Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

RUSSELL, ANDREW J. (1829-1902)

Born on March 20, 1829, in Walpole, New Hampshire, Andrew Joseph Russell apprenticed with a local artisan in Nunda, New York, and began his professional career painting portraits and landscapes for influential men in railroading and politics. He recruited for the Union army, was elected company captain, and served in the defenses of Washington in 1862. Brig. Gen. Herman Haupt appointed him government photographer on March 1, 1863, and he served in Virginia as acting quartermaster to the United States Military Rail Road Construction Corps until September 9, 1865.

To encourage settlement and investment in the West, Union Pacific vice president Thomas C. Durant commissioned Russell to document the transcontinental railroad. During 1868 the photographer lived in the construction camps and periodically sent his negatives east for printing as stereographs. He returned to New York in December and published The Great West Illustrated in the spring. On his second trip west he photographed Omaha and the growing Nebraska towns of Fremont, Columbus, Grand Island, and North Platte on his way to the joining of the rails at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869. Thousands of newspaper readers viewed his images and read his description of the ceremony in Frank Leslie's Illustrated. The center spread–East Meets West at Laying of Last Rail–became historic immediately. During the summer Russell camped in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains and then took the train to California; in December he returned to Omaha. Russell established the Decoration and Designing Company in New York City after his publishing partnership failed in 1870. He worked as a photojournalist for Frank Leslie and died in Brooklyn of congestive heart failure on September 20, 1902.

Susan E. Williams Oakland, California

Combs, Barry B. Westward to Promontory. New York: Crown Publishers, 1986.

Naef, Weston, and James N. Wood. Era of Exploration: The Rise of Landscape Photography in the American West, 1860-1885. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Buffalo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1975.

Williams, Susan E. "The Truth Be Told: The Union Pacific Railroad Photographs of Andrew J. Russell." View Camera (January-February 1996): 36-43.

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