Frederick Gutekunst

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Frederick Gutekunst
Frederick Gutekunst portrait.jpg
Born(1831-09-25)September 25, 1831
DiedApril 27, 1917(1917-04-27) (aged 85)
Resting placeLaurel Hill Cemetery
Coat of Arms from the back of a Gutekunst cabinet card.

Frederick Gutekunst (September 25, 1831 - April 27, 1917) was an American photographer. His photographic career started in 1856 in Philadelphia and his business grew during the Civil War. After the war his reputation was known outside of Philadelphia and the military so that distinguished individuals were coming to having their portrait made by the master. Eventually, the Gutekunst studio became a photographic industry with two studios in Philadelphia and a large photo reproduction press. He continued working until he died in 1917 from Bright's Disease. When comparing the overall number of portraits made by Gutekunst and other studios in Philadelphia during the same period one can find similar quality work being accomplished, but photographs with the name Gutekunst on them are of a consistent high quality in different sizes and throughout the years and it is this consistency that made him the Dean of American Photographers.[1]

Early life[edit]

Frederick Gutekunst was the son of a cabinet maker who claimed to have been born in Germantown in Philadelphia and this story of his birthplace is often reproduced in histories. However, according to his obituary in The Photographic Journal of America[2] he was born in Germany, possibly Haiterbach, Württemberg as was his father.[3] Hence, he was born in a "German" "town". The reason we should accept this account is due to the friendship between Mr. Gutekunst and his former assistant and at the time of the obituary the founder and publisher of The Photographic Journal of America, Mr. Edward L. Wilson. Mr. Gutekunst most likely wanted clients visiting his studio and gallery to believe that he was born in the more rural and gentile Germantown than a poor immigrant ghetto along the Delaware River waterfront. His birth date is another matter as there were two different dates published during his lifetime. Additionally, among census records there are different years recorded for his birth. The 1880 Census lists his year of birth as 1831, but other Census' list him as born in 1833 and 1835.

The first listing for Frederick Gutekunst Sr. in Philadelphia is in McElroy's city directory in 1837 as: Gutterhurst, Frederick, carpenter, at St. John Street (currently N. American St.) north of George in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. This would be the block where N. American St. meets Germantown Ave. This was known as a neighborhood of German immigrants and where Philadelphia's second German Catholic church, St. Peter's, was established. One of the remnants of the German character of this part of town is the German Society of Pennsylvania on Spring Garden St.

Frederick Gutekunst Sr. wanted young Frederick to become a lawyer and so he was indentured for six years to Joseph Simon Cohen, prothonotary to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. However, by the time he was eighteen he became more interested in the art of the daguerreotype and became a frequent visitor to Marcus Aurelius Root's gallery, and his talents turned toward chemistry. One of Frederick's experiments was a method to mass-produce daguerreotypes; although it was a success, it was not financially practical.

Frederick's father found work for him in the drug store owned by the consul for the Kingdom of Wurttemberg in Philadelphia, Frederick Klett, who was also one of the founders of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy from which Frederick Gutekunst graduated in 1853.

He found employment at Avery Toby's drug store at 1235 Market St., later at 451 Market St., and spent two years working there. His interest in photography was renewed and he was able to exchange a homemade battery for a camera owned by Isaac Norris, later the Secretary of the Franklin Institute. His work and ambitions in photography grew and he bought a better lens for five dollars from the "Buckeye Blacksmith" who ran an ambrotype gallery near Toby's drug store, and this was where he was introduced to the ambrotype process. His father, the accomplished cabinetmaker, proceeded to build a camera for the lens and thus began Frederick Gutekunst's amateur career.

