Behold Color Photographs Taken During the Aftermath of San Francisco’s Devastating 1906 Earthquake

If a city has been around long enough, it will more than like­ly have suf­fered some sort of cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly destruc­tive event: the Great Fire of Lon­don in 1666, the Great Chica­go Fire of 1871, the Great Kan­tō earth­quake that dev­as­tat­ed Tokyo in 1923. Most of their names, come to think of it, include the word “great,” though not every source refers to San Fran­cis­co’s 1906 earth­quake that way. Not, of course, to min­i­mize its destruc­tive­ness: with a force that would mea­sure 7.8 on the Richter scale, the earth­quake ulti­mate­ly destroyed 80 per­cent of the city — about 25,000 build­ings, with lost prop­er­ty equiv­a­lent to $11.2 bil­lion in today’s dol­lars — and killed 3,000 peo­ple.

Six months after the dis­as­ter, an inven­tor named Fred­er­ick Eugene Ives arrived to doc­u­ment the still-fresh after­math of the dis­as­ter. He had in hand some­thing called a brr, a 3D col­or cam­era he designed him­self. Its “sys­tem of mir­rors and fil­ters behind each lens split and fil­tered the light to cre­ate one pair of slides for each pri­ma­ry col­or of light (red, green, blue).

The slides were bound togeth­er in a spe­cial order with cloth tapes into a pack­age known as a Krőm­gram,” view­able only with a Krőm­scőp, “the appa­ra­tus used to rebuild the image allow­ing the view­er to see in three-dimen­sion­al col­or.”

Antho­ny Brooks dis­cov­ered Ives’ Krőm­grams of San Fran­cis­co in ruins only in 2009, reports the Tele­graph. Most of its pic­tures were tak­en from a hotel rooftop, and “although hand-col­ored pho­tographs of the quake’s destruc­tion have sur­faced before, Ives’ work is prob­a­bly the only true col­or doc­u­men­tary evi­dence.” Such images would have aston­ished any con­tem­po­rary view­er, not just for the dev­as­ta­tion they showed but the life­like col­or and depth with which they ren­dered it. And yet the Pho­tochro­mo­scope sys­tem nev­er caught on, Brooks writes: “The Krőm­scőp view­ers were expen­sive ($50 in 1907 or about $1000 today adjust­ing for infla­tion), required strong sun­light or arc light for view­ing, and were tech­ni­cal­ly com­plex to use, despite Ives’ asser­tions to the con­trary.”

But even though few prob­a­bly saw these pic­tures in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry, Ives was hard­ly for­got­ten in the realm of pho­tog­ra­phy. The recip­i­ent of sev­er­al major sci­en­tif­ic and engi­neer­ing awards in his life­time, he left behind such more wide­ly adopt­ed inven­tions as one of the sev­er­al vari­eties of “halftone process” that allowed pho­tographs to be repro­duced in news­pa­pers — just as news­pa­pers around the coun­try did after the earth­quake struck, com­bin­ing them with head­lines like “WATER FRONT BURNS ALMOST TO THE FERRY,” “3,000 PEOPLE ARE HOMELESS,” and “SAN FRANCISCO ANNIHILATED.” But H.G. Wells, who was on a vis­it to the Unit­ed States at the time, sensed more of a san­guin­i­ty in the Amer­i­cans around him: “There is no doubt any­where that San Fran­cis­co can be rebuilt, larg­er, bet­ter, and soon.”

via Mash­able

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Dra­mat­ic Footage of San Fran­cis­co Right Before & After the Mas­sive­ly Dev­as­tat­ing Earth­quake of 1906

Rome Comes to Life in Pho­tochrom Col­or Pho­tos Tak­en in 1890: The Colos­se­um, Tre­vi Foun­tain & More

Take a Visu­al Jour­ney Through 181 Years of Street Pho­tog­ra­phy (1838–2019)

Beau­ti­ful, Col­or Pho­tographs of Paris Tak­en 100 Years Ago—at the Begin­ning of World War I & the End of La Belle Époque

Behold the Very First Col­or Pho­to­graph (1861): Tak­en by Scot­tish Physi­cist (and Poet!) James Clerk Maxwell

Voltaire & the Lis­bon Earth­quake of 1755

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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