The Imperial Camera of La Crosse

By Tami Holtslander

At the turn of the century, this striking camera captured images of many businesses in La Crosse.   Photography itself was growing in popularity and studios opened up all over La Crosse, including floating studios that travelled on barges up-and down the Mississippi.  As La Crosse evolved from a lumber mill town, other businesses grew and so did the use of photography in a commercial setting.  The idea to “sell” items along with their businesses was the “job” of this camera.  An enterprising young man, Charles Loveland, used this camera to create his own commercial advertising company, Northern Engraving.  Northern Engraving specialized in commercial photography and companies such as Pamperin Cigar and La Crosse Plow Works utilized Loveland’s expertise.

Even the Imperial Camera itself was made right here in La Crosse.  In 1901, the Imperial Camera Company of La Crosse was located at the corner of 7th and La Crosse Streets.  They had 50 male employees, 10 female and 3 people under the age of 16 working at the company.  The Imperial Camera Company began as the Aiken-Gleason Camera Company, co-owned by Frank Aiken and son-in-law Eugene P. Gleason.  With the change of business name to Imperial, the business began to catch the eye of a larger camera company located in Rochester, New York-the Eastman Kodak Company. Although the Imperial Camera Company only remained here for a few years before becoming part of the Eastman Kodak product line, the impact on the business and legacy of La Crosse is evident in Loveland’s photographs and the creation of the Northern Engraving Company.

This camera is in the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society. The camera was also featured in the exhibition “[art]ifact: Where History Meets Art” at the Pump House Regional Arts Center in Spring 2016.  

This article was originally featured in the La Crosse Tribune.