Monday, March 2, 2015

Marietta Exposed: The Legacy of Harry Philip Fischer

Harry Philip Fischer (1879-1949)
A pivotal event in the life of Harry Philip Fischer was also of great significance to the history of Marietta and Washington County, Ohio. In 1901, Carl Graessle, a young Cincinnati photographer, made an extended visit to his Fischer cousins in Marietta. Carl must have brought his camera along, for in a short time he had influenced 22-year-old Harry to give up the clerkship in his father's shoe store and launch a career in photography. The Fischer & Graessle portrait studio went into business above the shoe shop at 246 Front Street. About two years later the partnership dissolved and Carl returned to Cincinnati, but Harry continued to operate the Fischer Studio in the same building until his retirement in February of 1949.

One of the area's most notable and prolific photographers, Harry Philip Fischer was born November 9, 1879, in Marietta, the son of Philip and Anna Wendelken Fischer. The lens of his camera captured nearly 50 years of life in a small, but thriving, town with pictures of businesses, industries, schools, churches, parades, celebrations, homes, and families. Fischer's photographs have the power to bring people, places, and events of the past into the present. They provide a visual record and an emotional connection to a world that is gone forever. 

Second and Putnam streets, Marietta, Ohio, ca 1930
There were a half dozen or more photographers, both male and female, working in a town of about 13,000 people when Harry opened his studio. He stood out from the rest by promoting "photographs that please" and "the best workmanship and prompt service." Harry quickly became popular around Washington County among the younger set as he photographed athletic teams, music groups, and graduating classes. His pictures filled local yearbooks, and in 1906 he provided illustrations for The Book of Marietta, a gazetteer of history, business, and industry in his hometown. Harry Fischer was the portrait and commercial photographer of choice in early 20th century Marietta.

Macksburg High School girls' basketball team, Washington County, Ohio, 1924
Harry was also known for his artistic photography and images of local scenery, buildings, and events. The Fischer Studio was located near the wharf, and one of his particular hobbies was walking along the riverbanks, where he created over 1,100 glass plate negatives of steamboats and river scenes. Harry also preserved 19th century images by copying pictures made by earlier photographers.

Tommy Windsor, magician and ventriloquist
Much in the way we share photos on Facebook or Instagram, people of the early 20th century shared photos of themselves and their town in the form of picture postcards on which they scrawled brief messages before sending them to friends far away. Harry Fischer took thousands of pictures during his career, and many were published as postcards. His flood photos were best sellers, and he published two booklets of them.

Harry used a large 8" x 10" camera, probably Kodak, and in the early years of his work he captured images on 8" x 10" and 5" x 7" glass plates. By the 1920s he began using cellulose nitrate sheet film, which became notorious for its flammability. His later work was done with cellulose acetate, or "safety" film.

Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co., employees, 530 Fourth Street, Marietta, 1927
During the 1930s, Huldah Craig Wade (later Huldah Farley) worked as Harry Fischer's receptionist. She described his studio as having a reception room, office, dressing rooms, and portrait studio on the first floor. The photographic processing took place in a workroom on the upper floor. His two employees, the receptionist and a lab assistant, helped develop and print photographs and postcards.
Fischer Studio, 246 Front Street, Marietta

Harry Philip Fischer died October 27, 1949. His widow, Daisy Elliott Fischer, placed the bulk of his photographic negatives in the care of the Marietta College library, and in 2008 Special Collections began a project to digitize the Fischer Collection. More than 8,000 images have been scanned and are available to the public online. 
Allen C. Hall family, Christmas, Marietta, Ohio, ca 1930

Browse or search for photographs in the Harry Philip Fischer Collection at

View up Second Street, Marietta, ca 1930