The largest surviving collection of photographs of 20th-century Indianapolis, the W. H. Bass Photo Company, commonly known as Bass Photo, traces its beginnings to 1897 with the establishment of the James Bayne Company on South New Jersey Street, a satellite operation of its same-name parent in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The company advertised itself as commercial photographers, engravers, and printers of “fine catalogs,” and sought to control the entire process of generating furniture trade catalogs from photography to printing. The enterprise failed, however, and in 1899 became Woodworth and Company after it was acquired by Walter J. Woodworth and William H. Bass. In 1912, Bass became the sole proprietor. His protégé, Charles C. Branson, assumed ownership upon Bass’s death in 1936. It remains a family business.

W. H. Bass Photo Company, 1912
Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society

The Indiana Historical Society acquired the firm’s collection of historic photographs in 1987. Virtually all the images, which were made between 1903 and 1971, are of Indianapolis and its environs. The collection, consisting of over 200,000 prints and 200,000 negatives, is strong in architectural images (especially churches, hotels, residences, and schools), street scenes, aerial views, and transportation. Most of the collection is available to the public either in person at the William H. Smith Memorial Library or online as part of the Indiana Historical Society’s digitized collection.

Revised February 2021
 

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