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Mystery Photo #99: Duluthian in uniform

Who is this guy and what’s his deal? His hat bears the number 581. The photo is from Christensen Photography of Duluth, Minn.

The Minnesota Historical Society’s Directory of Photographers lists a few possible Christensen photographers:

Hans Frederick Christensen
Worked in Minnesota during the 1910s.

Harold T. Christensen
Worked at 1915 W. Superior St., Duluth in 1940.

John O. Christensen
Worked at 25 W. Superior St., Duluth in 1897 and 1922, and another Duluth address in 1914.

Otto J. Christensen
Worked at 7 E. Superior St., Duluth in 1942.

10 Comments

Tony D.

about 4 weeks ago

The uniform: Perhaps a streetcar conductor?

Paul Lundgren

about 4 weeks ago

It does look like the old streetcar conductor hats. But the old pictures I've seen of conductors are usually shot in a group or with a streetcar in the frame, so the hat is very small, which makes it tricky to compare with the nice, sharp closeup we get with the mystery photo above.



But the coat also looks similar to the one here, from the post "The End of Streetcars in Duluth."

Matthijs

about 4 weeks ago

A friend of mine who works in transit and has an affinity for transit history says, “That style of watch chain is a dead giveaway. Streetcar conductor most definitely.” He also says the number on his hat is his “cap number,” which both identifies him to inspectors and is used in scheduling when assigning conductors specific routes on specific streetcars (he says most transit operators in the U.S. still use cap numbers). So if somebody actually had old Duluth streetcar records, the name of the man in the photo would be directly tied to that number on his hat.

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 4 weeks ago

Oh, old streetcar records definitely exist! Not online right now, but stay tuned.

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 4 weeks ago



That photo looks like the same badges/era as these ladies.

Gina Temple-Rhodes

about 4 weeks ago



Hmmm. But it looks like by 1929 they had different hats/badges. Do you see the one remaining female conductor in this photo?

Tony D.

about 4 weeks ago

Those ladies were likely employed by the street railway company during World War I and many lost their jobs to returning veterans—it was, after all, 100 years ago....

David Syring

about 4 weeks ago

Slightly related tangent--historical connections: 

The tables at Dovetail Cafe (Duluth Folk School) are made out of salvaged flooring, some of which came out of one of the last of the Incline Railway cars. I bought the salvaged maple flooring from an older man named Joe about 15 years ago. He had salvaged it when he was a young man (his father had gotten the access). He had it stored in a dry place for a couple decades, and then offered it for sale--I think I paid $100 for about 200+ board/feet. Stored it in a barn until a few years ago when it became clear I didn't have the use for it I thought I did.

When The Folk School was getting going, I donated it to them and Tim Bates picked it up. They turned it into the cool tables in the dining area of the cafe.

Next time you put on your conductor's hat and slide your watch into your vest pocket, head over to the Dovetail Cafe and have a coffee on the floorboards before you climb aboard the streetcar!

Paul Lundgren

about 4 weeks ago



Gina found a few more relevant photos on Minnesota Reflections. The one above is dated 1906 and is captioned: "Collage of studio portraits of the trainmen and supervisors of Duluth Street railway's Superior, Wisconsin, carhouse." The collage doesn't not appear to include our mystery man.



This one is dated 1911-'20 and is captioned: "Interior of streetcar, with motorman and conductor."



And another pretty good look at the uniform is this one, dated 1912 and captioned: "Studio portrait of Duluth Street Ry, motorman and conductor."

Matthijs

about 3 weeks ago

Aaron Isaacs’s incredibly detailed book Twin Ports by Trolley gives a little more context to the mystery photo. On page 61, the caption of a streetcar employee’s portrait reads:

In an age of physical labor in a blue-collar city, motormen and conductors may not have been paid well, but as the public face of DSR [Duluth Street Railway] they were well-dressed, enjoyed a clean working environment, and from those things derived a certain social status. It is reflected in portraits such as this by professional photographers, which would not have been made of common laborers.
The author also includes the first photo that Gina posted of female conductors (called trainwomen or conductresses at the time) and devotes pages 79 – 82 to their history. He notes that 21 women were hired as conductors starting from May 10, 1918 (during the last year of the World War I). They were not let go when the war ended and the veterans returned home. Specifically, 18 of the women remained on the job in 1922. By 1924, the number was down to five. The one woman in the 1929 photo posted by Gina must be either Christine Pearson or Elizabeth Cook, as Isaacs references an August 1928 story in the Duluth News Tribune that features interviews with these last two women working on the streetcars, describing how much they enjoyed their work and their plans to stay. The photo must have been taken shortly before this woman lost her job, as the DSR had laid off both women by May of 1929 after the company moved from two to one person operation on a large number of streetcars.

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