One of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District’s claim to fame is renowned photographer Henry Bosse.
Henry Bosse was born in Prussia Nov. 13, 1844. He immigrated to the United States in 1865; and by, 1870, he was working in a book and stationary shop in Chicago. He began working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago in 1874 and was soon transferred to the Corps’ River and Harbor Improvement Office in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1878, he transferred to the Corps’ Rock Island District.
Under the direction of Rock Island District Engineer Maj. Alexander Mackenzie, Bosse surveyed and mapped the upper Mississippi River from the Falls of St. Anthony in Minneapolis to the confluence of the Illinois River upstream of St. Louis. He and his assistant, A.J. Stibolt, drew a map dated 1887-1888. He was a draftsman of the highest order and very knowledgeable of the Mississippi River topography.
Henry Bosse photographed the Mississippi River valley during his surveys of the river. He produced several high quality albums of his photographs that are treasured by connoisseurs of vintage photography to this day. His photographs of the Mississippi River from St. Anthony Falls to St. Louis are superb works of art.
Bosse used a large format glass-plate camera. His subjects included landscapes, river boats, bridges and the construction of the 4½-foot navigation channel. The resulting images are extraordinarily detailed and well composed. He used two different processes for printing – cyanotype and albumen. The albumen prints were exhibited at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair/Great Columbian Exposition. These delicate prints were Bosse’s best work.
The process for the cyanotype prints is similar to making blue prints. Bosse made several albums of these rich, blue photographs to present to friends and colleagues in the Corps.
The Corps’ St. Paul District cares for one album. The inscription on the cover states, “To U.S. Dredge William A. Thompson by Mrs. William A. Thompson.” William Thompson started working for the Corps in 1878 and was promoted in 1896 to assistant engineer in charge of an office in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. The Dredge Thompson served St. Paul District from 1937 until 2008.
The Rock Island District has two cyanotype albums (two volumes of a three-volume set), the 1893 World’s Fair album, numerous unbound prints and the few surviving glass plates.
One album was presented to Alexander Mackenzie who later served as the Corps’ Chief of Engineers from 1904 -1908. This album was purchased by a collector at Sotheby’s auction in 1990. He disassembled the album and sold prints individually. These sales have helped establish the value of the remaining albums.
The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has an album which was presented to Dr. William Mayo upon his retirement from the University of Minnesota, Board of Regents.
The collection of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium in Dubuque, Iowa, includes two albums which once belonged to A.L. Richards who was also an assistant engineer with the Rock Island District.
Other albums and prints are in museums and private collections.
Henry Bosse died Dec. 14, 1903, after eating tainted asparagus. A Corps steamboat was renamed for him by his colleagues in Rock Island. His Mississippi River map, revised in 1901, 1903-1905 and 1915, is still a valuable reference of changes in the Mississippi River from his day to ours.