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Provides background information on major US publishers of stereographs, including when they were founded and how many stereographs they produced. Provides context for resources in the Travelers in the Middle East Archive (TIMEA). Part 2 of a 4 part course called "History through the Stereoscope."

Researchers find it useful to know about the publishers who produced stereographs, since examining thepublication history of a stereograph can tell us much about how it was marketed, distributed, and consumed. Typically thephotographers who captured the images were anonymous. Although some photographers published and distributed stereographs themselves,several large publishers dominated the stereograph market. At the turn of the twentieth century, the major US stereograph publisherswere Underwood and Underwood, Keystone View Company, and H.C. White Company.

Companies used a variety of means to sell stereographs. Traveling sales agents sold stereographs, as did drugstores, novelty stores, and book stores, and catalogs. Stereographs were included as promotions with products or were given away bystores to customers who spent a certain amount of money. Church organizations gave Sunday school students Holy Land stereographs torecognize their attendance or achievement. To appeal to the education market, some publishers printed captions on the backs ofstereographs. Underwood began including legends in 1897, while Keystone did so around 1902 (Darrah 54-55). Legends could be aslong as 450 words long; often they were stories that were meant to educate or amuse children. These captions mediated viewers’experiences of the depicted scenes, telling them what they were seeing.

Underwood and underwood

Founded in 1882 in Kansas, USA, Underwood and Underwood first distributed and sold stereographs produced byothers, but they eventually hired their own photographers to take pictures around the world. In the early 1900s, Underwood broughtout the“boxed set,”typically a series of 100 cards that were selected to simulate a guided tour of a country. These sets wereaccompanied by a guide-book written by an expert that explained each scene. Underwood attempted to represent many facets of thecountry depicted, including views of people, places, industry, historic sites, and natural resources. In addition, customers couldpurchase a patented map system that pinpointed where each stereograph was shot and what was included in the image. Anadvertisement for Underwood’s boxed sets promoted their educational value:“…Tours are carefully selected by persons of wide experience and liberal education…. Schools and public libraries are turning more and more to the stereoscope to put students and readers intouch with the actual places of which they are studying”(qtd. by Evans). The boxed sets were so popular that the company producedtours of a number of countries, including Egypt, Ceylon, Japan, and India. By 1901, Underwood and Underwood produced 300,000stereoscopes a year and had established itself as the leading US stereograph firm. In 1920, as the market faded, the company stoppedproducing stereographs.

“Cairo, home of romance, N.W. from Saladin's citadel to Nile, Egypt.”Stereograph. NY: Underwood and Underwood, 1908. From TIMEA . (August 19, 2006). (External Link)

Keystone view company

In 1892, amateur photographer B.L. Singley distributed a series of stereoviews documenting a flood. From thissmall beginning, Singley built one of the leading stereograph firms of the era. Prior to 1897, Singley himself photographed all of theKeystone views, but in 1898 the firm hired professional photographers to travel the world taking pictures. Keystonedistinguished itself by pursuing the educational market, preparing teachers’manuals to accompany stereograph collections and appointing a prestigious editorial board to select and comment onstereographs. In a sense, stereographs were a predecessor to filmstrips and other forms of educational media, used to teachsubjects such as what the Stereoscopic Encyclopedia (1st edition 1906, 10th edition 1926) termed“racial geography, peoples of all lands”and“literary subjects and settings”(Darrah , World 50). Keystone, which published over 43,000 titles, stopped regularproduction of stereographs in 1939, but filled individual orders until 1970.

"A Mingling of Orient and Occident -- the Muski, Liveliest of the Real Streets of Cairo, Egypt" Stereograph.Meadville, PA: Keystone View Company, 1908. From TIMEA . (August 19, 2006). (External Link)

H.c. white company

Founded in 1899, H. C. White Company ultimately produced 12,800 titles. According to Darrah,“The company boasted that in seven years its chief photographer hadtraveled 140,000 miles and had visited all the continents”(World 51).

“View of Cairo, Egypt, from Stereograph”Postcard. Topeka, Kansas: Arthur Capper, 1901. From TIMEA . (August 19, 2006). (External Link)


Darrah, William. The World of Stereographs. Gettysburg, PA: Darrah, 1977.

Evans, Elaine A.“In The Sandals of Pharaoh:James Henry Breasted and the Stereoscope.”McClung Museum. 9 August 2006. (External Link)

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Source:  OpenStax, History through the stereoscope: stereoscopy and virtual travel. OpenStax CNX. Oct 30, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10371/1.3
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