The Only Time President Roosevelt Ever Consented to Pose Before a Kodak

The Only Time President Roosevelt Posed for a Kodak (1903; courtesy of the Library of Congress)
President Theodore Roosevelt, holding his top hat in one hand and flanked by two officers and an unidentified man, looks down at the photographer from the back of a railroad car.  The year is 1903.  The spontaneity of this picture registers how mainstream photography and photographic portraiture were changing in the wake of George Eastman’s revolutionary invention of the hand-held Kodak camera.

By then the Kodak camera had been around for fifteen years, but its impact was still widening and generating change. Because the Kodak was not just a new type of camera, but a new type of film, and one that gave the user freedom from having to learn film processing, it made picture-taking easier for everybody.  Amateurs began taking pictures like crazy.  The Kodak process also represented a big leap forward in terms of stop-motion photography, suddenly endowing pictures of living subjects with greater immediacy.

Those qualities shine in this marvelous photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt, taken during one of his myriad railway journeys.  Who was the photographer?  Was it a professional photographer assigned to cover him, or an ordinary American, perhaps even a woman, who successfully beseeched the President to pose just this one time?  Did he even consent?  His aides look amused, but Roosevelt himself looks positively put out.

Image: from this source.

2 responses

  1. I find this photo very interesting because the two officers flanking the President are wearing most odd outfits. I’ve seen a lot of historic pictures of American military outfits but never seen men dressed like those in this picture. They look very European or South-Latin America like. Can you identify what branch of the military those men were in ??????

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    • I know what you mean, but do you think they could be railroad conductors? I too wondered in particular about the man to the right, whether he could be a visiting dignitary, but I don’t think it’s very likely. Roosevelt’s secret service men typically wore street clothes and bowler hats. The another possibility is that the officers are German. Prince Henry of Germany made a highly publicized visit to the US around this time, and he went around with his party to many major cities.

      This is a formal occasion–not the man in the back at right is wearing a top hat, and TR has a top hat in his hand.

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