Scope and Contents note
Call Number: PC0002
Hart, Alfred A., 1816-1908
Title: Alfred A. Hart photographs
1 album(s) 375 unbound photoprints: albumen, 375 photonegatives and 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
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.
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 Watkins.
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 endeavor.
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
From 1872 to 1878 Hart worked in San Francisco as a portrait and landscape painter. He died on March 5, 1908 at the Alameda
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 master's thesis 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
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 album
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, 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"Combine car."
In addition to named mountains, rivers, lakes, towns, and people, the following subject words are used:
Boxcar Palisades Boy Passengers Brewery Quarry Bridge Ravine Caboose River Camera and photographer Sawmill Camp Snowbank Canyon
Snowplow Chinese Snowshed Combine car Stagecoach Culvert Teamsters Depot Telegraph pole Embankment Train Excursion party Trestle
Flatcar Tunnel Girl Turntable Handcar Valley Indian Wagon road Laborers Wagon train Lake Wagons Locomotive Water tank Lumberyard
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 Governor Stanford, 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, rivers.
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. These are:
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 used.
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.
Kamena, Ruth M.
California--Description and travel--Views.
Central Pacific Railroad