Scope and Contents note
Call Number: PC0002
Hart, Alfred A., 1816-1908.
Title: Alfred A. Hart photographs
5.25 Linear feet (1 album: 375 unbound photoprints: albumen; 375 photonegatives;
154 photoprints: stereograph, mounted)
Language(s): The materials are in English.
Dept. of Special Collections & University Archives.
Stanford University Libraries.
557 Escondido Mall
Stanford, CA 94305-6064
Phone: (650) 725-1022
Information about Access
Open for research.
Ownership & Copyright
The material is in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use.
Alfred A. Hart Photographs (PC0002). Department of Special Collections, Stanford
University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.
Other Finding Aids
Indexes are available online for the following:
Alfred A. Hart, born in Norwich, Connecticut on March 16, 1816, was the principal
photographer for the Central Pacific Railroad during the construction of the Overland
Route. He photographed the construction from 1865 to 1869 when the last spike was driven
by Leland Stanford at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869.
Although he worked as a photographer as early as 1857, Hart was trained as a portrait
and landscape artist; after his work for the Central Pacific, he continued to paint and
was awarded the gold medal for his paintings at an exhibition at the California State
Fair in 1872. Nonetheless, Hart is remembered for his work in visually documenting the
construction of the western half of the first transcontinental railroad.
It is not clear just how Hart managed to be hired as principal photographer for the
CPRR. Ironically, Carleton E. Watkins was a life-long friend of Collis P. Huntington
(CPRR's business manager), and Watkins performed as a photographer for the railway after
Hart's commission was completed. It is possible that Watkins was so well known during
the time of the railroad construction that the Central Pacific may have thought his
professional fees would have been more demanding than Alfred Hart's. Yet, according to
Charles B. Turrill, photographer and biographer of Carleton Watkins, the friendship
between Huntington and Watkins was so dear that bills and payments were of secondary
consideration, and that Watkins did not require any payment for his services with the
Central Pacific. Because we are lacking information about Hart and Watkins it is
difficult to draw clear conclusions as to why Hart was given this opportunity instead of
Hart quite clearly and consciously used his artistic talents while giving an honest
representation of the railroad construction. Andrew Russell, photographer for the Union
Pacific Railroad, undoubtedly attempted to bring art into the documentation of his
portion of the railroad line, but he was at a circumstantial disadvantage because his
route was more desolate. The terrain in Hart's territory was much more aesthetically
pleasing, and offered a wider variety of back-drops to his construction scenes. While
Russell focused much more on trains, construction and frontier towns along the way, Hart
was able to turn his camera to mountain lakes and quiet river banks, giving his images a
more universal appeal competitive with landscape photography of his day. Hart's highly
artistic railroad views were much more than mere documentation; they were such fine
examples of photographic imagery that they were able to help set a trend of producing
stereo cards in special series independent of the railway commission and separate from
large publishers. Selling his stereo views thus became a successful commercial
Hart was working in a period when the wet collodion plate was the most modern process
available. This cumbersome process was a vast improvement over the earlier daguerreotype
in that it produced a more desirable image with a more realistic reproduction, even
though the process itself was complicated. Collodion had to be applied evenly on a clean
glass plate, which was sensitized in a bath of silver nitrate. Next, the photographer
had to wait a few minutes to allow the bromides and iodides of the prepared collodion to
react with the silver nitrate; then a minutes-long exposure was made while the plate was
still wet. Removing the still-wet plate from the camera while in a darkened area, the
photographer quickly poured developing solution evenly over the glass. From this point
the glass had to be rinsed thoroughly with clean water, a commodity not always readily
available to field photographers. The image was then fixed by immersing the plate in a
solvent of silver iodide until the salts were freed. Again the glass had to be rinsed to
rid it of all chemicals, and then it was dried by passing it over the heat of a lamp
flame. Finally, the plate was varnished (while still warm from the lamp) in order to
protect the emulsion.
In addition to all this hazardous chemical processing Alfred Hart had to endure, as a
field photographer his equipment consisted of a view camera (probably about 18 by 22
inches from front to back), complete with tripod, plate holder and slides, all made from
solid wood. Other items on his list of weighty, but essential, equipment were ground
glass, lenses, shutters, glass plates, and a dark tent, all of which had to be
transported above and beyond points reached by railroad workers.
After 1869 Hart continued to work as a photographer and moved around the country selling
his photographs. Carleton Watkins acquired some of Hart's negatives in 1869 where they
were kept in his San Francisco studio. Prints from the negatives were sold to the
public. Unfortunately, Hart's negatives were destroyed the 1906 earthquake along with
the rest of Watkins' studio, but not before enough prints had been produced and sold to
allow for the survival of most of the Central Pacific Railroad collection.
From 1872 to 1878 Hart worked in San Francisco as a portrait and landscape painter. He
died on March 5, 1908 at the Alameda County Infirmary.
[Taken from Mary Blessing's essay,"Alfred A. Hart: Frontier Photographer," 1979]
For more information about Hart and his photographic techniques, see Glenn Willumson's
Alfred A. Hart: Photographer of
the Transcontinental Railroad
. (UC Davis, 1984)
Scope and Contents note
The Alfred A. Hart Collection includes one photograph album of 365 images, and 106
stereographs. The majority of the stereographs are duplicate images from the album.
However, there are also ten stereographs of the home of Leland and Jane Stanford in
Sacramento (images that do not appear in the album).
