The Universalist Charles Bierstadt was a photographer best known for his stereoscopic views of the American landscape. He was also the brother of the famous painter, Albert Bierstadt.
Charles was born in Prussia in 1819. His parents emigrated to New Bedford in 1831, bringing their three sons with them. Charles was apprenticed to a cabinetmaker when he was fifteen; the apprenticeship lasted six years. He and his brother Edward began experimenting with photography during the 1850s. (1)
Charles and Edward had a woodworking shop together at 147 North Water St., where they specialized in “plain and fancy turning and sawing.” (2) Their shop burned in 1859. At about the same time, Albert Beirstadt, their brother, who had already established himself as an artist, returned from a trip to the Rocky Mountains, where he had, among other things, taken landscape photographs. Albert helped Charles and Edward to establish “Bierstadt Brothers Photographic Gallery.” In 1860, Albert took Charles and Edward on a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire, where they took landscape photographs which they later printed and sold. (3)
By 1863, Charles had relocated to Niagra Falls, where he remained in business for many years. A contemporary account said of his Niagra Falls business: “He is an expert in stereoscopic views and has in connection with his manufactory a large bazaar where his views and many relics and curios are displayed to advantage.” (4) Over the years, he undertook a number of extended trips to take photographs, including to Colorado, Yosemite in California, and Yellowstone in Wyoming. His wife Lucy C. Bierstadt filed successfully for separation from Charles in 1898. (5)
Charles Bierstadt became a member of the Universalist Church (but not the Universalist Society) in 1858. He was removed from membership in 1867 because he had permanently left New Bedford. (6) He died in Niagra Falls, New York, in 1903.
1. Landmarks of Niagra County, ed. William Pool, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Co., 1897, p. 24.
2. 1859 New Bedford Directory.
3. Pioneer Photographers of the Far West: A Biographical Dictionary, 1840-1865, by Peter E. Palmquist and Thomas R. Kailbourn, Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2000, p. 110.
4. Pool, p. 24.
5. Reports of Cases Heard and Determined in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, 1898, v. 29, pp. 210ff.
6. Record book of the Universalist Church, bMS 214/1 (2), in the Andover Harvard Theological Library. Oddly, Charles signed the church roll with a pencil rather than a pen, the only person ever to do so.