This month we present a dozen samples the Louisiana Division's David Barrow Fischer Collection, several hundred prints of
steamboats collected by Fischer and donated to New Orleans Public Library in 1955 by members of his
family after his death.
Fischer was born in 1877 in St. Francisville, into one of West Feliciana Parish's oldest land-owning families.
His father, Maximillian Fischer, was a merchant, who moved his family to the river town of Bayou Sara in
1880, during the heyday of the great river packets. Fischer's sister later remembered traveling to New
Orleans on the Natchez and the J.M. White. When the business failed, the family moved to
Kenmore plantation in Pointe Coupee Parish and young David was sent to school in Lexington, Kentucky.
The family later moved to New Orleans. David Barrow Fischer never married and died in 1952.
The photographers of the majority of the prints in the Fischer Collection are unidentified. Fischer was
clearly far more interested in the steamboats themselves than in the photographers who documented them
so wonderfully. Most of the prints include typewritten labels describing the boats, naming their builders,
owners, and crews, and detailing their history on the rivers of the South and Midwest. These descriptions
have proven to be paraphrases or quotations taken from various editions of Frederick J. Way's directories
of steamboats (which have been published under various titles beginning in the 1940s). Whether the labels
were attached to the photographs by Fischer himself or by NOPL staffers is unclear.
- The captions included in this Gallery are taken directly from a more recent edition of Captain
Way's director, Way's Packet Directory, 1848-1983. Each entry in the directory begins with a
"formula" describing the boat, using some of the following abbreviations:
- sw -- "side-wheel"
- stw -- "sternwheel"
- p -- "packet"
- wh -- "wood hull"
- b -- "built"
- Engines 20's--6 « ft -- "cylinders 20 inches inside diameter with 6 « ft piston stroke length"
Click on the images below to see a larger version and accompanying text.
And click HERE to revisit earlier Images of the Month