By Bennett Owen
Fred H. Kiser. Credit: hockadaymuseum
He was one of the first entrepreneurs to use the phrase, “See America First,” and in the early years of the 20th century, much of America got its impressions of the pioneer west from the cameras of Fred H. Kiser. As a keen businessman and consummate photographer, that suited him just fine.
Phantom Ship, Crater Lake, Oregon, by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: oldoregonhphots.com
What started out as a adolescent hobby quickly turned into a cottage industry as Kiser and his brother took advantage of the burgeoning penny postcard craze, snapping photographs of the Columbia River Gorge and selling them to guests at the family hotel just upriver from Portland.
Hand-colored photograph of Crater Lake, Oregon. Credit: ebay
An avid mountaineer and adventurer, Kiser was soon leading massive teams and tons of equipment up tall peaks throughout the northwest to capture ever more daring and panoramic pictures for an eager public.
Crater Lake, Oregon by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: Public-republic.de
But it was his groundbreaking images of Crater Lake in southern Oregon that cemented Kiser’s reputation as a preeminent nature photographer…that along with an innovation he described as the “Artograph,” a way of mass-producing hand colored images that could then be used for anything from postcards to leather covered coffee table albums.
Sunrise from Victor Rock by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: The Oregon State University Archives
Kisers’s talents caught the eye of the Great Northern Railway, which employed him to capture the stunning mountain vistas of northwestern Montana. In terms of promotional value the result was priceless but Kiser’s masterful images are also credited with convincing Congress to create Glacier Park in 1910.
Mountain Lake, Glacier National Park by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: Gutenberg
Kiser’s star had faded by 1930 but what he left behind is truly a remarkable documentation of the taming of frontier America.
Fishing at St. Mary Lake, Glacier National Park by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: ebay
Two Medicine Lake and Camp, Glacier National Park by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: cemetarian.com
Iceberg Lake, Glacier National Park by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: photobucket
Great Northern Depot, Lower View, Everett Washington by Fred H. Kiser. Credit: Billyspostcads.com