Images of the West: Through the Lens of History

Frank Jay Haynes, Yellowstone Park’s first “official” photographer

Written By Michele Corriel (Author's Bio)
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F. Jay Haynes studio portrait circa Jan. 16, 1878. Photo courtesy MSU LIBRARIES, MERRILL G. BURLINGAME
Early postcards and brochures of Yellowstone National Park by F. Jay Haynes. These samples were colorized in Germany until World War I. POSTCARDS COURTESY NPS PHOTOS
Interior view of Haynes’ Palace Studio car showing, furniture, carpeting, stove and mounted photographs in the waiting room. Taken while parked at Helena, Mont. Photo courtesy Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo
F. Jay Haynes leased space in the old Mammoth Hotel and operated a sales stand there for many years beginning about 1892 when the hotels were operated by the Yellowstone Park Association. Photo courtesy Pioneer Museum
Great Falls of the Yellowstone, Medium: Albumen; photo date: 1888; print date: 1890; dimensions: 22-by-18 inches. Photo courtesy Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe.
Cinnabar Mountain, Devil’s Slide, Yellowstone, Wyo. area Medium: Albumen; photo date: 1887; print date: 1887; dimensions: 21¼-by-1611/16 inches. Photo courtesy Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe
The Bee Hive Geyser, Medium: Albumen, photo date: 1888; dimensions: 7¾-by-11¾ inches. Photo courtesy Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe
Jupiter Terrace, Yellowstone National Park, Medium: Albumen; photo date: 1888; print date: 1888; dimensions: 7 7/8-by-11¾ inches. Photo courtesy Andrew Smith Gallery, Santa Fe
Haynes’ 1887 winter expedition at Yancey’s; photographer unknown. NPS photo
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WHEN PHOTOGRAPHER F. JAY HAYNES MET P.W. NORRIS, the recently appointed superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, it turned out to be a serendipitous moment — for both the Haynes family as well as the park. Nine years after Congress created Yellowstone Haynes was invited to shoot pictures of its natural beauty and majestic wonders. After seeing for himself the amazing features of Yellowstone, Haynes, being an astute businessman, not only saw the magnificent landscape, he saw the possibilities as well.

In 1881 he wrote to the Department of the Interior asking to be appointed as the official photographer of Yellowstone National Park.

Sam Kirkwood, Secretary of the Interior at the time, replied, “Referring to your application, I have to state that there is no authority of law for such appointment, or for the granting anyone of exclusive privileges in this matter. The Department will, however, grant you a lease of a small tract of land in the park upon which to erect a building for the prosecution of the work, and extend to you such facilities as may properly be given.”

F. Jay Haynes took him up on the offer and sent off a letter thanking Kirkwood: “I shall endeavor to illustrate the wonderland to the satisfaction of all.”

In 1884 he set up his photography store at Mammoth Hot Springs and eventually put photo shops in all the hotels as they sprung up in the park.

Not only did Haynes take breathtaking photos never before seen, he also documented the development of the park, shooting documentary-style images of road construction for the people who would soon flock to see Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

“As time went by his photos became historically important,” according to Yellowstone National Park Historian Lee Whittlesey. “He photographed much of the American West, including the [Native American] tribes, as the photographer for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Haynes photographed the laying of their lines, their engines, their cars and their depots.”

Haynes was very much involved in the development of the Northwestern frontier as the railroad worked its way west. Although he was headquartered in Yellowstone National Park, he photographed as he traveled with the railroad and captured historic moments of the expansion of a national rail service.

And although Haynes was never in fact given the title of “official park photographer,” he certainly acted as if he had been.

“When he got there in 1881 he assumed the mantle of the official photographer,” Whittlesey said. “He published a guidebook called Haynes Guidebooks. In those guides it would always say, ‘Yellowstone’s Official Photographer.’ And nobody questioned it because he produced such a large volume of work.”

