You may notice when examining older postcards that some look like real photographs. In 1902 Eastman Kodak began manufacturing postcard stock on which photographs were directly developed. Other manufacturers of photographic products soon followed Kodak’s lead. These postcards, known as ‘real-photo’ or photographic postcards were very popular until the 1930s. Photographic postcards were created by both professional and amateur photographers, so they can often be rare or unique images.
Amateurs could print photographic postcards themselves or return their cameras with the film inside to Kodak to have postcards developed. Many photographic postcards have captions that are part of the image. Kodak made a camera with a door that photographers could open and use a stylus to write captions directly on the negatives. These captions may include the location and date of the images.
Studio photographers offered customers the option of having their portraits printed on postcard stock in order to mail to friends and relatives.
Natural disasters, such as flooding and tornadoes, were popular subjects for photographic postcards. Since newspapers did not regularly take and print photographs in the early 1900s, photographic postcards created by local photographers and private individuals were a means to document disasters and share images of the events with people outside the local area.
As a substitute for news photography, photographic postcards created by professional and amateur photographers were also used to document events such as accidents, celebrations and demonstrations.
Some of the local events captured on photographic postcards offer insight into social movements, such as the campaign for women’s suffrage. Suffrage parades were often recorded on photographic postcards.
Photographic postcards are excellent visual images of life in the early twentieth century. Please see our online image database, OhioPix , for more examples of photographic postcards.
L. Wood, Curator for Visual Resources
McCulloch, Lou W. Card Photographs, A Guide to their History and Value. Exton, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 1981.
Miller, George and Dorothy. Picture Postcards in the United States 1893-1918. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1976.
Morgan, Hal and Andreas Brown. Prairie Fires and Paper Moons, The American Photographic Postcard: 1900-1920. Boston, MA: Davide R. Godine, Publisher, 1981.
Range, Thomas E. The Book of Postcard Collecting. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980.
Staff, Frank. The Picture Postcard and Its Origins. New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, Publisher, 1966.