Photographic archivists from the Naval History and Heritage Command have rediscovered about 150 original glass plate photographs from the Spanish-American War that may not have been seen by the public for more than a century.
The photographs were found Feb. 5 in an archival storage space as the photo archive team was preparing for a renovation project. The photos were likely prepared by Douglas White, a photographer and war correspondent for the San Francisco Examiner, according to a news release.
Lisa Crunk, the head of the command's photo archives, said the collection is significant to the Navy, which played a central role in nearly every aspect of the 1898 conflict between Spain and the United States, from logistics to diplomacy.
"American planners and leaders anticipated that the fight with Spain would be primarily a naval war," Crunk said. "The U.S. Navy's victories at Manila Bay and Santiago de Cuba were pivotal events that turned the course of the war and joint Army-Navy operations at Santiago, Puerto Rico, and Manila sealed the success won by the U.S. Navy's command of the seas."
According to Crunk, the glass plates were individually wrapped in tissue paper and include full captions and dates. They were found in a large wooden box with a leather strap. The entire collection will be housed in new archival storage enclosures and shelving units.
"Once it was realized what they had uncovered, there was tremendous excitement amongst the staff, especially the historians," she said. "The images are an amazing find, though they were never really lost - they were simply waiting to be re-discovered."
The command plans to digitize material from its photo collection for an online exhibition. Its collections include a wide variety of Navy photographs predating the 1920s, in addition to military photography from later years.