The Great War in Stereoviews

Back to:     Home    American Stereoviews    Keystone View Company

Keystone View Company Retitling and Alteration of Images

During the early years of the war, Keystone had to scramble to produce sets of stereoviews describing military operations. Strict controls by the opposing forces on the press and photography forced the company to rely upon creative use of already available images and to acquire new images from officially approved foreign sources. Consequently, many stereoviews in the earliest World War sets were standard scenic images with textual changes to make them appear relevant to the conflict.

2111—Tower of London—After 200 Years Again the Scene of Capital Punishment in the Execution of a German Spy

The low number and the horse-drawn cabs in the foreground suggest this image dates from the 19th Century. The new text includes: "On November 2nd, 1914, a German residing in London, was found guilty by a court martial of espionage and was shot as a spy in the tower of London."

6131—The Reichstags-Gebaude, Berlin, Where Germany Appropriates Her Millions for War

Keystone retitled this older travel view and brought its text up to date: "Here it is that the Great War Lords of the country meet and make their plans for the furtherance of the great campaign." This text relates the image to the war, but is inaccurate; the "War Lords" made strategic decisions at Oberste Heeresleitung (OHL—General Headquarters) and with the Kaiser.

In 1915 and 1916, Keystone assembled a group of 100 war images and assigned them numbers 18000-18099. Over half of them came from British and French sources and about a quarter from the German company NPG. As would be expected in a group of officially approved photos, the images are dull and many are staged well behind the lines. This group was largely composed of new images, but also included some old file photos with updated captions, including some from Keystone's own files.

18000—A Bird of Prey—Zeppelin Flying Over a German Town    (European War)

This is an NPG image of the LZ-3 Zeppelin, which entered service in 1909. NPG did not include this image in their own sets because it was prewar

18029—German Machine Gun Division in Action (European War)

This NPG image was not used in NPG World War sets, probably because it was prewar

18053—Russian Officers as Prisoners

Source photo unknown, but the room appears to have typical Japanese screens, so this probably dates from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05

18054—A Part of England's Cosmopolitan Army

Originally Keystone 12029—Company of Sikh Soldiers at Drill, Tien-Tsin, China ©1900

18058—French Guns, Paris, France

Originally Keystone 11728—Vicker-Maxim Gun Exhibit, Paris Exposition, 1900 ©1900

18062—Death Dealing Devices of Ancient and Modern Times Captured by the Allied Forces

Originally Keystone 12027—Specimens of Ancient and Modern Chinese Shells Captured by the Allied Forces, Tien-Tsin, China ©1900

Keystone also incorporated file images with their original numbers into the World War sets. In the 1916 set, the above Boxer Rebellion images12027 and 12029 were included as 18062 and 18054, respectively, but  Boxer Rebellion 12031 was included with its original number. The reason for this inconsistency is probably because 12032 had been included under that number in the first set rushed to production in 1915. Staple shots of World War sets included several from a 1908 set showing life aboard a US battleship. Some prewar images with their original numbers and modified text are shown below.

11374—English Cavalry Horses Ready for the Front

The text on reverse claims that "scores of thousands of good republican and democratic horses have become devoted British subjects in recent years."

The picture was first titled English Army Horses—Encampment at Alexandra Palace, London, England, and copyrighted by Keystone in1902, when the text stated "these are the horses of the British cavalry regiments from the whole empire gathered in London for the coronation" of King Edward VII.

12031—French Soldiers Enduring the Hardships of Camp Life

Original title: French soldiers in Camp near Round House, Tien-Tsin, China ©1900

14127—U. S. Battleship Kentucky

Text on the reverse, ©1917, says Kentucky is one of the battleships in the Atlantic fleet and is one of the older warships, having been designated for use in training in 1916. The picture predates the new text, since Kentucky is flying a 45-star national flag, which was not flown after Oklahoma's admission as a state in late 1907.

14504—Russian Pacific Fleet

This image shows a battleship (probably Petropavlovsk, sunk by a mine in 1904) and a cruiser in the harbor at Port Arthur before the Japanese attack. It was first copyrighted by B. L. Singley in 1904.

14506—Part of the Czar's Millions

The text on this card says "At the beginning of the war Russia's active army consisted of approximately 1,800,000 men....There are millions of men like these at his command." This was also taken at Port Arthur, © 1904 by Singley.

14249—Bugler Calling Marines and Sailors to Assemble for Instruction—Life on Board a Battleship

This battleship mini-series of 14249-14254 was first copyrighted in 1908. Views 14249, 14250, and 14253 were in all 1918-23 sets; 14254 was in the 1918 and 1919 sets, and 14250 was even in the 1932 set.

Misleading purchasers by retitling old images was relatively benign. After the US entered the war, Keystone responded to the strict rules of the Committee on Public Information by falsifying photos and misdescribing them. There were specific prohibitions against showing military facilities and operations, including munitions factories, the inside of gun turrets, and troop movements. Keystone got around those prohibitions by recycling Spanish-American War, Great White Fleet, and Mexican Punitive Expedition photos with changes as needed.

8044—Breech Mechanism Department (Navy Yard), Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

The original stereoviews bears a ©1898 with the same number and title. The text on the WWI-era card strongly implies "modern artillery" is produced here and discusses the famous French 75 of WWI in some detail.

9367—Gunners on Board U.S. Battleship New York Loading 5-Inch Gun. The text on reverse says "This battleship was built in 1911," and "the gun crew before us are firing one of the 5-inch guns of the New York."

Until 1911, when the keel was laid for New York (BB-34), the name was borne by an armored cruiser that was renamed Saratoga (then Rochester in 1917) to free up the state name for the battleship. The original of this photo was made about 1898 and shows an 8-inch gun that was the main armament of the cruiser New York.

17389—Our Boys Responding to Uncle Sam's Call

This was one of a series of about 25 images showing the US Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916-17. These images were not relevant to the Great War, but they were fairly recent and had the advantage of showing American soldiers.

19092—Off to Fight the Kaiser! Transporting Southern Troops Previous to Their Embarking for the European Battle Front

Originally Keystone 9252—Roosevelt's "Rough Riders" leaving Tampa, Fla., U.S.A., for Santiago ©1898. The ship's name and port, Concho of New York, was blacked out on 19092. Since this ship does not appear fit for a Transatlantic voyage by 1917 standards, an intermediate leg was invented in the caption on 19092. The 45-star flag in the photo also gives away the real period.

19103—Our Allies Welcoming American Boys Across the Water

Originally Keystone 15924—Procession of Marines from United States Fleet Passing the Post Office in Martin's Place, Sydney, Australia (purchased from The Rose Stereograph Co., Australia—follow this link for more information). This shows the Marines on 21 August 1908, when they arrived in Sydney as part of the 1907-09 tour of the Great White Fleet. The text on 19103 is deliberately deceptive, claiming these Marines landed on European soil speedily and that their arrival in any large city "is made a gala occasion." The retitling took advantage of the public's expectation that specific troop movements would not be revealed, so ambiguity would be normal.

Even after censorship ceased, Keystone did not let inconvenient circumstances stand in the way of using good stereoviews. Number 18728 was a Kilburn stereoview taken during the Boxer Rebellion at the turn of the century. Keystone first used it in the 1923 set and continued it in the final 1932 set. It was dated, but was retained because of its extraordinary stereo effect.

18728—Helmeted German Soldiers Lined Up for Review

Original title: Double trouble for the Boxers, East Asiatic German Infantry, Chinese War, China ©1901 by B. W. Kilburn

Copyright © 2007 Great War Photos. All rights reserved