By 1887 Haynes’ collection of photos covered nearly every aspect of the park in its summer splendor, but he did not have much in the way of winter scenery. So he joined a trip set up by Lieutenant Fredrick Schwatka, famed for his Arctic explorations. When Schwatka got to Norris he was taken ill and cancelled the trip. That did not stop Haynes. Haynes convinced two other people in the party to continue on. They used Norwegian skis and Canadian snowshoes for the trip which covered more than 200 miles in 29 days, with weather dropping as low as 50 degrees below zero.

Today F. Jay Haynes’ work is highly valued by art collectors, with his photographs selling for thousands of dollars.

“The most collectable of his images are the larger 20- to 24-inch mammoth prints,” John Boland, associate director at the Andrew Smith Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., said. “There were only a few other photographers who worked in that kind of large-print format.”

 And in that format, his vintage prints from Yellowstone are the most collected. Haynes’ larger photographs have been priced between $5,000 and $25,000, and some of those pieces could command $50,000 today, Boland said.

“It seems like a lot of work from the West is commanding very good prices lately,” Boland added. “I know he also made thousands of postcards.”

Some of those postcards were included in little packages either in an envelope or a small booklet. When in 1897 the post office allowed the mailing of postcards, Haynes saw the possibilities there as well.

“They were called ‘penny postals,’ ” Whittlesey said. “For the first time you could write a message and send a picture at the same time for a penny. Haynes immediately went into that business.”

To enhance the integrity of these postcards Haynes sent them to Germany to be hand-painted by expert artists. However, in the years leading up to World War I, when the relations between the United States and Germany were untenable, Haynes ceased to have them colored overseas.

“When he had to stop sending them to Germany, the cards weren’t nearly as good in my opinion,” Whittlesey said. “But they continued to be produced into the 1940s.”

The next step Haynes took was to get people to the park. At that time, it was the long, arduous journey that kept many folks from exploring Yellowstone. So in 1898 Haynes went into business with a partner and started up the Monida and Yellowstone Stage Company. It ran through the park until 1916.

“In 1916 he shifted to a motorcar company headquartered out of Cody,” Whittlesey said. “It only ran for one season and then he was swept up in the new National Park Services’ combining of various companies into a few companies in the park that had regulated monopolies.”

When his youngest son, Jack Ellis Haynes, was old enough, he helped his father in the family business. And when F. Jay Haynes died in 1921, Jack took over the photography business.

F. Jay Haynes was not only a talented and well-respected photographer, he was a key figure in promoting Yellowstone National Park. After his death the park dedicated a mountain peak to him, in the Madison Canyon.

Mount Haynes stands at the park’s western entrance, an appropriate sentry with stunning views of the park.

Michele Corriel
lives and writes in Belgrade, Mont.
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Frank Jay Haynes more info

Posted By Dorinda on Mar 1, 2014
There are at least three biographical books about Frank Jay Haynes available, if out of print. He was my grandfather's brother; born in Michigan, and followed his sister Ella Haynes Henderson to Fargo in late 1800s. Built a photo studio there, briefly in business with his brother Fred. Began traveling and photographing Yellowstone circa 1881-3, and began a life-long vocation. Worked for the Northern Pacific Railroad as a promotional photographer to encourage people to come west.

Muir glacier

Posted By John on Jul 9, 2013
I have a very large frank haynes photo of muir glacier. It has a frame and plaque stating northern pacific railroad. I would love to get some information on this.

Grand Canyon and Great Falls of the Yellowstone, Intaglio Etching

Posted By israel on Aug 22, 2012
i have one by Frank Jay Haynes. it has the words "Itaglio Etching" on the bottom left side,"Grand Canyon and Great Falls of Yellowstone" in the bottom middle and an copyright "c" followed by what appears to be an "Haynes" autograph in bottom right side. Im looking for for any information you might have on this piece. thank you for your time and help with this matter. thanks,Israel
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