Stark Scenes of 1906 'Frisco Quake Debut

Smithsonian volunteer uncovers six previously unpublished photos
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 10, 2011 9:12 AM CST
First Color Photographs of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, Fire Devastation Emerge
This Oct. 6, 1906 stereo photograph provided by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History shows view of earthquake-damaged San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Courtesy of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History)

For the first time, history buffs can view the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake in true color photographs. The Smithsonian Institution has uncovered a set of six photos taken after the earthquake that appear to be not only the first color photos of the ruins, but the first color photographs ever taken of San Francisco. Photography pioneer Frederick Ives took the pictures from the roof of a hotel; they also show the damage wrought by the fire that followed the earthquake. "We only know the world (of the past) in black and white," says a Smithsonian volunteer, so it's extraordinary to view a blue sky and gritty landscape as it was.

Ives came to San Francisco six months after the disaster, but the ruins in his pictures appear to be, perhaps, from an even earlier visit. Other color pictures of the earthquake damage exist, but they were hand-tinted, not true color photos, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Ives’ pictures, which were taken using the Krömgram color process he developed, were among a collection donated to the Smithsonian by his son, and were discovered by a volunteer. (More 1906 San Francisco earthquake stories.)

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