Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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W. D. Smithers:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Collection of Photographs at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Smithers, W.D., 1895-1981
Title: W.D. Smithers Collection of Photographs 1910-1968
Dates: 1910-1968
Extent: 85 boxes (9000 items) 87 boxes (9060 items) nitrate negs.?
Abstract: The collection of photographs taken by Smithers consists primarily of images representing the Texas borderlands and peoples and military camps and forts. Images of Mexico, Utah, New Mexico and other western states are present in the collection. Also included are photographs of early aviators and airplanes, images of schools and universities in Texas and Mexico, newsworthy events, and religous subjects.
Access: Open for research

Acquisition: Purchase, 1982
Processed by: Teresa J. Bogar and Rebecca Altermatt, 1997

Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Wilfred Dudley Smithers was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, August 31, 1895, where his father was employed as a bookkeeper for the American Mine and Smelting Company. When he was 10, his family moved to San Antonio, Texas. He started his career in commercial photography in 1910, taking pictures at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio of pioneer aviation. He became an aerial photographer for the U.S. Army Aviation Service during World War I and he worked with the Army Civil Service as a wagon master, until his retirement shortly before the outbreak of World War II.
Between 1935-1939, under a contract with the International Boundary and Water Commission, Smithers photographed the entire U.S.-Mexican Border from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California. During the 1930s, while living in El Paso, he also took photographs for the U.S. Border Patrol. He had opened a commercial photography shop in San Antonio in the 1920s and after his retirement from the Army, moved the shop to Alpine, Texas, where he operated it for another 30 years. While living in Alpine, Smithers wrote articles for the El Paso Times, Sul Ross Quarterly, and Western Horseman. In 1974, he moved back to El Paso from Alpine and remained there until his death.
Shortly before his death in 1964, Smithers' book "Circuit Riders of the Big Bend" was published by Texas Western Press, the University of Texas at El Paso, as part of the Southwestern Studies Series.

The Smithers collection comprises primarily photographs of the Texas borderlands and peoples, and military camps and forts. Most of the photographs were taken in Texas but there are also images of Mexico, Utah, New Mexico and other western states. Other subject matter that is of note are photographs of early aviators and airplanes, as well as the Nature's Pharmacy Series which details uses for several herbs and plants as used by the native peoples of the region. Other series include those of images of schools and universities in Texas and Mexico, newsworthy events, such as a trainwreck and construction of the McDonald Observatory and Telescope, and religous subjects, such as iconography and architecutre, Mexican religious festivities, and even the Mormon Church. The dates of the photographs range from 1910 to 1968.
The collection is arranged according to the notes, written by Smithers, that accompanied the photographs. These extensive notations on each photograph are housed in a set of 3-ring binders in the Photography Department's Reference Room. The photographs are boxed and numbered according to Smithers' arrangement which has been preserved in this finding aid. They are grouped by subject matter which are not in chronological order from series to series. Almost the entire collection of prints is 20.2 x 25.5 cm, with the exception of the last box of miscellaneous prints which are not listed in Smithers' inventory and range from snapshots to a print to be used for a lampshade. In addition, some newspaper clippings and other print items have been removed from the photograph collection and housed in the Smithers' Manuscript Collection, also at the HRHRC.

Inventory of Nitrate Negatives - 6 boxes - Vault

Inventory of Nitrate Negatives - 6 boxes - Vault

Some personal pritns in box marked Personal made 12/87. Received after death. Box 1   
Taken from File drawer of original negs; 55 folders Box 2   
Prints made from N. N some [all] made by Duncan's negs- some prints in Smithers boxes; 7 folders Box 3   
NN most made by Duncan, given to Smithers 8 x 10- 11 x 14 Master 1-20; Viewing 1-20; 21 folders Box 4   
NN by Duncan and Smithers; 26 folders Box 5   
Panoramics made by Duncan [rolled in white paper]; see notebook for captions Box 6