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Autobiographical Sketch

by

Arthur Clarence Pillsbury



I am going to introduce you to A.C.P.: Myself, a rather short stocky boy who came to California from his Medford, Mass. home after living in New York + Brooklyn a few years. That was back in`83 (1883) and I was then 11 years old. The family consisted of Father + Mother both doctors, a sister and brother. I was the youngest. We bought an 80 acre ranch near Auburn, Placer County (California). It had 2 acres of almond + prune trees and the rest mostly rocks and brush. We lived in a large barn while building our home, then came years of work clearing the land and planting orchards, making a model fruit ranch, trying to extract a living out of the soil.

Public High School and home study, then entering Stanford University in `93 with the class of `97 as a student in Mechanical Engineering. The fruit farm could not begin to pay my brother's + my expenses, so it was necessary to earn the money or quit. I rode in those days a high wheel, an Eagle, which reversed the order of things and had the smaller wheel in front. It was a trick wheel, very hard to master but once accomplished you could do anything on it. Bicycles were just coming into vogue, and among the softies this high wheel which I rode as a unicycle most of the time even while reviewing my lessons, gave me the publicity I needed when I started in the bicycle business to help earn our expenses.  

The business grew rapidly, soon I was buying, selling + renting, and even building special kinds. I designed the engine and built the first motorcycle in California. It was air cooled and without cooling rings, but it ran, even if it did burn our racing trunks when we trained for the inter-collegiate races, then came a sociable wheel which was quiet the rage, it had a wide handle bar, a saddle post, to a double set of cranks, a trip around the Stanford Quad with a pretty girl beside you would almost break up the classes. You rode side by side each grasping one end of the handle bar, that left the other arm free to do anything else you wished, and as the girl was timid you had to hold her on of course.
Bicycle days led to athletic goods + cameras, and a class rush of which I made some 60 snap shots in an hours time, was the beginning of a life time in all kinds of photographic work. Scenic pictures of the Stanford Quad, Yosemite, Tahoe, and of California, designing and building the first revolving lense panarama camera, which looked like half a wash tub and made a picture 10 x 36 inches taking in almost half a circle, this new style of photography at once sprang into favor, it was especially good for mountain work or comprehensive views of citys etc. It was a bulky outfit, would only take one picture and then required a dark room to replace the exposed film. Which meant an entire days climb in the mountains had to be recorded with just one chance, but it had many advantages in skilled hands that even the later patented cameras do not possess.

After Stanford came the Alaska Gold Rush. I procured a 22 foot gasoline launch and with almost no knowledge of boating equipped it as a photographic boat, packed film paper, chemicals, etc. in water tight cans, shipped it to Seattle, and then started through those 1500 (closer to 1,000) miles of inland channels for Alaska. Although I knew almost nothing about the difficulties or dangers to over come and my father who accompanied me knew less, we had the large scale charts and pilot book and managed in one way or another to find our way among the many islands and channels, we crossed Queen Charlotte (Queen Charlotte Strait) and Milbank (Milbanke) Sound, two places where there were no protecting islands, then came Dixons (Dixon) Entrance, a 45 mile ocean crossing a thousand miles from Seattle and the beginning of Alaskan water. We made the crossing but in rounding Cape Fox, the last open water, a storm came up suddenly and blew us on shore, before we struck our cabin windows were stove in and we were almost flooded with the great waves that that went clear over the tiny boat. The tide was flood and turned just as an enormous wave, it looked 50 feet high picked up the launch and landed it on top a reef just a little way off shore, the boat broke in two and the engine dropped out, with the anchor line we both scrambled over the rocks on shore and caught the bow from being carried off. The tide receded rapidly and we were able to save a good deal of the wreckage, the film + cameras were not hurt, the food came ashore, the potatoes all peeled from beating on the rocks and the flour formed a crust sealing itself in.