Photography studio[edit]

Frederick's brother, Louis Gutekunst, was a barber-hair dresser with a business at 4th and Vine[4] and had noticed the talent displayed by Frederick with a camera. When Frederick had mentioned to his brother that a storefront on Arch St. was for rent on Friday and would be a good place for a gallery, Louis secured the property at 706 Arch St. on Monday. F & L Gutekunst photographists opened for business in 1856,[5] and currently there is only one known daguerreotype by Gutekunst.[6] However, by 1859 Louis was again working as a hairdresser at 219 N. 4th Street.[7] The 1856 McElroy's also lists Frederick living at 1220 Ogden in Philadelphia.


exterior, 712 Arch St. Philadelphia PA
exterior, linotype of studio

When the Civil War began, soldiers came to have their portraits made at the Gutekunst studio, and then officers came, and eventually the generals arrived. The growth of the business meant that it was time for a larger space, and in 1864 Gutekunst moved a few doors up Arch St. to number 712, and occupied the whole building. A full description is found in The Photographic Times & American Photographer, November 1885. One notable feature of the reception room was an "orchestrion" which used a large cylinder much like a music box to provide music for waiting patrons.

The portrait of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant seems to have been the work that stirred uniform national interest and set Gutekunst apart from his contemporaries. Here he tells the story of the how it was created.

Grant was stopping at the Continental Hotel at the time, and I sent someone over there to invite him to come to the studio for a sitting. In a short time he strolled in and said he would have come here himself, without an invitation as his brother officers wanted to come to me. When he arrived I was busy in the operating-room with a sitter, and while he waited his turn Grant sauntered around the reception-room, his right hand in his trousers-pocket, his left resting in his negligently worn vest. I kept him waiting as little as possible, and when I came out I found him in the attitude in which he is photographed.

'General', I said, 'that is a very nice position; just keep your hand that way.' Then I took him under the skylight, and he resumed that attitude which was so characteristic while I made the photograph. The picture has been considered the best taken of Grant; it has been used for the statue of him in Galena, and General Sherman sent me a letter in which he asserts his belief that it is the most characteristic of the great General.[8]

Railroads needed photographers to show what was to be seen from a train and what was nearby to induce people to travel. In the 1870s Gutekunst was a photographer for the Pennsylvania Railroad and a collection of stereo views were taken. The Library Company of Philadelphia has a set of these prints some of which can be viewed at[9]

The next great achievement for Gutekunst was the panorama of the 1876 Centennial Exposition held in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. The description of the work is as follows:

This ten feet long by eighteen inch wide picture was made from seven negatives by William Bell that were taken from a scaffold erected near the Belmont reservoir. The panoramic view printed on a single sheet of paper show all the buildings from Agricultural Hall to the Observatory on George's Hill. The large sheet of albumen paper for this panorama was supplied by the John H. Clemons factory on Sansom Street. The whites of one hundred and twenty five dozen eggs were required to coat the paper. To produce the print the entire sheet had to be exposed to sunlight, one section at a time, under each negative. Careful joining of the negatives was required to prevent a dark line from appearing at each juncture. Each section had to be printed to the same density despite the ever changing light from the sky. After printing out to a much darker shade than desired, the final appearance of the print was achieved through gold toning which had to be evenly applied or some of the blacks would have a bluish cast and others a reddish tone. Great difficulty was also encountered handling such a large sheet of wet paper as it passed through the fixing baths, toning and washing processes. The success with which he achieved a uniform color and tone can be seen today from a framed copy of the print hanging in the Library Company of Philadelphia.[10]

Louis Gutekunst was placed in charge of developing the print and described the process at a meeting of the Photographic Society of Philadelphia in January 1877.[10] The work was met with praise from all over the world. Frederick Gutekunst was recognized for the monumental work with the Cross of the Knights of the Austrian Order from Emperor Franz Joseph I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Queen Victoria of Great Britain, and King Victor Emmanuel of Italy also sent similar honors, and the Emperor of Japan rewarded him with two gold-lined bronze vases.[citation needed]

Gutekunst was as much artist as businessman and on a visit to Germany in 1878 he purchased the rights for the Phototype process. One year later upon visit to Philadelphia, J. H. Fitzgibbons, the editor of the St. Louis Practical Photographer, noted that Gutekunst was manufacturing thousands of prints every day. Eventually, this new factory needed to move out of Arch Street and up to 813 Girard Ave where a staff of forty under the supervision of the engraver, James P. Harbeson, kept up with demand for reproduction for publications, etc. Girard Ave was a perfect location for this endeavor since this part of Philadelphia was more industrial and less retail than Arch St.

