Andrew J. Russell, detail of: 227 East and West shaking hands at Laying Last Rail , May 10, 1869. Imperial plate collodion glass negative. Collection of the Oakland Museum of California, Museum Purchase.

The Andrew J. Russell Collection

In the decade following the Civil War, photographic artists were trailblazers as well as photographers, often accompanying government parties as they surveyed Western lands. Unique among this group, Andrew J. Russell (1830–1902) was assigned to document construction of the first transcontinental railroad as it stretched westward across the continent in the late 1860s. Russell’s photographs capture the majestic scale of Western lands, its native people, rough boom towns, and the gritty enterprise of railroad building. Through widely circulated albums and inexpensive stereo views, Russell gave the world a glimpse of the West, helping to create a visual identity for a place already endowed with mythic qualities.

In the late 1960s, the Oakland Museum of California acquired more than 600 original collodion “wet plate” negatives taken by Russell a century earlier, the largest intact group by a major 19th century photographer. The Museum offers exhibition prints from copy negatives struck from Russell’s original glass negatives. For more information, e-mail

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