It was in February and there was about a foot of snow on the ground. We build a cabin out of wreckage and dried out everything, the next day at low tide, we raised the engine + cleaned it up and got everything as well protected as we could. our charts were lost but I remembered an Indian village marked some ten miles down the coast. We concluded that was our only hope of rescue so on the fifth day with one dry match and just enough food for lunch I started to find it. Scrambling over rocks, through the snow and thick timber near shore, swimming an inlet 200 yds wide with my clothes on a log pushed in front of me, took all day. Just at dusk across another inlet nearly a quarter mile wide, I could see the village, shouting soon brought a coneau (canoe) with half a dozen very much surprised Siwaskes (sp?).

They took me in and I was the honored village guest. A storm came up during the night, and it was the fourth day before I could rejoin my very much worried father. The wreckage was given to the Indians and they carried us and our equipment in their sloop to Mary's Island, the custom house at the entrance of Alaskan waters. Here was a larger launch with a disabled engine. I took the contract of repairing it and also bought a Columbia River open boat and put my engine into it. Some of the repair work required the use of a lathe, so in a borrowed 12 foot dingey I rowed to a cannery 110 miles away and did the machine work for both boats. The cannery people were so surprised at the job I did on their lathe they offered me a job but I was not looking for that kind of work so rowed back to Mary Island and soon had both launches running.  

The trip to Wrangle about 200 miles towing my smaller launch was made and delivery of the 35 footer to the delighted owner accomplished. At this time my father concluded he would return to California and I cruised to the scenic parts of South Eastern Alaska, going into the bottle necked bay to Le Conte Glacier, then to the Windom + Foster glaciers and over to the Muir in Glacier bay. These trips I made alone camping on the beach at night. Often shooting a deer when I needed meat or trolling for salmon, ducks + wild geese were plentyful, and Alaska clams were so easy to obtain you could fill a sack in an area of a square yard in f act while repairing the launches almost every day would swap a sack of clams for a sack of flour or a box of crackers or sugar to the gold rush steamers coming in daily.

After getting what scenic pictures I could I made the trip to Juneau and up the Lynn Canal to Skagway selling the launch as I saw it would be impractable to take it over either the White or Chilkoot passes to the head waters of the Yukon. I had walked from Dyea over the Chilkoot to Lake Linderman (Lindeman Lake) and back to Skagway making pictures there with a permit from the towners was the fifth and last passenger to ride over the aireal tram from Dyea to the Summit of the Chilkoot. the trip starting from tide water at Dyea was some 25 miles over the forest country, sitting in a box just big enough to hold two sacks of grain. The box suspended from one cable on a pulley was pulled by another cable, over the forest section it was just about level with the tree tops up from Sheep Camp to the Chilkoot it (?) went in three long spans the longest 2080 feet from almost sea level to the summit tower at 2500 feet elevation in a long arc that was almost vertical as it went over the summit and you were 1000 feet in the air at one place.

The line of men toiling up over the snow clad summit with heavy packs looked like ants from my swaying perch. if anything happened along the line and it stopped we would soon freeze + no chance of getting out of his box seat. I wanted to make the 2600 mile trip down the Yukon so on Governor Brady's advice I applied to the Census Bureau for the position of official photographer on a roving commission to photograph every City and point of interest on the Yukon, the application was accepted and before starting in the spring of` 99 after the ice break on the Yukon, I made the trip over the White Pass and in to Atlin on my bicycle pulling a 90 LB sled with cameras, food + blankets, this trip which looked impractable was a great success.

I out traveled the best dog teams the lakes were frozen and the miners had made a good trail over the snow, sometimes crossing a mountain range I had to pull the bicycle on the sled but made up for it on the down hill + level lakes. The round trip was over 500 miles and I often made 60 to 70 miles a day. The trip took two weeks.

While the White Pass was still snow covered, I loaded my equipment on a sled, it consisted of the panorama camera, an 8 x 10 view box, plates, film, paper, chemical portable tent dark room, blankets, food, gun, fishing tackle etc. quiet a load, nearly 500 lbs and it took 3 days to drag it the 40 miles to Lake Linderman. My census bureau commission allowed me to pass the custom bureaus at the Summit above Lake Linderman, the head waters of the Yukon, here I bought a flat bottom boat made of hand whip sawed, boards from the 6 to 8 inch trees along the lake shore and with a couple of rough oars + a small leg of mutton (sp?) sail I made started on that 2600 mile 9 weeks journey.

