Through the Looking Glass

Above, from left: When Teddy Roosevelt announced in 1912 that he would run for president against his former VP, William Howard Taft, Brown Brothers sent photographer Charles Duprez to Oyster Bay to take this famous photo; President Taft and his wife, Helen “Nellie” Taft, in 1909; famed New York Giants pitcher Christy Mathewson warms up before a game, circa 1912. (

Before there were photo agencies like Magnum or archives such as Getty Images there was a company named Brown Brothers, the world’s first stock photo agency founded by Arthur and Charles Brown in New York City in 1904.

March 24, 1934 cover by Garrett Price.

“The Talk of the Town” looked in on Brown Brothers, “the largest collection of photographs in the world—more than a million,” including a famous image of Teddy Roosevelt and the first photographic portrait of a woman’s face.

Brown Brothers photos could be seen everywhere in the early 20th century—their staff of twelve photographers provided images to New York newspapers at a time when the technology for publishing photos in the dailies was in its infancy and most papers didn’t employ staff photographers. Even the venerable New York Times hired the Browns to cover news events until they established their own team of photographers.

LITTLE DID DOROTHY DRAPER KNOW that she would become world famous when she sat for this photo (left) taken by her brother Dr. John W. Draper in his Washington Square studio at NYU in 1839 or 1840. Dorothy had to sit unblinking for the 65-second exposure—apparently her brother dusted her face with white flour to enhance the contrast. The Drapers still go down in history as creators of the oldest photo of a woman; at right, Dorothy Draper in the 1890s, in a photograph taken by her nephew. (
ONE IN A MILLION…The early 20th century image at left is just one of as many as three million images amassed in the Brown Brothers archive; at right, a Brown Brothers archivist at work. (Pinterest/

Note: The Brown Brothers’ archive of photos and negatives went up for sale in 2014, and was ultimately acquired by Leland’s in 2020.

 * * *

De Terraplane!

E.B. White (in “Notes and Comment”) was also looking at a photo, or rather scrutinizing one that was featured in a Saturday Evening Post advertisement for Hudson’s Terraplane:

…here is the ad from the Post

…and a closer look at the image, which had White seeing double.

(Both images courtesy The Saturday Evening Post)

 * * *

Escape Artist

In his “Of All Things” column, Howard Brubaker included the following item about a new telescope, ostensibly to set up a quip about John Dillinger’s recent prison break (his second):

YOUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED…The FBI issued this “Wanted” poster of gangster John Dillinger— “Public Enemy No. 1″—in June 1934. The Feds gunned him down a month later. (AP Photo)

 * * *

Playing Nice

The New Yorker commented on the trend toward fewer fights in the world of hockey, and although fighting in general ebbed a bit through mid-century, it nevertheless remained a staple of the game. Indeed the New York Rangers founder, Tex Rickard, who also promoted boxing at Madison Square Garden, knew quite well that hockey fights were one reason folks attended the games.

FACE OFF?…At left, goaltender Andy Aitkenhead of the New York Rangers padded his legs and arms but put his clean-shaven mug on the line in December 1934— it wasn’t until 1959, 42 years into the NHL’s existence, that a league goalie wore a mask on the ice. At right, New York Rangers captain Bill Cook (right) flanks coach and manager Lester Patrick alongside Frank Boucher on the ice at the Chicago Stadium in November of 1934. (Pinterest)

 * * *

From Our Advertisers

We begin with this sumptuous ad from Packard, appealing to those who could afford to own this luxury brand…

…if you couldn’t afford a Packard, you could rest assured that even a well-heeled deb could be happy with a Chevy…

…the folks at Powers Reproduction continued to tout the wonders of their color photography, even if their cake looked less than appetizing…

Fanny Brice was appearing with the 1934 Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, so the folks at Spud jumped on her celebrity bandwagon…

…while R.J. Reynolds was suggesting we replace our chewed up pencils with a nice Camel cigarette…now, don’t you feel better?…

…the Canadian distillery giant Gooderham & Worts offered all sorts of options to calm our jangled nerves in this two-page spread…

…while the Germans continued to entice us onto their cruise ships perfected by science and featuring “the strapping sons of sailor families”…hmmm…

…in 1934 the New Yorker began featuring mostly wordless cartoons on the opening page of “The Talk of the Town,” including this one by Robert Day featuring Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia checking up on city employees…

Richard Decker gave us an Irish Sweepstakes winner from Brooklyn who displayed some modesty and media savvy…

…Decker again, with the latest in perambulators…

Otto Soglow’s Little King put his back into a ceremonial groundbreaking…

Peter Arno’s sugar daddy received some not-so-happy returns…

…one of William Steig’s “Small Fry” was doing some serious reading…

…and James Thurber’s war continued from the rooftops…

…on to March 31, 1934…

March 31, 1934 cover by Rea Irvin.

