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Views from Arizona's past

ASU releases pre-development photos by the McCulloch Brothers

Women playing shuffleboard.
February 05, 2016

Despite the fact that some forecasts project Phoenix to become the nation’s fourth largest metropolitan area by 2020, the city did not experience significant population growth until the proliferation of air conditioning in the 1950s. Now, a collection of high quality photographs showing the years precipitating Phoenix’s rapid expansion has been digitized and released for public use by Arizona State University Libraries.

The collection’s more than 4,500 images were taken between 1884 and 1947 by Scottish immigrants James Morrison McCulloch and William Patrick McCulloch, who operated the McCulloch Brothers commercial photography studio located at the present-day intersection of E. Adams Street and N. Central Avenue in downtown Phoenix.

According to Digital Projects Librarian Matthew Harp, the collection offers a look into Phoenix and parts of Arizona during a “time of transition from Cowtown to emerging metropolis.” Its photographs include hotels, hospitals, high schools, churches and businesses; landmarks like the Orpheum Theatre and Theodore Roosevelt Dam; landscapes of the Grand Canyon and natural bridges; and shots of the state’s copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate industries.

Because ASU owns the copyrights for the collection, the images — which can be found within the ASU Digital Repository and through search engines — can be downloaded for free and used openly in research.

“The opening of this collection in the ASU Digital Repository exemplifies the ASU Libraries commitment to open access,” said archivist Rob Spindler, who curates ASU Libraries’ Arizona Collection. “With our new Publication and Creative Services, we actively facilitate creative uses of our historical materials in all kinds of historical, cultural and artistic projects.”

The McCulloch’s business was eventually sold to Herb and Dot McLaughlin, who continued producing and selling images of Arizona’s and surrounding state’s agriculture, government, infrastructure, parks, transportation and residents into the 1990s — including many for Arizona Highways magazine. Some 100,000 of those photographs are part of ASU’s archives, and can be found using the libraries’ Special Material Index.

Like the City of Phoenix, the libraries’ digital collection continues to grow. Below is a preview of photographs from ASU’s McCulloch Brothers, Inc. Photographs Collection, though many more are available from ASU Libraries virtual shelves.