The Yukon one of the six mighty world rivers starts with a chain of lakes, Linderman, Bennett, Tagish, each the end of many a mining expedition, then the rapids, Miles canyon, White Horse, and Five Fingers, each the end of many others bravely starting for the mining sections. At Dawson the assistant the bureau allowed me became sick from drinking Yukon water and while I was caring for him some one stole my boat and when I had paid his passage back to Skagway I was broke but a panorama of Dawson + printed on blue print paper soon gave me enough money to buy a beautiful Peterbourough (sp?) coneau (canoe), and with equipment argumented (augmented) with a sheet iron stove, I started to make the 2400 miles to St Michaels alone.

Every few hundred miles on the Yukon on reaching a city would pull the coneau (canoe) on the bank, set up the portable dark room tent made of 3 thickness of canvas and which also served as a shelter tent although I slept in the coneau (canoe) most of the time. I made a panoramic view of the town, and if any mountain was available would climb it and make another panorama of the entire country from it. The miners all wanted copies of the 3 foot views, and as I did not have time to print them there, would take orders from the agent of the Alaska Commercial Co. or the rival North West Trading Co. and deliver to their agent in the next town so many prints, and collect in gold dust at 10.00 per blue print on delivery. In that way I could print while drifting down stream, wash the prints along side the coneau (canoe) + lose no time.

In that way city after city and points of interest were passed. Toward the end of the trip the mighty river widened out, 5-10 miles. The delta 100 miles wide; hundreds of islands, the channel continually dividing, the banks cutting in to the changing stream trees falling, called sweepers ready to upset the coneau (canoe) at any moment. Still the endless river swept on, to make time I tied up to a drifting log in midstream and often drift 40 or 50 miles at night. The Arctic circle and Fort Yukon were passed and still on many 100's of miles and one morning at day light the coneau (canoe) drifted out into the Bering Sea. A Peterburough is no boat for an open sea but the weather was favorable and by following the shore northward with sail + paddles pulling and pushing, at last St Michaels was reached.

It was too dangerous to try to make the newly discovered Nome some two hundred miles to the north so coneau (canoe), gun, and everything except the photographic outfit was auctioned off on the beach, and the trip to Nome made by steamer. It was the first of October the flow ice was due any time but 10 days in Nome gave ample time for a set of panorama's - street scenes, a water front view from a barge a little way off shore, men cradling on the beach, and after a terrible days walk over the tundra to Anvil Creek + mountain, a panorama of the entire country.

Nome in those first weeks of existence was only a line of saloons and dance halls. facing the Behring Sea, a few shacks on stilts that were washed away in a storm just as I was leaving. They were on the sea ward side of the one street, the thousands of miners had rushed in when the news spread that they could in a few yards of beach cradle out some $25.00 a day; they were standing in a puddle of sea water almost in the surf and shoveling sand and bailing water into a rough cradle, catching the fine gold in ripples as the water washed the sand out.

The only fuel was drift wood that had been carried down the Yukon and washed up on shore; as a result the only way to get dried out and warm was to gather in the saloons. every possible gambling game was in full swing, dance hall girls everywhere; a miner would come in, pass his "poke" or sack of gold dust to the bar-tender who acted as banker; It was weighed sack and all and a receipt given on which he could draw for drinks, chips, or meals; a dollar was the medium of exchange for a drink or a chip. Meals were the same or more.

The saloons were square and your dust was safe if you did not squander it, perhaps safer than hid in your own tent on the beach where you were liable to be stabbed + robbed during the night. everything was done to make the saloons comfortable and warm to draw the crowds. you could even rent a wooden bunk in the one room over the dance hall for 3 dollars. there were perhaps 200 others in the same tier of bunks but they made no more noise than the dances + games going on below you which you could watch through the spaces between the floor boards. 
Sickness from exposure and drinking the bad water was common. The miners would come in reaching the place on their nerve, spread their blankets in the bunk, and be found dead in the morning. Values were dependent on how badly you wanted an article I paid $5.00 for 5 lbs. of Hypo and a dollar for two quinces, I was so fruit hungry.

