Modern photography came about through many refinements and improvements until in 1884 George Eastman, of Rochester, New York, developed a film to replace the photographic plate so that a photographer wouldn’t have to carry boxes of plates and chemicals around. Four years later, Eastman’s Kodak camera went on the market with the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest”. At that point anyone could take photographs and leave the harder processing part to others.
Photography became available for the mass-market in 1901 with the introduction of the Kodak Brownie. It sold for $1 and used film that sold for 15 cents a roll. At that point, snapshots began being made to commemorate important events such as weddings and parades. Soon after came the idea of forming organizations dedicated to promoting photography as a fine art. By the 1930s straightforward photography of things such as main streets of towns began to appear on penny postcards.
While the snapshot craze was raging, another type of photography was taking place with a company called the Detroit Publishing Company. Founded in the 1890s, the Detroit Publishing company specialized in producing postcards of cityscapes, reproductions of artwork, natural landmarks and folklore. Their photography used a technique developed in Switzerland, which allowed color enhancements of black and white photography.
But by 1924, due to the decline in sales from cheaper competition, Detroit Publishing went bankrupt. Most of their existing negatives and prints are now housed by the United States Library of Congress, which received them via the Edison Institute and the Colorado Historical Society in 1949. Most of the images are visible in digital form at the Library of Congress Website.
Getting a glimpse into life in the streets of Manhattan when Professor Angelo Colosi and his daughter Lucia lived there was made easier thanks to the work of the Detroit Publishing Company. Their photography of America, mostly done in areas east of the Mississippi, shows wonderful scenes of New York’s Manhattan in the early 1900s. They also had wonderful, large photos of places like Detroit, New Jersey and more. In addition, there is a website that features many of these photos in enhanced form at shorpy.com. The photos, which were extracted from the high-resolution tiffs from the Library of Congress research library, were PhotoShopped and turned into jpegs. They are large and crystal clear; the best I’ve seen.