On May 20, 1838, Gustav Cramer was born to Emmanuel and Dorothea Cramer in the quaint German village of Eschwege. His great fascination with chemistry began at an early age, and one of his childhood experiments with a powder nearly ended in disaster when he nearly blew off the roof of the family home. AT age 16, the young prodigy graduated at the top of his class with dual degrees in physics and chemistry. Afterwards, Mr. Cramer worked in the mercantile industry until he immigrated to the United States in 1859. Settling in St. Louis, Missouri, Mr. Cramer became interested in the art of photography and served as an apprentice to John A. Scholten, who at the time was the most prominent photographers in the region.
Under Mr. Scholten's tutelage, Mr. Cramer learned both the artistic and business sides of operating a photography studio, and by 1860, the young apprentice was eager to become a master. He opened a small gallery in Carondelet in 1860, but after six months of professional hardships, no doubt contributed by the outbreak of the Civil War, Mr. Cramer enlisted in the Union Army. Following the Battle of Carthage, the war-weary soldier returned to Carondelet to discover his gallery had been shut down in his absence.
Undeterred, Mr. Cramer entered into a partnership with local portrait painter Julius Gross, and together they opened a gallery in St. Louis. It was here where he began his experimentation with retouching negatives. The firm were awarded the highest honors for the best photographs painted on porcelain at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1867, and the next year, they snagged the top prize for their life-size plain photographs. The Cramer, Gross, & Co. photography business became so successful a larger gallery was opened in 1872, which Mr. Cramer operated solely after the dissolution of the partnership.
However, his attentions began turning to the manufacturing of dry plates, which became a full-time occupation. He closed his gallery and embarked upon a collaboration with fellow German immigrant Herman Norden, and in 1880, some of Cramer & Norden's revolutionary dry plates were displayed at the the National Photographers' Convention in Chicago. To no one's surprise, the judges awarded top honors to their dry plates. In 1882, Mr. Cramer married Emma Rodel Milentz, and the couple would have three sons and a foster daughter.
Mr. Cramer continued experimenting with and manufacturing dry plates following Mr. Norden’s retirement in 1883, and with his three sons, he conducted business as Cramer Dry Plate Works and Cramer Dry Plate Company. Affectionately known in his beloved St. Louis as 'Papa Cramer,' he was named president of the Photographers' Association of America in 1887. Dry plate pioneer Gustav Cramer died of a stomach illness on July 16, 1914.
2005 Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary, 1839-1865 (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press), pp. 184-185.
1893 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXX (New York: Edward L. Wilson, Publisher), pp. 292-295.
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