Picturing 1930s St. Louis: An Introduction

25, October 2016
Black-and-white photo of group at United Hebrew TempleGroup posed around a National Provisions booth during a bazaar held at the United Hebrew Temple. Signs around the booth advertise Anheuser-Busch’s nonalcoholic drinks, including root beer and Bouquet imitation grape soda. Photo by Ed Meyer, February 1931. Missouri History Museum.

Last month, the Missouri History Museum’s Photographs and Prints department began work on an exciting project involving the Sievers Studio Collection. The studio was founded in 1917 by professional commercial photographer Isaac Sievers. Over time, its staff expanded to include several photographers. Isaac’s son, Alvin, joined the business after World War II and kept it going until 1989. Throughout its 72 years of operation, the Sievers Studio captured 264 linear feet of negatives and prints—that’s the length of an entire city block! The Picturing 1930s St. Louis project will, naturally, focus on material from the 1930s—about 61 of those 264 linear feet.

Black-and-white photo of party in 1931Large group at a party, probably during a wedding or anniversary celebration held at the Epstein house, 7257 Amhurst Place. Photo by Isaac Sievers, April 1931. Missouri History Museum.

The 1930s was a decade of great change in St. Louis and throughout the country, and the commercial photographers of the Sievers Studio were right in the thick of it, documenting the everyday as it evolved. They photographed everything from Hoovervilles on the Mississippi River and business groups to suburban development and wedding portraits—and even a spontaneous public gathering to listen to a radio broadcast of the Cardinals playing in the 1931 World Series. Even more exciting than these rare glimpses into the daily lives of 1930s St. Louisans are the inventory sheets. Alvin filled out an inventory sheet for each assignment carried out by the studio, allowing us to easily identify the subject, client, date, and location of each shoot. These invaluable details will provide rich context for each image.

NHPRC logoThanks to a National Historical Publications & Records Commission grant, a full-time archivist (that’s me!) will spend the next two years creating a record for each shoot and properly housing each negative and photograph. We’ll also have several interns working to digitize and catalog as many individual photos as time allows. Starting in early 2017, we’ll be uploading these images and all the associated catalog records to our cross-collection search. We’ll also be doing regular posts right here on the blog to highlight some of our favorite images and stories from the collection—and to give you a behind-the-scenes look at everything that goes into processing a photograph collection. For now, enjoy the sneak peeks included in the gallery below!

Picturing 1930s St. Louis: An Introduction

—Lauren Sallwasser, NHPRC Processing Archivist

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