by Leah Jackson
A collection of vintage photographs that depict business and industry in Shreveport in 1918 is on exhibit in the Cammie G. Henry Research Center at Northwestern State University. “A Glimpse of Shreveport,” discovered, organized and curated by NSU alum Ed Chopin, will run through March and gives viewers an unstaged look at the working side of the city a century ago.
At an opening reception Jan. 23, Chopin discussed how he rescued the collection from the trash while helping friends move out of their house in the early 1970s. The pictures were part of a large scrapbook created by the Shreveport Chamber of Commerce to bring more business to the city. There were originally 400 photos in the book but many were lost before Chopin discovered the scrapbook.
“It’s phenomenally interesting to look at working conditions 100 years ago,” Chopin said. “The things I recognized and appreciated were the lack of safety equipment, blacks and whites working together side by side and the children at work.”
The Shreveport Chamber of Commerce has no records of how or why the book was created other than to highlight the progressiveness of the city. Notes in the scrapbook boast of 37 miles of paved roads in the city, information on rail lines, infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities.
The photographer’s identity remains a mystery but Chopin said he or she knew their craft well. He believes the photographer used glass plate negatives and contact prints.
“The depth of field is phenomenal,” he said. “Some pictures were taken in offices and you can look through the windows and get an idea of which building the photo was taken from.”
Clocks and calendars can be read clearly in offices equipped with telephones, switchboards, manual typewriters and spittoons. Other photos depict a meat cooler at Wilson Co., the dry goods sales department at the Cupples-Lonergan Co. and the pump room and storage vaults at the Shreveport Ice Plant.
One business, Allen Millwork, is still in operation though it was purchased by another company about 10 years ago. Chopin said he took the pictures to the company manager who looked at the photos and said, “We still use those carts.” The company loaned one of the carts to be included in the collection’s exhibition at the Meadows Museum in Shreveport two years ago.
Chopin worked with NSU Assistant Archivist Sharon Wolff to install the collection.
“The candid nature of the pictures makes them a unique and valuable window into everyday working life, both blue and white collar, in the early 20th century,” Wolff said.
Chopin earned a degree in industrial education with a minor in journalism at Northwestern State in 1971 and a master’s in industrial technology in 1978. He retired after teaching 46 years in public schools and at Bossier Parish Community College. His wife, Michelle Packard Chopin, is a 1978 NSU graduate.
The Cammie G. Henry Research Center is located on the third floor of NSU’s Eugene P. Watson Memorial Library. Hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 8 a.m.-noon Friday. Information is available at https://library.nsula.edu/melrose/.
About the Author: Leah Jackson