Henry Hamilton Bennett

About H. H. Bennett

Leaping the Chasm, 1886Leaping the Chasm, 1886Ashley Bennett leaping five foot gap between mainland and Stand Rock.
Courtesy of H.H. Bennett Studios/Wisconsin Historical Society
H.H. Bennett in Civil War Uniform, 1866H.H. Bennett in Civil War Uniform, 1866Bennett age 23, photograph taken by Leroy Gates.
Courtesy of H.H. Bennett Studios/Wisconsin Historical Society
Leaping the Chasm, 1886H.H. Bennett in Civil War Uniform, 1866

Known more famously as the “man with the camera,” Henry Hamilton Bennett is often credited with making the Wisconsin Dells area the tourist destination it is today. Born in January 1843, he grew up in Vermont and moved with his family to Kilbourn City, Wisconsin in 1857, where he worked in carpentry and picked up occasional jobs on the railroad. After fighting in the Civil War and a tragic accident injured his right hand, he returned to Kilbourn and purchased a photography studio from river boat pilot Leroy Gates. Bennett’s photography career lasted from 1865 until his death in 1908.

Bennett and the Ho-Chunk

Bennett’s main photography interests revolved around the majestic 10-mile stretch of river through Wisconsin Dells (formerly Kilbourn City). Bennett’s stereoscopic photos of towering rock formations and rushing waters earned the attention of tourists throughout the nation and people began flocking to the Dells. His most famous photo, entitled Leaping the Chasm, shows his son Ashley leaping in mid-air between two cliffs, one of which is the rock formation known as Stand Rock (now a trademark icon of Wisconsin Dells). Leaping the Chasm earned Bennett prizes at the Chicago World’s Fair and also showcased his experiments with fast-acting emulsions in order to create instant photography.

Rafting Over at Foot of the DellsRafting Over at Foot of the DellsRaftsman’s Series No.1415. Stereograph of men working on rafts, 1886.
Bennett, H. H. (Henry Hamilton), 1843–1908
Courtesy H.H. Bennett Studio/Wisconsin Historical Society
Rafting Over at Foot of the Dells
Rafting Over at Foot of the Dells (3-D)Rafting Over at Foot of the Dells (3-D)Raftsman’s Series No.1415. Stereograph of men working on rafts, 1886.
Bennett, H. H. (Henry Hamilton), 1843–1908
Courtesy H.H. Bennett Studio/Wisconsin Historical Society

Build your own 3-D glasses (PDF, 315 KB) or visit Southwest Crossroads in 3-D to receive a free pair.
Rafting Over at Foot of the Dells (3-D)

Bennett discovered that his photographs of the local Native Americans also earned him money with tourists. Unlike other landscape/Native American photographers, Bennett only ever produced a few dozen photographs of the Ho-Chunk people. Yet by producing his photos in stereoscopic format, he was able to sell them to eager tourists yearning to catch a glimpse of the “vanishing” Indian. In addition to Native Americans, Bennett also took stereoscopic photographs of the lumberman as they made their way down the Wisconsin River on lumber rafts to sawmills located downstream. Of Bennett’s photography, his photos of the raftsmen are considered the most valuable today.

Want to know more about H. H. Bennett’s photography?

Traditional stereoscopic photography, like the kind used by H. H. Bennett, uses two 2-D images to create a 3-D effect for the viewer. Bennett would take two photographs, spaced about an eye’s distance apart, of the same object and these two photos would be placed side by side on a stereoscopic card. Tourists would look through the glasses of the viewer attached to the card and the images would appear to be 3-D.

Modern stereoscopic photography uses the same concept of taking two photographs of the same object spaced slightly apart. But with modern technology, these images can now be placed into computer programs that merge these images together to create a 3-D effect. To see an example of modern stereoscopic photography, please go to the “Arts & Crafts” section of the American Southwest portion of this exhibit and click on the photos of the Tesuque rain gods.