The Roanoke, since lost, was anchored 3 miles off shore waiting for the last possible moment to leave, a storm came up and a storm in that shallow Behering Sea is an awful thing. I started for her with 5 others in a row boat, the waves were breaking up the line of shacks on shore, a Yukon river boat that had been acting as a ferry between the steamer and the shore was blown by us and tried to make the narrow opening of the Snake river almost in the center of Nome, she missed the 100 foot opening + was piled up a complete wreck on the beach. We made the ship side as she hoisted her anchor and started for the open sea my stuff was in one big bundle wrapped in my blankets. I managed to tie it onto a rope that was thrown to me and to partly hold on as the line and I were pulled on board, the boat was turned adrift, the steamer at once started full speed for the open sea.  

In Seattle I found that I had the only set of pictures of the newly discovered Nome as the flow of ice came in 50 miles wide with the storm and she was the last boat out till the next spring, excitement was at a fever pitch over the rich diggings that promised so much to so many people. The pictures were published the world over, even the Ladies Home Journal got out an edition in color with them. 

After my Alaskan experiences, I started getting scenic pictures in California, specializing in the Missions, Yosemite, the High Sierra and the Lake Tahoe regions, then I met Mr. Williams, manager of the Examiner, and he offered me a position in charge of the photographic department of the S.F. Examiner, which I held for three years resigning and forming my own Pillsbury Picture Co. a month before the Great Fire and Earth Quake in April 1906. At that time my home in Oakland was all fitted up with developing and printing rooms.  

The morning of April 18th was a memorable one. The earth quake shook me out of bed. It did some light damage to the house. I grabbed my cameras and started for San Francisco. Fortunately I had saved my press badge when I left the Examiner and knowing all the police in the city I could go everywhere. That Wednesday I covered the entire city, making 5 X 7 Graflex views and panoramas of the burning city. It happened I was the only professional photographer who pictured the burning city. My newspaper experience taught me what to take. Over 70 snap shots, and two panoramas one from the top of the Merchants Exchange Building covering the wholesale section and just at noon one from the top of the St. Francis Hotel showing almost the entire city in flames. This negative 44 inches long brought in from $500 to $700 a day while the excitement lasted some six weeks. The Panorama exhausted the film available + I took it out of the camera and carried it in my pocket leaving the camera itself in the check room of the hotel. It burnt up that night. Among the snap shots was one of the burning of the Palace + Grand hotels. The heat was so great it scorched the lense making the balsum run spoiling it and the bellows soon dropped to pieces. Our home was the only place that had running water and dark rooms in those troublesome times and so was soon a busy factory. Sales men bought material in every city within 500 miles rushing it to us; Others filling orders. A set of pictures + a story was sent to every large paper in the U.S. and abroad. New cameras were telegraphed for and the smoking ruins pictured every angle.  

Shortly before the fire + while I was still with the Examiner + lived in San Francisco I discovered a most beautiful girl who was formerly a neighbor + school mate and who in my secret heart I always regarded as a sweetheart. Although I had never mentioned it to any one she had lived right around the corner from our home in Auburn. We had both left Auburn our first California home and moved away. and all of those years had lost track of each other. Well we were soon engaged and as our store and her home burned the second day of the fire, all we saves was the film I made that first day and one trunk full of her things we dragged a mile and a half to the ferry. The fire drove her out of her home to mine and with her brother who was also burned out we started developing and printing the thousands of orders that the wires and mails brought us.

Six weeks after the great fire, I promised to love, cherish and ? the most beautiful girl in the world, and still think so. our honey moon with two trunks full of cameras, was pleasure and business combined. All our scenic and Alaska negatives were destroyed, first we went to Yosemite then Tahoe, Shasta, Mt. Rainier, Victoria, and out over the Canadian Pacific to Banff getting pictures all along the line one camera I had made "The Grandpa" camera which took a vertical panel 10 x 36 it stood up on two tripods and made a wonderful picture of waterfalls + trees. then we came home and made the California Missions. this gave us the largest set of scenic pictures in California.

