in 1911 as a photographer and vice-president. In 1915, Kiser sold the studio operations to Winter so that he could concentrate on photographing the new Columbia River Highway, establishing a photo concession at Multnomah Falls Lodge, and other enterprises, including a major exhibition for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition at San Francisco that year. Winter retained much of the negative collection and took the studio’s master colorist, Frederick P. Luetters, with him. Together, the two men produced and marketed hand-colored, mounted images of exceptional quality, but Winter closed the business when Luetters joined the U.S. Army in 1918. Luetters settled in New Jersey after World War I. Winter moved to Vancouver, Wa., and died in 1926.
Fred Kiser reorganized his operations as Kiser’s Scenic Photo Studio at 773 Milwaukie Avenue in the Sellwood neighborhood of Portland, Or., with various sales outlets in downtown Portland during ensuing years. World War I interrupted Kiser’s mountain photography and sales of his scenic views. The Emergency Fleet Corporation requisitioned his studio in Sellwood and appointed him director of photography for the Oregon District; in this capacity, Kiser made many images of shipbuilding activities, primarily at Portland shipyards. After the war, he organized the Scenic America Company to market his Artographs, using the popular “See America First” slogan in his advertising, and built a motion picture studio, which opened in 1922 and operated for a few years.
The interruptions of World War I did not kill one of Kiser’s biggest dreams: obtaining a concession for a photo studio at Crater Lake. At least as early as 1911, Kiser proposed such a concession, but for much of the next decade he had to content himself with displaying and selling his photographs through the Crater Lake Company’s facilities, including Crater Lake Lodge. By 1921, he finally won a photographic concession that permitted the Scenic America Company to build a studio near the rim of Crater Lake. In 1926, he added a darkroom to the building, which allowed him to provide one-day film developing service to Crater Lake tourists. After Kiser’s disagreements with other principals in the Scenic America Company sent the firm into bankruptcy in 1927, he incorporated Kiser’s with a group of Grants Pass businessmen. The new company opened a sales gallery in Grants Pass while continuing to operate the studio concession at Crater Lake. However, disagreements with his investors soon destroyed the new company, and Kiser relinquished his Crater Lake studio to the National Park Service in 1929. He moved to California, spending much of the rest of his life in the Los Angeles area.
Name of creator
Name of creator
Name of creator
Content and structure elements
Scope and content
The Kiser Photo Co. photographs include images produced by the Kiser Brothers, the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition Official Photographic Co., the Kiser Photo Co., and the Winter Photo Co. from 1901-circa 1927. Other imprints include Fred H. Kiser Studios, Kiser Studios, and Scenic America Company. The collection contains both vintage black-and-white and hand-colored prints, including stereographs and panoramic photographs, as well as copy prints made from original Kiser negatives. The bulk of the images are examples of Kiser's landscape and mountain photography in Montana, Oregon, and along the Columbia River Gorge and Columbia River Highway, among other places, as well as of various places in Portland, Or. Other subjects include the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, Mo., 1904; the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Or., 1905; landscape photographs taken for various railroad companies, 1903-1916; photographs of ships and shipbuilding in the Portland, Or. area, taken for the Emergency Fleet Corporation, 1918-1919; and photos of Kiser studio buildings in Portland, 1909-1923.
The collection also contains contemporary photomechanical reproductions of Kiser photographs, dating from 1903-circa 1930. These include postcards, photomechanical prints both loose and in albums, and publications containing reproductions of Kiser work. There are also background materials that contain biographical notes Fred H. Kiser and the history of his work with photography that were gathered during collection processing and date from 1903-1999.
Many images in the collection were made by the Kiser Brothers or Kiser Photo Company and its photographers but were produced for sale to the public over a long period of time, first by the Kiser Photo Company and then the Winter Photo Company. After Kiser sold part of his business to Winter in 1915, it appears that Kiser continued to make prints from earlier images for which Winter held the negatives, possibly by making copy negatives from original prints. Photographer Benjamin Gifford also bought Kiser negatives and produced them for sale; many of the copy prints in this collection were made from Kiser negatives that are housed in the Gifford and Prentiss photograph collection, Org. Lot 982.
Note on dates and photographers’ negative numbers: Kiser and Winter often issued prints of the same images over a long period. Prints sometimes include copyright dates in the photographer’s imprint. The dates provided in this guide include: actual date of photograph if known, copyright date if known, or circa dates derived from photographers’ negative numbers and image content. Kiser Brothers did not use a negative numbering system as far as can be determined. Kiser Photo Co.’s earliest assigned numbers represent the firm’s output but also may be for images made by the Kiser Brothers but marketed later. They are low numbers preceded by an “x”. Kiser seems to have adopted a consecutive numbering system by about 1906. The numbers are handwritten in pencil on the verso of prints. After he purchased part of the business in 1915, Winter appears to have continued the consecutive numbering system from where Kiser Photo Company left off. After 1915, Kiser appears to have adopted a new numbering system, using a “C” prefix.
