This object is a contact printer made by Ansco Company in Binghamton, New York. Before photography became primarily digital, it was designed to create a photographic image from a film negative. Several images from a strip of film would be lined up on a sheet, creating rows of small picture prints, called contact prints. This contact printer was owned by James W. Zintgraff, Sr. Zintgraff, along with his son, James, Jr., owned and ran a well-known photography business in San Antonio from the 1920s through the 1980s.
James Zintgraff Sr. was a cameraman in Hollywood in the early 1920s. After deciding he didn’t like the pace of the west coast, he moved back to San Antonio with the idea of starting a local film industry. In 1927, he worked as a cameraman on a movie called “Wings,” which was filmed in several areas in and around San Antonio, and went on to become the very first movie to ever win best picture at the Academy Awards.
Around that same time, Zintgraff started a still photography business in his backyard. In the early days, the owner of the Coca-Cola plant in San Antonio would enlist Zintgraff to take pictures of the plant and warehouse. Zintgraff would run home, develop the pictures, and deliver them within four hours. He believed the owner was doing him a favor to help him get started.
Though there wasn’t much competition in the early days, James felt that Zintgraff Studios could attribute his success to “having a lot of good friends” from his time in Hollywood. When a movie premiere or famous people came to town, James would get the jobs through his Hollywood connections. Most notably, Zintgraff photographed Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman when they came to San Antonio for presidential duties. When James, Jr. joined his father’s business, he worked closely with Hollywood elites such as Cecil B. DeMille and even worked with John Wayne when he was filming The Alamo in Brackettville, a town about 130 miles west of San Antonio.
Through the years, Zintgraff Studios worked closely with some of the most well-known brands in the city, including Pearl, Lone Star, Rainbo Breads, and Coca- Cola. In addition, they were official photographers for the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, numerous Fiesta events, and captured thousands of photographs of area movie theaters, street scenes, parks, schools, and even the new Convention Center when it opened it the 1960s.
The photographs taken by the Zintgraff Studios span seven decades of history. They tell the story of San Antonio and its people. Today, more than 850,000 of the Zintgraff photographs are stored in the UTSA Special Collections Library, located inside the Institute of Texan Cultures. The moments they captured are locked in time, preserving a bit of the past for future generations. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]