It would seem that after the stress and adventure of my two years in Alaska, and the harrowing experiences attendant on the earth-quake and the burning of San Francisco that I might reasonably anticipate a season of comparative peace, as peaceful as the conduct of any business allows. this I found was not to be, for now followed what I mentally tabulate as timy arial flight," I had watched Jackson of Chicago, one of my competitors on the arrival of the fleet (White Fleet, 1908) send his camera up with a kite; I had experimented myself and made a few good pictures, but did not consider the method dependable. Still air pictures had great possibilities and I wanted them. Roy Knabenshue, and Beachey, afterwards the star of the airplane, were making a cut-away ascension in what had been a captive balloon. I went with them and made my first air pictures we sailed over the city and the bay crossed the Berkeley hills and landed in a little meadow, all very fine with two such experts, but as it was foggy, the pictures were not so good.

I learned from Knabenshue that he had a small silk balloon that would lift me and my cameras. It was of fine white Chinese silk, oiled to make it air tight, the net of linen thread, and the basket, about as large as a half barrel, was made of fish line. This complete outfit which weighed seventy pounds, and could be packed in an average suit case, was when inflated, twenty-five feet in diameter, and contained ten thousand feet of gas. This little bag, with the sun shimmering on its white sphere, was one of the most beautiful of mechanical air visitants. 

The Fairy, I named her, on account of her ethereal beauty. This I bought, and with the help of one of my workmen, took it to the gas works at the foot of Powell St. for inflation. Next we filled our sand bags, stretched out the balloon and put it inside the net, which we placed inside out + had to change but finally we inflated it. then walked it over some telegraph wires to the bay, where we tied it to a launch with about 500 feet of rope. Luck was with us, for it was not only a beautiful day, but what is much more unusual, in San Francisco, a nearly windless one. 

These conditions were ideal and I made picture after picture as the launch towed the balloon down the water front. This was a year after the fire and the city was rapidly recovering from the conflagration. I finished my film and signaled the launch to start back; in the mean time the wind had spring up and the balloon instead of being vertically over the launch was blown off on an angle of 45 degrees. Starting back, against the increasing wind the basket kept diving into the bay. So I was compelled to hold the cameras in the air to keep them dry. The wind increased in force and between the gusts the launch crew hauled in the rope & I passed the cameras to them. The wind had now reached such velocity that the balloon acted as a huge sail and made progress by the launch impossible. Seeing my predicament, a launch was sent to my assistance from a battle ship then in harbor, but before it reached me, the rope parted close to the basket and I, shouting "Goodbye" to the anxious launch crew, shot up into the air in the basket whose sole ballast and equipment was the one small man who was I. Although this was my first solo aerial flight, I realized that to prevent an explosion in the higher air I must open the neck of the balloon which had been tied at its inflation. 

Accomplishing this in my besopped condition was far from easy or pleasant, but I finally managed to climb onto the ring above my head and untie the string closing the bag. I assure you the shivers chasing themselves over me were not all caused by the increasingly cold air. It was about 4:30 it had taken all day to do the things that afterwards I could do in an hour and a half. I was wet + cold, the balloon shot up over 10,000 feet, a most wonderful sight, the entire peninsula of San Francisco was below me. I could see the cities San Mateo, Palo Alto + San Jose to those south-ward Alameda Oakland + Berkeley across the bay Tamalpais (Mount) and the Golden Gate to the Westward and the Faralines (Farvaijone Islands) in the distance. I sat with my feet over the edge of the basket in the sun and every five minutes made notes on what I could see. about 5 as I drifted low over the bay I ran into a cloud bank, that condensed the gas + the balloon began to sink I had no ballast but bits of paper throw out shot up above me. I was still over the bay and it looked a lost balloon + a dunking if nothing worse. Just before it struck the land breeze caught me and I came down in the tulles a hundred yards in shore, we bounced up 50 feet came down again in a slough plowing through it making a big splash + a thump climbed out went through a fence knocking it down and across the marches as fast as a horse could run, finally the basket dropped into a slough + the overhanging edge caught the basket, + by sitting in the water I held the balloon down till the bas had escaped, this all took less time than it does to write it.