System of arrangement
The collection is arranged into the following series and subseries:
Series A: Vintage prints by Kiser Brothers and Lewis and Clark Official Photographic Co., 1901-1905
- Subseries 1: Kiser Brothers, 1901-1905
- Subseries 2: Louisiana Purchase Exposition, St. Louis, Mo., 1903-1904
- Subseries 3: Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, Portland, Or., 1904-1905
Series B: Vintage prints by Kiser Photo Company, Scenic America Company, and Winter Photo Company, 1902-1929
- Subseries 1: Alaska, circa 1910
- Subseries 2: California, 1903-1915
- Subseries 3: Montana, 1909-1915
- Subseries 4: Oregon (except Portland), 1903-circa 1920
- Subseries 5: Portland, Or., 1906-1918
- Subseries 6: Columbia River Gorge, 1902-circa 1917
- Subseries 7: Washington, 1905-1914
- Subseries 8: View albums, circa 1905-1922
- Subseries 9: Work for railroad companies, 1903-1916
- Subseries 10: Emergency Fleet Corporation photographs, 1917-1919
- Subseries 11: Unidentified photographs, undated
Series C: Copy prints from original negatives by Kiser Studio Company and Scenic America Company, 1905-1929
- Subseries 1: Photographs of Kiser studios and advertising, 1909-1923
- Subseries 2: Places, 1901-1925
- Subseries 3: Portraits, 1914-1925
- Subseries 4: Work for the Emergency Fleet Corporation, 1918-1919
- Subseries 5: Other subjects, 1914-circa 1925
Series D: Photomechanical reproductions, published works, and ephemera, 1903-circa 1930
- Subseries 1: Postcards, 1903-circa 1930
- Subseries 2: Photomechanical prints, 1903-1905
- Subseries 3: Publications, 1904-1905
- Subseries 4: Ephemera, 1911
Series E: Background materials, 1903-1999
Conditions of access and use elements
Conditions governing access
Collection is open to the public.
Conditions governing reproduction
The Oregon Historical Society is the owner of the materials in the Kiser Photo Company photographs and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses, with the exception of the material listed below:
- Background material photocopied from the Mazamas Library. The Oregon Historical Society does not own the original items, and permission must be obtained by the user from the Mazamas Library in Portland, Or. before this material can be used for publication.
- Background material photocopied from the archives of Crater Lake National Park. The Oregon Historical Society does not own the original items, and permission must be obtained by the user from the Crater Lake National Park archives before this material can be used for publication.
Written permission must be obtained from the Research Library prior to any reproduction use. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from the copyright owners.
Languages of the material
Scripts of the material
Language and script notes
Acquisition and appraisal elements
The Kiser Photo Company photographs were accumulated at the Oregon Historical Society from circa 1948-2004 from various sources. The collection was created from the following accessions:
Photo accession nos. 976D012, 982D166 (see Library accession no. 16207).
Library accession nos. 293, 8070, 9125, 9611, 9715, 12467, 16207 (see Photo accession no. 982D166), 21299, 21960, 23858, 24508, 24841, 25127, and 25498.
Immediate source of acquisition
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling information
Related materials elements
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related archival materials
The Oregon Historical Society Research Library contains the following collections that relate to the Kise Photo Company photographs:
Gifford and Prentiss photograph collection, Org. Lot 982, Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Contains original Kiser negatives from which many of the copy prints in this collection were made.
Spokane, Portland, & Seattle Railway photograph album, Album 271-B, Oregon Historical Society Research Library. Contains many photographs taken by Kiser, as well as other photographers, for the Railway, circa 1909 and earlier.
Fred H. Kiser's stock prospectus, "Filming the Old Country," is located in Mss. 2952, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
There may also be other original Kiser prints in the Self-Indexing Photo Files, including File #895-A (Redmond, Or.).
Other Kiser photographs of the studio at Crater Lake National Park are located in the Alex Sparrow collection, MS-591, at the Southern Oregon Historical Society in Medford, Or.
Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Funding for preparing this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. Funding for making preservation prints from original negatives was provided by Meyer Memorial Trust.
- Processing information: During the course of processing, many duplicate photographs were removed from the collection.
- Citation: Kiser Photo Company photographs, Org. Lot 140, Oregon Historical Society Research Library
Description control element
Rules or conventions
Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Howe, Sharon M. “Photography and the Making of Crater Lake National Park.” Oregon Historical Quarterly 103 (2002): 76-97.
- Robinson, Thomas. Oregon Photographers; Biographical History and Directory 1851-1917. Portland, Or.: Thomas Robinson.
Finding aid prepared by Sharon M. Howe and Megan K. Friedel © 2006