…where we find Alice Frankforter covering an exhibition dubbed “A Mile of Art.” I’m guessing critic Lewis Mumford passed on this opportunity to offer some blistering commentary. As for Frankforter, she found the spectacle puzzling, if not irritating. An excerpt:

Constantin Alajalov offered his perspective on the art world stunt with this bit of spot art…

…and more from Frankforter, now reaching a state of exhaustion and near-delirium as she approached the end of the exhibit:

 * * *

Biblical Babbitts

Frank Buchman’s First Century Christian Fellowship (aka the Oxford Group) meeting in New York featured a lot of people chuckling and bubbling, but all that forced conviviality left critic Edmund Wilson feeling “quite morose.” Writing for the “A Reporter at Large” column, Wilson looked in on the group as they awaited Buchman’s arrival at a preliminary rally. The column was subtitled, “Saving the Better Classes and Their Butlers.” An excerpt:

Like other critics at the time, Wilson saw “Buchmanism” as bourgeois optimism and boosterism, interested more in converting the souls of the wealthy and celebrated rather than serving the needs of poor.

ODD COUPLE…Frank Buchman liked to be seen with the rich and famous. In 1939 he asked for a half hour of Mae West’s time, ostensibly to get this photo of him sharing some wisdom from his “Moral Re-assessment” booklet. West seems less than enamored by the encounter, regarding Buchman as some sort of alien creature; right, Buchman on the cover of April 20, 1936 edition of Time, which identified him as “Cultist Buchman.” (

 * * *

Carnegie’s Couture

Vogue magazine fashion editor Nancy Hardin and the New Yorker’s fashion editor Lois Long teamed up on a profile about Hattie Carnegie (1889 -1956) titled “Luxury, Inc.” Born Henrietta Kanengeiser in Vienna, Carnegie immigrated with her family to New York in 1900; nine years later she adopted the name “Carnegie” after Andrew Carnegie, the richest person in America. Through hard work and an inherent instinct for what American women desired, she built a fashion design business that thrived in Depression and catered to stars and celebrities including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Fontaine, Lucille Ball, and Joan Crawford. An excerpt, with illustration by Hugo Gellert:

FUR SURE…Hattie Carnegie posing for a 1951 Vogue magazine photo. (Vogue)

 * * *

Steampunk Dream

In my previous entry I featured Robert Coates’s observations on the new Machine Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. For the March 31 issue critic Lewis Mumford, celebrant of the simple and unpretentious, waxed nostalgic over the novel exhibit:

I’M A LITTLE TEAPOT that made a big advance in the design world, according to critic Lewis Mumford. (MoMA)

Alan Dunn was also inspired by the exhibit, as evidenced in this cartoon from the April 7 issue…

 * * *

More From Our Advertisers

Founded in October 1933, the men’s magazine Esquire took off with a bang, and the publishers were not shy about boasting of its early success…

…cover of the April 1934 issue, featuring the mustachioed mascot Esky…based on a drawing by cartoonist E. Simms Campbell, Esky was featured on the cover in various situations until 1961…

Peter Arno’s “Whoops Sisters” appeared sixty-three times in the New Yorker between 1926 and 1927 before Arno retired them (they occasionally popped up in other publications, and in a 1931 Cunard ad)…it seems odd that they would make an appearance in a cheap thermometer ad in 1934…at any rate, it is difficult to tell if this is by Arno or by a clever forger…

…there’s no mistaking the cartoonist behind this ad…

…and this one by Otto Soglow

…and we close our advertising section by raising a glass to Frankfort Distilleries…

…on to our March 31 cartoons, and a lineup of New Yorker regulars Abe Birnbaum

Barbara Shermund

Mary Petty

…and James Thurber, with a break in the battle…

Next Time: America’s Sweetheart…

Published by

David O

I read and write about history from the perspective that history is not some artifact from the past but a living, breathing condition we inhabit every moment of our lives, or as William Faulkner once observed, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." I read original source materials, such as every issue of The New Yorker, not only as a way to understand a time from a particular perspective, but to also use the source as an aggregator of various historic events. I welcome comments, criticisms, corrections and insights as I stumble along through the century.

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