  Well I climbed out looking like a mud hen without a hat, mine went on the first bounce, the balloon was not even wet, it had stayed in the air while I acted as the dragging anchor. I folded it up and was just starting with it on my back when some engineers on the Bumbarton cut off just being built who saw me come down and then disappear as the balloon emptied its self of gas, came out to find me, they came in a row boat up one of the sloughs, even then my troubles were not over, we started for the Rail road the tide went out + left us stranded in the mud, so holding clothes tied around our necks we waded a shore dragging one leg after the other through the thick mud, at last we reached shore and the R.R. a train came along and I sat in the smoker by the stove to thaw out.

  At home Mrs. Pillsbury knew nothing about my adventures the papers had telephoned saying I had made a note worthy ascension and asked for pictures but did not say I had not been found (?) . One reporter was still their and was busy getting my life story, when I popped in covered with dried mud. She seemed quit disappointed, to think I was alive. She had lost her scoop; I called up the Examiner and their city editor Jimmy Nourse told me he had just won $20.00 on me, from "Heine" of the Marine Exchange, who had watched the balloon break loose and shoot up above the clouds through his marine glasses. Heine had bet Jim Norse I would never come back, when Norse took the bet Heinie claimed Norse must have some late dope on it, Norse was a good friend and enjoyed telling me about it.

The evening papers had carried heavy headlines saying I was lost in the sky from which their was no return. The morning papers said I had ascended into heaven with my films, had with angels for them and came out victorious. The film had got wet and sealed them selves up the moisture only going in an eighth of an inch, when they were cut apart and developed, they came out wonderfully well and we had a big sale on them.
Every one said I had cut loose for the publicity story, but they bought them just the same. All the old time aeronots (aeronauts) seemed to think I was an experienced balloonist after that + they came to me for advice, this was before the days of the aeroplane, and when they came out a couple of years later, I took my "Fairy" to Los Angeles had it captive at the first flights of Paulham, Beachey and others and made the first pictures from above looking down on them as they circled below me. Knabenshue had a dirigible he had made. It was a long limber sausage like affair and would cave in at the flew (sp?) when under way. he walked a pole underneath to keep its nose pointed up or down when the small engine pushed it forward and all sorts of other queer contraptions were being tried out. one big three storied affair got up headway enough to run a couple of hundred yards across the field then tipped over.

Beachey flew from a circle and around the field landing in the same circle. Paulham flew an monoplane with the aerolons (ailerons) strapped showing he did not need the device patented by the Wright Bros.

The Examiner was using my pictures + I wanted a set from the ground so one of the regular photographers went up the second day which turned out very windy and the little Fairy whipped back + forth on her anchor line. the first time it almost touched the ground the photographer lost his camera and the next time out he tumbled him self which ended his aireal ambitions.

Charlie Field editor of Sunset Magazine made a cut away ascension + when they landed they had to pry his hands loose from the guy rope they were so cramped from hanging on.

A week later all the aviators came to S.F. for exhibition flights and prepared to do the same thing in pictures for the S.F. Examiner. We inflated in the lee of a row of trees and some half dozen of us walked the balloon across the field to the starting point. the wind was shipping it so much we could hardly hold it, suddenly it ripped from top to bottom and what had been a beautiful silk bag 25 feet in diameter disappeared like a bubble.
Much to the surprise of the grand stands it took two days to sew it up so we got no pictures that time. I made quite a few panoramas of California cities after that but soon found that they could not pay enough to warrant the time and expense so I sold the outfit and a few months later it exploded in mid air and balloonist was badly shaken up in landing. Fortunately the silk acted as a parachute coming down saving his life. A few years later I hired a aeroplane + flew into Yosemite and made a wonderful set of pictures of the cliffs + falls and still hold the record of 60 seconds from the top of Nevada Falls to Happy Islands skimming down the Merced Canyon just over the tree tops.

In the fall of `06 we bought out one of the Yosemite National Park photographic concessionaires and during the next 24 years built up the largest scenic photographic business in the United States. During that time and at the height of the season we were selling an average of 5000 photographic post cards a day and an enormous number of prints of all sizes. I invented a printing machine and had a patent granted me on it, which enabled a 17 years old boy who ran it to make 10,000 cards or small prints a day, hardly getting his hands wet and reducing the cost to the price of the stock plus only about $1.00 a thousand and improved the quality at the same time.

