See his autobiography (1940) and his diaries, ed. by L. R. and A. W. Hafen (1959); C. S. Jackson, Picture Maker of the Old West (1947); B. Newhall and D. E. Edkins, William H. Jackson (1975).
William Henry Jackson (April 41843 - June 301942) was an American painter, photographer and explorer famous for his images of the American West. He was a great-great nephew of Samuel Wilson, the progenitor of America's national symbol Uncle Sam.
After his boyhood in Troy, New York and Rutland, Vermont, in 1862 Jackson, guided by patriotic feelings joined as a private in Company K of 12th Vermont Infantry and fought in the American Civil War, including the battle of Gettysburg. He then returned to Rutland, VT, where he eventually got into creative crisis as a painter in post-Civil-War American society. Having broken his engagement to Miss Carolina Eastman he left Vermont forever, for the American West.
In 1866 traveling by Union Pacific Jackson reached its end, a point some hundred miles west of Omaha, where he joined as a bullwhacker a wagon train heading west to Great Salt Lake, on the Oregon Trail. In 1867 he settled down in Omaha, NE and got into the photography business with his brother Ed. Going off for three or four days as "missionary to the Indians" around Omaha, Jackson made his famous photographs of the American Indians: Osages, Otoes, Pawnees, Winnebagoes and Omahas.
Jackson worked in multiple camera and plate sizes, under conditions that were often incredibly difficult. His photography was based on the collodion process invented in 1848 and published in 1851 by Frederick Scott Archer. Jackson traveled with as many as three camera-types-- a stereographic camera (for stereoscope cards), a "whole-plate" or 8x10" plate-size camera, and one even larger, as large as 18x22". These cameras required fragile, heavy glass plates (photographic plates), which had to be coated, exposed, and developed onsite, before the wet-collodion emulsion dried. Without light metering equipment or sure emulsion speeds, exposure times required inspired guesswork, between five seconds and twenty minutes depending on light conditions.
Preparing, exposing, developing, fixing, washing then drying a single image could take the better part of an hour. Washing the plates in 160 °F hot spring water cut the drying time by more than half, while using water from snow melted and warmed in his hands slowed down the processing substantially. His photographic division of 5-7 men carried photographic equipment on the backs of mules and rifles on their shoulders - Siouxess still made scalping - Jackson's life experience (as military, as peaceful dealing with Indians) was welcomed. The weight of the glass plates and the portable darkroom limited the number of possible exposures on any one trip, and these images were taken in primitive, roadless, and physically challenging conditions. Once when the mule lost its footing, Jackson lost a month's work, having to return to untracked Rocky Mountain landscapes to remake the pictures, one of which was his celebrated view of the Mount of the Holy Cross.
Despite these difficulties Jackson came back with photographic evidence of western landmarks that had previously seemed fantastic rumor: the Grand Tetons, Old Faithful and the rest of Yellowstone, Colorado's Rockies and the Mount of the Holy Cross, and the uncooperative Ute Indians. Jackson's photographs of Yellowstone helped convince the U.S. Congress to make it the first National Park in March 1872.
Jackson exhibited photographs and clay models of Anasazi dwellings at Mesa Verde in Colorado in the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. He continued traveling on the Hayden Surveys until the last one in 1878. He later established a studio in Denver, Colorado and produced a huge inventory of national and international views. Commissioned to photograph for western state exhibitions at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, he eventually produced a final portfolio of views of the just-shuttered "White City" for Director of Works and architect Daniel Burnham.
In 1903, Jackson became the plant manager, thus leaving him with less time to travel and take photographs. In 1905 or 1906, the company changed its name from the Detroit Photographic Co. to the Detroit Publishing Co.
In the 1910s, the publishing firm expanded its inventory to include photographic copies of works of art, which were popular educational tools as well as inexpensive home decor.
During its height, the Detroit Publishing Company drew upon 40,000 negatives for its publishing effort, and had sales of seven million prints annually. Traveling salesmen, mail order catalogues, and a few retail stores aggressively sold the company's products. The company maintained outlets in Detroit, New York, Los Angeles, London, and Zurich, and also sold their images at popular tourist spots and through the mail. At the height of its success, the company employed some forty artisans and a dozen or more traveling salesmen. In a typical year they would publish an estimated seven million prints.
With the declining sale of photographs and postcards during World War I, and the introduction of new and cheaper printing methods used by competing firms, the Detroit Publishing Company went into receivership in 1924, and in 1932 the company's assets were liquidated.
In 1936 Edsel Ford backed by his father Henry Ford bought Jackson's 40,000 negatives from Livingstone's estate for "The Edison Institute" known today as Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. Eventually, Jackson's negatives were divided between the Colorado Historical Society (views west of the Mississippi), and the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division (all other views).
In 1942, he was honored by the Explorer's Club for his 80,000 photographs of the American West. SS William H Jackson Steamship was in active service in 1945. Jackson died at the age of 99. Recognized as one of the last surviving Civil War veterans, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.