Businesses were difficult to start and maintain in nineteenth century Michigan, especially if you were black. No matter the barriers, Willaim and Wallace Goodridge thrived under the pressure and created the state’s first minority owned photography business.
Their journey began in 1847 in York, PA. The oldest of the Goodridge brothers, Glenalvin, became the first in the family to start in the fledgling trade. Photography as a commercial industry was nascent to say the least. The first wide-spread photographic process, the daguerreotype, had only been perfected by Louis Daguerre in Paris that same decade. Glenalvin soon developed a reputation for prizewinning ambrotypes. Unfortunately, an extortion scheme left him falsely accused of a crime. Glenalvin died during his unjust prison sentence.
Sanctuary in Saginaw
The two younger brothers, Wallace and William, re-established the studio in Saginaw, MI in 1863. They made a wonderful team. Wallace specialized in studio portraiture and William took the trade into the woods. Under contract to area railways, William photographed lumber camps on stereographic cards. William’s work reached critical acclaim when in 1890 (the year of his death), the Dept. of Agriculture sent his lumber views to be displayed as an American representative at the Centennial Exhibition in Paris.
Wallace continued the studio business in Saginaw until his death in 1922. It remains as an example of one of the most important minority-owned establishments in early photographic history.