The arrival in San Francisco of our Fleet (1908) in command of Admiral ? was an event of great moment. Photographers from as far as Chicago gathered to picture the arrival and who ever got the best pictures was sure of a great regard. The Examiner retained me for three days, with publication rights of every thing I made. The fleet was to steam into the Golden Gate in single formation of the battle ships, with the destroyers on either side of this line; the logical location for the picture was Alcratraz Island in mid channel and most of the camera men were there including two of my men.

I had inspected every possible location + decided on Point Bonita, at the far outside northern entrance of the Golden Gate. There was a beautiful arch rock in the fore ground, and the setting most ideal. the rivalry was keen among the camera men, each watching the other. I had not even told the Examiner what I was going to do, only that I wanted a good launch at daylight and had obtained my permit from the army officer in charge of the fortifications.

Luck was with me. I was the only photographer on the Point. and the fleet came steaming in to the Golden Gate in perfect formation also in the northern channel nearest me the sky was overcast but the light perfect and my trusty panorama did its self proud, the fleet steamed on by me, the grey fog settled down and the proud procession disappeared into it. The other camera men could only see two or three of the battle ships at once, and my picture of the hundreds taken was the only one showing the entire fleet entering the Gate. It was so good the Examiner ran it full size 3 feet long across both pages and its sale almost equaled that of the fire pictures; it was a thing of beauty, as well as of historical value.

From 1906 till 1927 I held a government photographic concession in Yosemite National Park, where in 1912 I started taking motion pictures of the wild flowers of the Sierra. I had bought a old almost worthless camera, remodeled it and began getting scenic pictures; those of the water falls were wonderful, full of action but the cliffs were not as good as still pictures having no movement except that shown by the jerky movement of all cameras of those days. I conceived the idea of making the individual pictures in the film at one or two second intervals, and at once my pictures of the cliffs sprang into life, the clouds went drifting by and the cloud shadows on the cliffs added to its life-like effect. It took more skill as I had to judge the speed of the clouds or they would race across the screen when projected at the normal rate of 16 pictures a second, but the method had wonderful possibilities.

At this time I had made still pictures of many of the Sierra flowers and they, like motion pictures of the cliffs lacked life and movement so I decided to do in motion pictures the life of the flowers as I had the cloud shadow movements on the cliffs. it was of course impossible to make pictures at uniform intervals by hand day + night of flowers as they opened, and out of doors the wind would blow them about + the light could not be uniform, so I designed a motor gear arranged I could get any speed I wanted transmitted through a belt to a wheel on the camera that replaced the crank. Having figured out these requirements, I made notes on the flowers when they started to open + how long it took + I knew a scene had to be very dramatic to hold the interest over 30 second. and a picture 30 second or 30 feet long contains 480 individual pictures, so if it took a flower 4 days to live its life story it was only necessary to divide the 5760 minutes in 4 days by the 480 the desired pictures which gave 12 minute intervals between each picture.

I soon found that flowers if properly handled would live and grow in my laboratory by electric light just as they do out of doors in their natural habitat. that they have their fixed regular habits just as we do; that they opened & closed at these accustomed hours. I found out I could almost set my watch by their opening and closing so regular was their accomplishment of their processes of survival.

All of these various things took a great deal of time and study to master. My training in mechanical engineering at Stanford taught me to look on each step as an engineering problem and work it out from that standpoint. the mechanical steps first, designing a motor reduction gear that would run constantly + night with the least liability of accidents, and the necessary changes of speed for the slow or fast growing flowers; if the flower grew faster or slower at certain periods of its life or if the actual dying or changing into its seed pod took too long, I must speed it up on the screen by slowing the camera down.

The first motor gear I built is still running after 20 years of service, the motor has worn out + been replaced twice but the gearing is as good as ever.

All the steps in this lapse time photography had their difficulties to over come. the lighting, the effect of the light on the growth of the plant or flower, the tiring of the plant by the continuous 24 hour duplication of day, what its size and position would be in the camera during its entire...

Only The Beginning

Draft copy, original in handwriting




Arthur C. Pillsbury Partial Autobiography