History of the H.H. Bennett Studio
Visual Historian Who Made Wisconsin Dells Famous
More than a photographer, Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843-1908) was an inventive visual historian. His pioneering use of technology, combined with exquisite composition skills, created an enduring legacy for Wisconsin Dells. His stereoscopic views of the dells of the Wisconsin River attracted visitors from across the country and truly made him the man who made Wisconsin Dells famous.
Pioneering, Inventive Photojournalist
H.H. Bennett embarked on his life as a photographer after an injury sustained in the Civil War permanently crippled his right hand, preventing him from becoming a carpenter. He did use carpentry skills, however, as he began a career as a photographer.
Purchasing a tintype studio in Wisconsin Dells (then Kilbourn City), he took his first stereographic landscape photographs of the rugged Wisconsin River dells in 1868. Constructing all aspects of the camera except for the lenses, he ventured out into the wooded landscape of the Dells and captured the area on film. He was one of the first photojournalists, using photographs to tell a story.
Celebrated 19th-Century Landscape Photographer
H.H. Bennett is viewed as one of the 10 best landscape photographers of the 19th century. While other photographers clung to their studios, Bennett developed a passion for landscape photography because, in his words, “It is easier to pose nature and less trouble to please.” He developed the image of nature as a playground to be enjoyed, not feared.”
H.H. Bennett’s photography has been displayed in some of the most prestigious museums in the world and is prized by collectors
You can also view more than 1,000 Bennett images on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s website.
H.H. Bennett Studio: The Oldest Operating Business in Wisconsin Dells
Henry Hamilton Bennett opened his first studio in 1865. It has the distinction of being the oldest operating business in Wisconsin Dells. In 1875 he moved into the current studio he designed on Broadway. It has been in continuous operation ever since and is believed to be the oldest operating photography studio in the United States. Bennett’s family ran the business until 1998 when they donated the property to the Wisconsin Historical Society.
Photography historians consider Bennett one of the best landscape photographers of the 19th century, considered the “Golden Age of Landscape Photography.” Today the studio continues to house many of Bennett’s original photographs, glass plate negatives, photography inventions, cameras and equipment.
Walk Through the Original H.H. Bennett Studio
H.H. Bennett was not only an outstanding landscape photographer, but he was also an inventor, promoter and entrepreneur. His studio incorporated many new ideas for glass plate photography in the 1870s. His print house was one of the only two known revolving print houses in the United States. The original print house was donated by the Bennett family to the Smithsonian Institute in the 1970s.
Bennett pioneered the “instantaneous shutter” in 1886. Today the studio and museum house Bennett’s original homemade cameras, darkroom equipment, glass plate collection, studio props and equipment.
Tour the Photography Museum
Let yourself enter the dreamscape and experience the Dells of the Wisconsin River of yesteryear. As you begin your journey into the past, you’ll stroll by large reproductions of H.H. Bennett photographs. Throughout the museum you’ll see Bennett photos, learn about the early days of photography and get a sense of the life and work of this remarkable man. See if you agree with Bennett that the Dells represent, as he expressed it, “pretty and wilderness in natural scenery combined.”
Experience Bennett’s Stereoscopic Views
Almost all of Bennett’s landscape photography was devoted to creating stereoscopic views. To create a stereo view, Bennett created two images with slightly different perspectives. Once placed in a stereoscopic viewer, the images create the illusion of seeing in three dimensions. By 1872, Bennett offered over 200 different stereo views of scenic Wisconsin. These included landscapes of the Dells, Devil’s Lake, and the rock formations in Adams and Juneau Counties. These stereo views were sold to the public through a series of dealers, agents, and the Montgomery Ward catalog.
The Ho-Chunk People
H.H. Bennett’s ongoing relationship with the Ho-Chunk people helped the tribal nation record its history and heritage in Wisconsin. The Ho-Chunk people, previously referred to as Winnebago, traveled and lived extensively along the Fox, Mississippi, and Wisconsin Rivers. Bennett’s photography captured the native surroundings along the Dells of the Wisconsin River during the 19th century. His photographs record how the Ho-Chunk people thrived near the waterways, using the shorelines for abundant hunting, fishing, gathering, gardening and travel. The Ho-Chunk Nation uses many of Bennett’s images today.
Explore Eye-Popping Images with Hi-Tech 3-D Imaging
H. H. Bennett produced thousands of eye-popping stereo photographs, mounted on cards emblazoned with the name of his studio, and sold them nationwide.
The studio’s digital imaging exhibit uses new glasses-free technology that utilizes auto-stereoscopic 3D screens to show a collection of Bennett’s best stereo images. Interactive touchscreen monitors allow our visitors to select one of the three-dimensional images and view it in 3D at an instant – without requiring cumbersome eyewear.
The 3D stations are one of only a handful in the United States and are the only ones in the country being used to view stereo view images.
Shop at the Museum Store
The H.H. Bennett Studio Museum Store features original handmade Bennett prints, unique photography items, books and souvenirs. Each original H.H. Bennett print is handmade from surrogate negatives made from Bennett’s original glass plates, printed on archival paper, mounted on acid-free mat board and embossed in gold with Bennett’s signature. Visitors can choose from hundreds of sepia prints in stock or select from images from the print book. Bennett images are available for purchase in a variety of sizes. You may want to find more information on ordering prints. Take home a piece of Wisconsin’s history!
Historic H.H. Bennett Photographs
The historic photography of H.H. Bennett captures the spirit of late 19th-century Wisconsin as recorded by the cameras of one of photography’s true pioneers. Bennett captured the heart and soul of areas he photographed, revealing scenic landscapes, bustling urban centers, and people discovering a natural playground. Bennett’s images moved hundreds of thousands of Americans to visit the Wisconsin Dells. His works have been displayed worldwide including The New York Museum of Modern Art, The Smithsonian Institution, and the Center for Creative Photography.
Ten of the most popular historic Bennett photographs are shown below. Click on any image below to learn more and view a larger version.