RUSSELL, Andrew J. (1830-1902). The Great West Illustrated in a Series of Photographic Views Across the Continent; Taken Along the Line of the Union Pacific Railroad, West from Omaha, Nebraska. With an Annotated Table of Contents, Giving a Brief Description of Each View; Its Peculiarities, Characteristics, and Connection with the Different Points on the Road. Vol. 1 (all published). New York: [by D.H. Prime] Published by Authority of the Union Pacific Railroad Company, 1869.
Broadsheets (325 x 458 mm). Title, preface leaf, 3 leaves table of contents and 1 leaf fly title, all within red lithographed border with images of trains and tracks at the corners. 50 albumen photographs, each approximately 210 x 295 mm, each on mount with printed caption, all mounted on guards. (Plate 3 with repaired tear in sky, probably as issued, generally clean and fresh.) Original half morocco, gilt-lettered on front cover and spine, lettered in blind on rear cover, edges gilt, by E. Kettner, stamp signed on rear turn ins (some rubbing); cloth folding case.
FIRST EDITION OF RUSSELL'S MAGNIFICENT PHOTOGRAPHIC MASTERPIECE, an amazing visual record of the building of the Union Pacific Railroad and one of the most important photographically illustrated books published in the United States. The fifty superb photographs depict scenes along the 1,721 mile stretch of the Union Pacific Railroad, which ran from Omaha on the Missouri River to Sacramento in California.
Andrew J. Russell was born on March 20, 1829 in Walpole, New Hampshire and grew up in New York, where his family worked in canal and railroad construction. He initially trained as a painter, but when commissioned as an army captain during the Civil War he was assigned special duty as photographer for the United States Military Railroad. When the war ended, Russell became fascinated with the national project of constructing a transcontinental railroad, which officially got underway when President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act in 1862. In 1868 and 1869, Russell ventured west with his camera, recording the progress of the Union Pacific Railroad building west from Laramie to Promontory Summit.
The Union Pacific Railroad Company was formed in 1863 aided by federal loans and land grants; around the same time, the Central Pacific Railroad Company, chartered in California, also was given federal sanctions. The two companies put all their post-war efforts into the construction of a transcontinental railroad, with the Union Pacific responsible for construction westward from Omaha, Nebraska and the Central Pacific for building east from San Francisco. The vast stretch of largely unexplored land provided an immense wilderness new to inhabitants of the coasts. The Union Pacific hired Andrew J. Russell to document their portion of the line. He made three trips along it, one in 1868 and two in 1869, producing his classic series of views of locomotives, wagon trains, bridges, towns and landscapes. Only Timothy O'Sullivan's photographs for the King Survey in 1867-68 and Alexander Gardner's views for the Kansas Pacific Railroad, 1867 were earlier to document a previously unphotographed section of the American land.
Russell's work is exceedingly rare, with fewer than 24 copies believed to exist, most in institutions. Combs, pp. 24-29, 34-35, 39-40, 60 and 64-65; NYPL 201; Truthful Lens 142.