Some of the products of this venture were illustrations for books such as the Biographical Album of Prominent Pennsylvanians, Artistic Houses, and Artistic Country Seats published by D. Appleton & Co. of New York. Also, Gutekunst began to use what we would now call a panoramic camera which took a photo of one hundred and eighty degrees and from which the studio could produce a print thirty-six inches in length.

On the morning of January 26, 1886, a fire started at 715-719 Arch St. which burned down the five-story building at that address. Additionally, the fire spread across the street to the Gutekunst establishment and caused approximately $10,000 in damage.[11] What impact this had on his business is difficult to estimate because Frederick Gutekunst did not seem to mention this fire in any later interviews.

Walt Whitman admired Gutekunst and after recovering from an illness Whitman went to have his portrait taken. Gutekunst took the last professional portrait of Whitman.[citation needed]

By 1893 Gutekunst had been in business almost forty years and an additional studio was needed for the growing enterprise. The new studio was established in an upscale part of Philadelphia at 1700 N. Broad St. with William Braucher[12] as manager. With this Gutekunst also acquired a house nearby at 1842 N. Bouvier St.[13] The success early in his career meant that he could he move his home out of Center City Philadelphia and own a home on Pulaski Avenue in Germantown in Philadelphia.[14] A year before his death Gutekunst incorporated his business and some of the older employees became stockholders, but Mr. Braucher resigned at that time.[15]

Frederick Gutekunst died April 27, 1917. Eight weeks earlier he fell down the steps of his N. Bouvier residence returning to his studio after lunch at home. This fall and Bright's disease seem to have caused his death.


  • Frederick Gutekunst: Dean of American Photographers exhibit at the University of the Sciences; Philadelphia 2006
  • Wilson's Photographic Magazine; Dec. 1913, vol. L, no. 712, page 537
  • Philadelphia: A History of the City & Its People by Ellis Paxon Oberholtzer, page 134
  • Philadelphia Photographers: 1840 – 1900 by William & Marie Brey
  • The Photographer; vol. 2, no. 31 Nov 26, 1904, page 69
  • The Studio of F. Gutekunst, Philadelphia. In: The Photographic Times and American Photographer, Vol. XIII., Scovill, New York 1883, page 572f.

Note: The sitters book (list of clients) of the Gutekunst Studio is in the collection of The Library Company of Philadelphia.



  1. ^ The Evening Telegraph - Phila. Sept. 26, 1912
  2. ^ The Photographic Journal of America; June 1917, vol. LIV, no. 6, page 265
  3. ^
  4. ^ McElroy's 1857
  5. ^ cElroy's 1856
  6. ^ "News Story - University of the Sciences". Archived from the original on January 7, 2017. Retrieved January 6, 2017.
  7. ^ McElroy's 1859
  8. ^ The Photographer; Nov. 26, 1904, vol. 2 no. 31, page 69
  9. ^ here
  10. ^ a b Philadelphia Photographers: 1840 – 1900 by William & Marie Brey; Frederick Gutekunst
  11. ^ The Publisher's Weekly; January 30, 1886, vol 28, 29, no. 731, page 127
  12. ^ Bulletin of Photography, vol 20, issue 509, page 441
  13. ^ "Google Maps". Retrieved January 6, 2017.
  14. ^ Germantown: Gardens and Gardeners by Edwin C. Jellett; Horace F. McCann publisher 1914, page 65
  15. ^ Bulletin of Photography, vol 20, issue 509, page 442

External links[edit]