Pillsbury Picture Co.

The Pillsbury Picture Company was founded in the spring of 1906, just a month before the earthquake hit. Its serendipitous timing propelled the company to fame and made the Pillsbury stock relevant across America and the world. It was founded by Arthur C. Pillsbury, a disgruntled photojournalist, after he quit his job with the San Francisco Examiner. Pillsbury was renowned for his innovative approach to photography and visual communication. Part of Pillsbury’s success in the wake of the catastrophe was that the company was based in his Oakland home. Here he had set up equipment and darkrooms and could run the entire operation. Because his company, unlike most official press outlets, was not based in San Francisco proper, Pillsbury was quickly able to corner the market. His innovative approach to photography no doubt helped him cement that position.

Pillsbury became famous through his images, but locally he had also won recognition as an uncompromising and innovative photographer. He had made his way into the city admits the ongoing aftershocks and was consequently able to circulate some of the earliest images of the calamity. Pillsbury made a significant amount of money on his earthquake images; in particular his early photos were highly sought after by newspapers around the world. The money he earned from these photographs was spent building his new Three Arrows studio in Yosemite.

Over time, the Pillsbury Picture Company became the largest distributor of post cards on the west coast and later went into film production as well (including the first time-lapse and underwater films). Pillsbury also went on to develop his own cameras, often refusing to patent innovations, because he wanted his inventions to benefit all photographers. In general, Arthur C. Pillsbury was one of the most innovative and productive geniuses in America when it comes to photography and film. His legacy is one of accomplishment, and since it all began with the 1906 earthquake, he has come to represent the resilience and greatness of San Francisco and her people.

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