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American History in Panorama

Geo. R. Lawrence Co./Courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press

Panoramic photography was popularized in Europe in the 1840s with the advance of cameras that spanned 150 degrees—beyond the human range of vision. By the second half of the nineteenth century, the technology had arrived in America, where it was used to chronicle a period of dramatic and extraordinary growth. The Big Picture: America in Panorama, edited by Josh Sapan, depicts expanding industries, organizations, and events from the late nineteenth century to World War II. Capturing the American crowd, these photos collect its history. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Dedication of the Red Jacket trestle bridge in Mankato—Blue Earth County, Minnesota, August 22, 1911, John R. Snow. The Red Jacket trestle bridge, constructed in 1874 by the Central Railroad of Minnesota, crosses the Le Seur river and was named after a Native American chief.  

A detail of the trestle bridge. 

Armour & Company's general office at the Union Stock Yards—Chicago, Illinois, circa 1900, Geo. R. Lawrence Co. Armour & Company, founded in 1867, was known for its hot dogs and quickly became one of the country's largest businesses in the meatpacking industry, but it faced scrutiny over its labor practices—especially after the company's methods were outlined in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.

A detail of the general office. 

The office and factory staff of Fisher Body—Cleveland, Ohio, date unknown, the Morchroe Co. In 1908, the seven Fisher brothers began to produce car bodies for Ford, Cadillac, and other manufacturers; the company became the largest producer of car bodies by 1914, and by 1926 provided the bodies for General Motors models. All GM cars bore plates that read, "Body by Fisher."

A detail of the Fisher Body staff.

American Newspaper Publishers Association—location unknown, circa 1908, Geo. R. Lawrence Co. The American newspaper industry grew quickly in the second half of the nineteenth century, and the number of newspapers in the United States would peak in 1913, egged on by an increase in yellow journalism and muckrakers. 

The human liberty bell of 25,000 men—Camp Dix, New Jersey, 1918, Mole & Thomas. Camp Dix was one of many training camps set up in the wake of the 1917 Selective Service Act, which drew troops to prepare a national army for entry into World War I. It later became Fort Dix and is still used today. 

A human United States flag—Boston, Massachusetts, date unknown, E. Chickering & Co. After World War I, mass displays of patriotism celebrated the country's emergence as a global power. 

The Sideshow Minstrel Museum at the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus—Brooklyn, New York, June 12, 1931, Century, courtesy George Eastman House. The Hagenbeck-Wallace circus was the third-largest in the U.S., trailing the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. The sideshow included "human oddities": Those who were very over- or under-weight, extremely tall or short, or missing limbs, among others.  

A detail of the Sideshow Minstrel Museum. 

Ku Klux Klan Convention—Roanoke, Virgina, May 30-31, 1931. The KKK was founded in 1865 after the Civil War as a white-supremacist group, intimidating and terrorizing recently freed slaves. Even in the 1930s, when this photo was taken, lynchings were not uncommon. 

Pilgrimage of the twenty-third annual National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conference—Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, May 22, 1932, Addison N. Scurlock. In 1909, 44 years after the Civil War, the NAACP was founded after a Springfield, Illinois riot forced the black population to flee. In 1932, the organization convened at Storer College, one of the earliest black colleges, to dedicate a plaque honoring John Brown. The school rejected the plaque that year but later accepted it, and it remains on site today.  

A detail of the NAACP pilgrimage. 

All photos courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press. Purchase: The Big Picture: America in Panorama