Henry K. Landis
Landis was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to Henry Harrison Landis (1838–1926), a farmer, and Emma Caroline Diller (1842–1929), daughter of a prosperous farmer, in 1865. Henry was one of four children—George Diller (1867–1954), Nettie May (1879–1914), and Anna Margaretta, who died early in childhood.
The Landis family was historically typical Pennsylvania Dutch, originating as Swiss Mennonite folk with the earliest Landis antecedent living twelve miles south of Zurich, Switzerland in 1438. To escape religious persecution, in 1717, three Landis brothers—John, Jacob, and Felix—fled Switzerland. Jacob and Felix Landis established themselves in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where the name Landis is prominent today.
Henry K. Landis (1865–1955) was raised on multi-generational family farm in a rather tumultuous environment of domestic strife. He attended local schools, and was eventually sent to Lititz Academy as a boarding student with his brother George. Afterwards, the two Landis brothers both matriculated at Lehigh University, but only Henry would graduate in ____ with a degree in Engineering. Landis’ sister Nettie was also educated locally and eventually attended a prep school in Brooklyn, New York.
Landis worked as a mining engineer and educator for several years after he graduated (in the west?). His interest in photography developed at some point during college, but his picture snapping ripened as he became increasingly interested in…
Practicing as an engineer was short-lived as Henry eventually relocated to New York City where he worked as an editor of technical journals such as The Gas Age, a publication dedicated to the natural gas industry. Weekends were dedicated to photography whether in and around Manhattan and Brooklyn or in Port Washington on Long Island where he owned a houseboat and sailing vessel. He occasionally returned for vacations in Lancaster County.
Landis’ photography involved a wide range of subject matter including New York City architecture, street and immigrant life, posed-thematic character studies, self-portraits (some of which were in the nude) and a diversity of others.
After several decades in New York City, Landis retired, returning to the family farm where his parents and unmarried siblings had lived for most of their lives. Landis and his brother George began collecting, packing their buildings with farming implements and the domestic artifacts of the culture that revolved around farming. They established an informal museum with Landis as the main guide. Establishing a reputation among the Pennsylvania German community, the Landis brothers were rescued as money and age threatened their museum and ultimately the security of their extensive collection. Gustav Oberlaender (1867–1936), a wealthy German-born Reading, Pennsylvania industrialist and President of the Berkshire Knitting Mills, founded and headed the Oberlaender Trust for Better Understanding Between Citizens of the United States and Germany. Oberlaender was also a Trustee of the Carl Schurz Memorial Association—an organization to honor Carl Schurz (1829–1906), a poster boy for American-German relations. Learning about the collection of the Landis brothers, the Oberlaender Trust incorporated the Landis Valley Museum in 1940, paying for the construction of new exhibition buildings. The museum opened in 1941. With the Oberlaender Trust facing money troubles and the advanced age of the Landis brothers, the museum was acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and, eventually, administered by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), which in co-operation with the Landis Valley Associates still operates the facility today.
1. Richman, Irwin. The Landis Family: A Pennsylvania German Family Album. Arcadia Publishing, 2008. 2. Richman, Irwin. Pennsylvania German Farms, Gardens, and Seeds: Landis Valley in Four Centuries. Schiffer Books, 2007.