Forty-eight workmen

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Photo measuring 8.5 x 6.5 inches, affixed to a cardboard backing that is 11 x 9 inches. (I have cropped most of the backing from the scan.)

What I know about it:

Undated and unidentified.


This came from a box of photos I bought from an antique dealer a while ago. The photos in the box seemed to primarily come from northern California. There is a second photo of six men, one or two of whom are pictured here, in a different but seemingly related setting. Yet any thoughts on who these men are, or where they are, would just be guessing on my part. Perhaps a clothing expert can suggest a date range. It seems they are all workmen at whatever this setting is. Maybe this is a sawmill? A construction site? I’m guessing they are men engaged in manual labor, though the presence of neckties is surprising in this setting, even in an era when neckties were more commonly worn, suggesting to me that maybe some managers or clerical staff are mixed in. Then again, the fact that so many seem to have put on coats and jackets over aprons suggest that some of the neckties might have been thrown on with the coats just for the photo, unless the coats are because it’s cold. There’s a real range in age here, and a real variety of clothing. The hats are all different, but everybody is wearing one. The man standing in the front row, second from the left, is the only one wearing eyeglasses. The man standing farthest right has a pipe in his mouth, and the one seated front left has one in his hand. Though they are all crowded in together, they still manage to express individuality in their various stances and facial expressions, as well as that unconscious way of asserting themselves, or not, in relation to the people around them. Although it is posed, it still has a somewhat candid feel to it. And as always, it’s fascinating to me to stare back across time at a bunch of faces. I love photos like this.

11 comments on “Forty-eight workmen”

  1. One is wearing a military jacket buttoned at the neck, all wore hats , a man had to have a hat back then
    The jacket Appears to be WW1 vintage

  2. Fantastic photo! The skeletal structure behind them makes me think of a shipyard, but that’s pure speculation. My guess for a date would be late teens or early twenties, but again, just a guess.

    • Oh, good suggestion about a shipyard! I hadn’t thought of that. I agree with you on the general date range, and that would be backed up by the other commenter’s suggestion of one of the jackets being WWI-era.

  3. I would date it earlier in the century, based on the bowler hats, large moustaches, and stovepipe pants; I’m thinking more like 1906. I’m not 100% sure, but I found a rather similar 1906 photo from the SF Public Library, which unfortunately is not large enough to zoom in on, but you can see the likeness:
    Just to investigate further, I found one from 1912 of a similar group–to me the pants and hair are different enough that I think yours is earlier, but on the other hand, the collar shapes are pretty much the same.

  4. anything to avoid working on my taxes! : P

  5. I’ll gladly defer to HC regarding the date!

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