Henry Hamilton Bennett (1843 - 1908)

Birth date: 1/15/1843 Death date: 1908  
Birth location: Farnham, Quebec, Canada Death location: Madison, Wisconsin  
Media: Photography Web site:
Comprehensive (file rating) - Major Wisconsin artist file that includes comprehensive documentation on artist's life that can be researched on site at MWA.


Henry Hamilton Bennett
Born 1843 in Farnham, Quebec, Canada
Died 1908 in Madison, Wisconsin

Henry Hamilton Bennett came to the Wisconsin Dells region from Vermont in 1857 at the age of 14 with his father and uncle. He tried his hand at carpentry, shopkeeping and other odd jobs, then answered the call from Ulysses S. Grant to join the Union Army.  When he returned home from the Civil War in 1865, Bennett had a crippled hand, the result of accidentally shooting himself. He could no longer pursue the trade of carpentry so he taught himself photography; he made most of his own camera equipment. He subsequently married Evaline, and joined his brother, George, in buying a portrait studio in Kilbourn City (now Wisconsin Dells). Initially, they did a brisk business taking portraits of returning soldiers who wanted to be photographed in their uniforms, but then their trade fell off sharply in the town of a few hundred people. George quit the business, and Bennett turned all of the studio work over to his wife. Bennett had decided that he was going to photograph the spectacular beauty of the Dells’ steep-walled sandstone cliffs and the winding Wisconsin River that cut through them. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad commissioned him to photograph the landscape along the many miles of track in Wisconsin.

Bennett, was an innovative photographer. He invented the first rotating solar print house capable of facing the sun all day long.  He also developed a shutter that instantly opened, allowing him to be one of the first photographers to stop action. At a time when most photographers worked out of their studios, Bennett became one of the first photojournalists to tell a story, by capturing Wisconsin’s lumber rafts men and their way of life before it vanished.

In an age when photography had only been shortly removed from the tintype era, Bennett’s photos were astounding to say the least. Bennett developed original methods for printing and mounting pictures and improvements for his cameras. He is considered one of the finest landscape photographers of the 19th century and achieved this through the artistically creative compositions of his photographs and stereo views.

Selected Group Exhibitions

1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, Illinois
World’s Fair, St. Louis, Missouri 
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, The Photographer and the American Landscape 
1965 State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison 
1970 Milwaukee Art Center, Wisconsin, Bennett, Steichen, Metzker: The Wisconsin Heritage in Photography 
1978 Witkin, Gallery, New York, New York 
1988 Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, 100 Years of Wisconsin Art 
2010-2011 170 Years of Wisconsin Art, Museum of Wisconsin Art, West bend, Wisconsin

Selected Awards

2005 Recipient of one of the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards (The Wisconsin Visual Art Hall of Fame)

Wisconsin Affiliations

Wisconsin Art Organizations

No art organizations were found.

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