William Lyman Underwood (March 5, 1864-Jan. 24, 1929)


William Lyman Underwood and his brother Loring (1874–1930) were early leaders in nineteenth-century nature photography. Loring, trained as a horticulturist, focused on the cultivated landscapes of parks and estate gardens, while William preferred the wilderness of northeastern America. A renowned public speaker, William gave more than forty lectures a year about his experiences as “a camera hunter,” accompanied by a lantern slide show of his photographs. This run-of-the-century [sic] entertainment instructed audiences about an environment that Underwood feared was vanishing.

In 1895, William Lyman Underwood, director of a Massachusetts canned-food bookcompany, came to MIT seeking the help of a scientist–any scientist–who could fix the problem of his smelly canned clams. He went straight to the biology department, asking whether anyone could “suggest a cause and, better still, a remedy.” The department chair passed Underwood off to his assistant, Samuel Cate Prescott, advising the chemist to teach the canner a bit about microbes.

During these experiments, Underwood indulged his passion for photography. The March 1898 Technology Quarterly featured several of his actual-size photographs of petri dishes filled with circular spidery blooms of bacillus–each like a telescopic glance at a pockmarked moon–as well as some strikingly clear slides of microörganisms at 1,000 times their actual size.

bear“Wild brother; strangest of true stories from the north woods”~
Underwood’s Deviled Ham: The Oldest Trademark Still in Use~

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