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The Gustav Johnson Photo Collection
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Gustav Johnson - photographer

Gustav Meier Johnson was born July 28, 1870 at Elk Point, Dakota Territory to Lars Johnson Ruud and Elizabeth Lassessen Hoven. Both Lars and Elizabeth immigrated from Norway, Lars in 1854 and Elizabeth in 1865. Gustav was the fourth of thirteen children raised on the family farm just north of Elk Point. He went to school at Elk Point and later graduated from the Stoughton Academy and Business Institute at Stoughton (WI) in 1892. Gustav came back to Elk Point and was employed at the Ringsrud General Store.

On December 7, 1899 Gustav married Alcester native Sophie Margaret Jamtgaard in Sioux City (IA) and the couple lived in Elk Point for several years and had three children there: Evelyn, Jerrold and Leota.

In 1906, Gustav, Sophie and their children left Elk Point to homestead in western South Dakota. They traveled by train to Pierre, crossed the Missouri River on a ferryboat to Fort Pierre, then traveled by wagon to their homestead along Deadman Creek east of the Grindstone area in what was then known as Stanley County, today located in Haakon County. Several of Gustav’s brothers and sisters as well as a group of Elk Point friends and acquaintances filed for homesteads in the same area. In 1908, the Johnson’s moved to Philip and welcomed two more children: Viola and Fern.

Gustav worked as a photographer for many years, both while on the homestead and when the family moved to Philip. The 1910 United States Census lists Gustav’s occupation as a photographer and he opened a photo studio in Philip located one block north of the Atlas Lumber yard.

Bad River News - 1910

Johnson would travel, box camera in hand, from homestead to homestead in search of customers who would buy photographs of their home and family. Often going with Gustav on these jaunts was his eldest daughter Evelyn.

Gustav took a large assortment of images in Philip and the surrounding Haakon County area. His photos tell the story of the people and history of west central South Dakota during its early phase of development. Highlighting the growth of Philip and capturing major events through the glass plates produced by his camera.

Glass plate negatives are exactly what they sound like. A piece of glass of various size (the majority of the Gustav Johnson glass plates are 4x5 inch plates) with a light sensitive, dry emulsion layer. The use of dry glass plates generally ran from the 1870s to 1920s. Several photographs, of various sizes, could be created from the glass plate. As expected, glass plates are very fragile and the emulsion is susceptible to damage by pealing or tearing.

Gustav died on October 26, 1962 at the Alleman Rest Home in Pierre at the age of 92. He was buried next to his wife Sophie at the Masonic Cemetery in Philip.

The Gustav Johnson Collection, donated to the State Archives in 1992, contains over 2,000 glass plate negatives and an additional 600 postcards and eleven postcard albums. The glass plate images were scanned and added to the South Dakota Digital Archives in 2013. Browse the collection in the South Dakota Digital Archives.

"In The Moment"

SDPB Radio: Matthew Reitzel, South Dakota State Archives




Family at home:

Feeding chickens:

Man and home:

Men and guns:

Interior views

Man and woman with photo album:

Family at table:

Barber shop:

Church interior:

Women Homesteaders


Woman on horse:

Woman at home:

On the plains:

Portrait Photos

Man and mustache:

Two women and book:

Two children:

Baby in chair:



Family homestead:

Family tree:

Portrait at home:


Two Girls:


Three girls:

Boy and Girl:

Native Americans

Two Native American women:

Four Native Americans with drums:

Native American man:

Native American woman:

Philip (S.D.)

Edge of town:


Town scene:

Fourth of July:



Kids playing:


Baseball at Fair:


Wagon Repair:

Threshing Crew:


Telephone operator:

Sheep shearing:

Plowing field:


Three men drinking:

Balancing Baby:

Well-dressed man on ice:


Playing cards:

Auto taxidermy:

Magazine and Horses:


Train Wreck, 1911:

Town fire:



Flooded downtown:

Carrie Nation

Damaged Glass plate negatives

Long break:

Damaged emulsion:

Cracked plate: