• Identification75/55/4
  • Title
    • Guide to the Alexander Hesler Photograph Collection
    • Hesler, Alexander Photograph Collection
  • Date1870-1887
  • OriginationHesler, Alexander, 1823-1895
  • Physical Description3.00
  • RepositoryNorthwestern University Archives Deering Library, Room 110 1970 Campus Dr. Evanston, IL, 60208-2300 URL: http://www.library.northwestern.edu/archives Email: archives@northwestern.edu Phone: 847-491-3354
  • AbstractOver 150 photographic prints (mostly 4x6 cabinet size, mounted on cardstock) taken by noted Evanston photographer Alexander Hesler, dating circa 1870-1887 and depicting Northwestern University faculty, students, and buildings. Includes 2 copies of published volume "Photographic Views of Picturesque Evanston" (1887).

Alexander Hesler was one of the most prominent and respected regional photographers of his era. Born in 1823 near Montreal, Hesler spent much of his youth in Quebec and Vermont before moving to Racine, Wisconsin around 1833. He took employment as a clerk but tired of this work and decided, in 1847, to learn the craft of daguerreotype. He journeyed to Buffalo for training and in only ten days became skilled in this first major photographic process. For nearly fifty years beginning in 1848 Hesler operated a succession of photographic studios and galleries in Madison, Wisconsin; Galena, Illinois; Chicago and Evanston. Possessing broad technical abilities, he was able to exploit new photographic media as they appeared over the course of the nineteenth century. When the daguerreotype faded from popularity he mastered the wet and, later, dry plate photographic processes. In addition, he was quick to recognize the popular appeal of the stereoscope and produced for sale stereoscopic views as well as other paper-based prints, the bulk of which were portraits and landscapes. Hesler was active in national and regional photographic societies and was recognized for his work at several important fairs and expositions including the 1853 World’s Exposition, the Chicago Mechanics Institute of the same year, and the 1876 Centennial Exhibition held at Philadelphia. Through his contributions to photographic journals he advocated high standards of professionalism for his colleagues and decried what he considered the crass commercialism evident in much contemporary work. Hesler’s best known works include several portraits of Abraham Lincoln and a series of Chicago views taken in 1858 from the top of the city’s courthouse. His daguerreotype of Minnehaha Falls reportedly inspired Longfellow to write the poem, “Hiawatha.” Hesler spent the major portion of his career in Chicago and for five years after the 1871 Chicago fire operated a studio in his home in Evanston. Much of his Evanston work centered on portraiture and his customers included many Northwestern University students and faculty. In addition to this portrait work, Hesler produced widely admired landscape photographs. In 1887 he published a book of town and streetscapes entitled Photographic Views of Picturesque Evanston. Hesler died in Evanston on July 5, 1895.

  • Names
    • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)--Faculty--Photographs
    • Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)--Students--Photographs
  • Geographic CoverageEvanston (Ill.)--Photographs
  • SubjectCollege students--Illinois--Evanston--Photographs

See also Class Photograph Albums, 1874-1888 (series 75/13/24), http://findingaids.library.northwestern.edu/catalog/inu-ead-nua-archon-1307. The work of many Evanston and Chicago photographers will be found in these albums, but a number of the images were made by Alexander Hesler. Hesler's identified work is heavily concentrated in albums 7 through 16 (representing the classes of 1877-1880) and found in more limited quantities in albums 18 (1881) and 20 through 24 (1882-1887).

The series consists of approximately one hundred and fifty photographic prints made by Hesler during the 1870s and 1880s. Most of the prints are portraits of Northwestern University faculty, administrators, and students. Also included are a number of photographs of class and student groups, University buildings, and portraits of Northwestern University Preparatory School students. Most of the prints are mounted on cardboard stock and range in size from approximately four by six to four-and-one-half by seven inches. Prints of buildings and student groups are foldered topically; folders then are arranged in alphabetical order according to topical descriptors. Portraits of Northwestern faculty and administrators are foldered separately by individual subject with folders alphabetically arranged according to subjects’ surnames. Portraits of students are arranged under the topical headings according to their class year (year of graduation), i.e., Class of 1878, Class of 1879, etc. When multiple portraits exist for a given year they are alphabetized within folders by students’ surnames. Unidentified or partially identified portraits are foldered at the end of the series. Completing the series are two copies of Hesler’s book, "Photographic Views of Picturesque Evanston" (1887).