The album measures 33 cm x 27 cm x 6 cm (13" x 10.5" x 2.5") and has been disbound (The
binding has not survived.). There are 49 gilt-edged boards, constituting 94 pages of
photographs. There are 4 photographs per page. The photographs have been arranged in
geographic order, from California to Utah. Some of the pages have fewer than four
photographs. These are:
Page 6: 2 photographs only Page 65: 1 photograph only Page 70: 3 photographs only Page
71: 1 photograph only Page 94: 3 photographs only
There are four blank pages in the album that were not numbered:
--Between pages 59 and 60 --Between pages 70 and 71 --Between pages 71 and 72 --Between
pages 74 and 75
The numbered stereographs are arranged numerically in four boxes. The fifth stereograph
box contains the ten photographs of the Stanford family house in Sacramento (interior
and exterior views). There are two stereographic images that do not appear in the album.
These are #489 ("Snow Scene in the Mountains") and #494 ("Snow Shoes"). For better
access to the images, the photographs in the album have been indexed in an online
catalogue with the following seven fields:
1) Image number 2) Title of image 3) Subjects 4) Geographic sequence number 5)
Geographic area 6) Existence of a stereograph for the album images 7) Page number of the
The records for these fields have been sorted, and these reports constitute the core of
the guide to the Hart collection.
The image numbers, titles, and geographic areas were assigned by Hart. The geographic
sequence number, subjects, indication as to whether a stereograph exists for an image,
and the page numbers of the album, were assigned by the indexer.
Each photograph has a unique number assigned by Hart. The following numbers were not
used by Hart in the album at Stanford University: 208, 219, 238, 253, 306, 307, 308,
309. There are also two photographs numbered"275." For indexing purposes, these have
been assigned the numbers"275a" and"275b." These photographs are both entitled "Eagle
Gap. Truckee River" but each is a unique view.
Title of image
Each photograph has a title assigned by Hart. Often the altitude and distance from
Sacramento is included.
The Hart photographs richly illustrate people, places, and things: the construction of a
nineteenth-century railroad in all its phases (excavations of the road, grading, track
laying, trestle construction, tunnel digging, etc.); locomotives; train cars (boxcars,
flatcars, cabooses, etc.); laborers (Caucasian and Chinese); Native Americans;
topographic features (mountains, valleys, deserts, rivers, lakes); and frontier town
scenes. To help make these images accessible to researchers of wide-ranging interests,
subjects have been used to index them. The number of subjects varies according to what
was captured in the photograph. For example, image #26 is a simple photograph of a
ravine, and"Auburn Ravine" is the only subject given to this photograph. On the other
hand, #211 "West Portal Tunnel No. 1, Grizzly Hill" (which includes a train), has been
assigned many subjects: "Tunnel No. 1," "Grizzly Hill," "Locomotive," "Boxcar," and
In addition to named mountains, rivers, lakes, towns, and people, the following subject
words are used:
Boxcar Boy Brewery Bridge Caboose Camera and photographer Camp Canyon Chinese Combine
car Culvert Depot Embankment Excursion party Flatcar Girl Handcar Indian Laborers Lake
Locomotive Lumberyard Palisades Passengers Quarry Ravine River Sawmill Snowbank Snowplow
Snowshed Stagecoach Teamsters Telegraph pole Train Trestle Tunnel Turntable Valley Wagon
road Wagon train Wagons Water tank Water train Waterfall
Geographic sequence number
Hart did not take the photographs in precise chronological or geographic order, but for
presentation of the images in the album, he arranged them geographically from the start
of construction in Sacramento to the completion in Promontory, Utah. Thus, image #1, a
photograph of the locomotive
, happens to appear as the twenty-second photograph on album page
seven. Another example, image #234, a view of the wharves in Sacramento, is the first
image on page one of the album.
To assist the user who is interested in the geographic element of the photographs,
and/or the geographic progression of the images, a geographic sequence number was given
each photograph. In this way, other subjects of the photograph can be linked to the
geographic area and sequencing of each photograph, such as mountains, deserts, valleys,
There are four photographs per page, and the geographic sequence numbering begins on the
top left, to the top right, to the bottom left, to the bottom right, in this manner:
G-1, G-2, G-3, G-4 on page one; G-5, G-6, G-7, G-8 on page two, etc. For example, G-1
(#234) is "Railroad Wharves at Sacramento City." G-168 (#99) is "Cisco, Placer County."
G-289 (#284) is "Freight Depots at Reno," and the last photograph in the album is G-365
(#364), "Railroad at Ogden, Wahsatch Range in Distance."
Each photograph is included in one of seven broad geographic areas, assigned by Hart.
1)"Valley of the Sacramento" 2)"Sierra Nevada Mountains, Western Summit" 3)"Sierra
Nevada Mountains, Donner Lake" 4)"Sierra Nevada Mountains, Truckee River, Eastern
Summit" 5)"Washoe Range, Truckee River" 6)"Humboldt River, The Desert" 7)"Wahsatch
Range, Great Salt Lake"
Hart had stereographs made for several of the images that appear in the album. To
indicate whether a stereograph exists for any particular image, a simple"yes" or"no" was
Page number of album
Each album page was numbered, and each photograph has its page number associated with it
in the index.
Central Pacific Railroad--Construction.
Hart, Alfred A., 1816-1908.
Kamena, Ruth M.
California--Description and travel--Views.
Central Pacific Railroad