Wohlbruck Collection

The Personal Photographs of Theodore C. Wohlbrück

Wohlbruck's children

In 1900, when he was twenty-two years old, Theodore Clemens Wohlbrück (1879–1936) moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, from New Jersey and started a career as a photographer. He specialized in city views that were often turned into postcards and also took class photographs of children for schools. He opened a modest photo studio on Main Street and married a local girl in 1902.

By 1910, T.C. Wohlbrück had grown tired of his life in Worcester and moved west; first setting up a studio in Reno, Nevada, and later permanently settling in California. In addition to continuing his photography business (which now focused on western scenery), he also started other projects—including operating a series of souvenir shops and gas stations in the Sierra Nevada along the route of the ill-fated Donner Party, and opening a museum of transportation built around his large collection of horse-drawn vehicles and early automobiles.

In 2014, a descendent donated to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS) a collection of glass plate negatives with personal photographs of family and friends taken T.C. Wohlbrück during his time in Worcester. Included are portraits of Wohlbrück's first wife, Mabel Brown Wohlbrück Penneton (1879–1960), and their three young children, Virginia Wohlbrück Willard (1903–1994), Gretchen Wohlbrück Bath (1904–1995), and Theodore C. Wohlbrück Jr. (1906–1985). Wohlbrück also took photographs documenting the construction of the family's home in North Worcester and recorded a family trip to Virginia, with views of the University of Virginia in Richmond and Natural Bridge. Views of exhibitions buildings from the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, taken after the fair had closed, are also included in the collection.

One hundred sixty four negatives from the 2014 donation are displayed in this online collection. Some had been damaged in a house flood, causing the emulsion to release from the glass plates—an additional 26 negatives were a complete loss. Examined as a group, they show the work of a young photographer finding his way technically (some are out of focus, poorly framed, or double exposed) and can be considered a prelude to the over one thousand professionally produced glass negatives and photographic prints by T.C. Wohlbrück already preserved at AAS.

Wohlbruck Family Collection, Gift of Russell Bath, 2014.