William Henry Jackson

19th-century older man posing for portrait

USGS photo

Quick Facts

Significance:
Painter and photographer known for his images of the American West
Place of Birth:
Keeseville, New York
Date of Birth:
April 4, 1843
Place of Death:
New York, New York
Date of Death:
June 30, 1942
Place of Burial:
Arlington, VA
Cemetery Name:
Arlington National Cemetery

The oldest of seven children, William Henry Jackson was born to George Hallock Jackson and Harriet Maria Allen in upstate New York on April 4, 1843. Harriet was a talented watercolorist, and Jackson had the opportunity to learn from her at a young age. He spent much of his childhood mastering the arts of drawing and painting. As a teenager, Jackson was introduced to photography in Troy, New York, and Rutland, Vermont. There, he worked as an assistant in a photographer’s studio, helping to stage and retouch photos. He began to yearn to take photographs of his own.

At the age of nineteen, Jackson was called to fight for the Union in the Civil War. After his tour of duty, he briefly returned to Vermont before following his dreams of exploring and traveling west. With his brother, Edward, the two set out for Omaha, Nebraska, where they opened a portrait studio. Yet, portraiture held little interest for Jackson, whose artistic practice had begun with the painting and drawing of rural landscapes in New York.

Jackson was invited to participate in the Hayden Geological Survey of 1871. As a member of the survey, he observed and captured via photographs and paintings the wonders of the region that would become Yellowstone National Park. He served as official photographer for the US Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories until 1878.

After several decades painting and photographing natural wonders across the American West, Jackson became involved in the publishing industry, selling and distributing photographs and postcards. At the end of his life, Jackson moved to Washington, DC, and continued working as a muralist for the Department of the Interior. He died at the age of 99 in New York City resulting from complications with a fall.

Last updated: May 23, 2018