Wilhelm Hester Photographs

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Capt. Alex Teschner, 1901
Capt. Alex Teschner, 1901

Between 1893 and 1906 Wilhelm Hester documented both the maritime activities of the Puget Sound Region and of his time spent in Alaska during the gold rush of 1898. He left a remarkable collection of early photos of Nome, Alaska and the surrounding region and a valuable record for the history of ships and shipping in Washington state.

He was born in Germany in 1872, and moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1893 with his brother Ernst. There he photographed the tall ships that sailed the Northwest coast loading lumber and grain for markets abroad. Operating from studios in Seattle and Tacoma, he established a commercially successful business by taking and selling photographs of ships from around the world and their crews at various Puget Sound ports, often offering them as souvenirs to the sailors themselves. Many of the photographs depict ships in the ports of Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Blakely, and reveal details of ships' decks, ship construction and rigging, interior views of masters' salons and cabins, the faces of the ships' captains and their families, and sailors from Britain, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and France. In 1898, Hester joined the throngs of gold seekers heading to the Klondike. His mining claims at Anvil Creek and Snow Creek in Alaska - in addition to other business ventures - earned him a tidy profit, and he returned to the Puget Sound area in 1899 to resume his commercial photography career. Some of his Alaskan photographs show that he must have returned to the Nome, Alaska vicinity around 1900 to take additional documentary photographs of the region.

Loading lumber with chutes onto the deck of the sailing vessel, 1904
Loading lumber with chutes

He retired from the photography business in about 1905 or 1906 to pursue real estate speculation, only occasionally taking photographs in subsequent years. In his retirement he lived in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. He died in Seattle in 1947. This digital collection includes examples of his documentation of ships' crews and sailing vessels, his record of his experiences in Alaska (especially in Nome during the Gold Rush), various images of logging activities in Washington state, and miscellaneous views of restaurant and hotel interiors. Also included are a series of photographs taken in San Francisco's Chinatown, probably in the 1890s.

About the Database

The information for Wilhelm Hester Photographs was researched and prepared by the UW Libraries Special Collections staff in 1999. Research, writing, and image scanning were done by Kristin Kinsey. Not all the photographs from the collection were included in this database: the database consists of 338 digital images chosen from a group of approximately 1212 photographic prints. The photographs were scanned using a Microtek Scanmaker 9600L and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the photographs was done to correct for color inconsistencies and to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images were then linked with descriptive data using the UW CONTENT program. The original Wilhelm Hester collection resides in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division as the Wilhelm Hester Collection. PH Coll 318.