Fred Hultstrand was one of the pioneers in professional photography, who collected and photographed most aspects of early life in North Dakota, spanning a period of more than 50 years. He was born on a farm in Fairdale, North Dakota, in September of 1888, the son of Anders and Johanna, Swedish immigrants who came to America around 1880 and acquired land in Osnabrock Township, Cavalier County in 1883.
Anders and Johanna had six children, Annie, Mandus, Fred, Bernard, Andy and Alfred M. The children all attended the Soper County School and the Highland Lutheran Church. It was in this environment, living in a sod house on the lonely prairie, that young Fred would become acquainted with photography, almost by accident, when he witnessed a neighbor developing film in 1905.
Fred was fascinated by what he saw and during the same year (1905) he processed his own photographs in the basement of his parent's home. At that point he was hooked, and in 1909 he paid John McCarthy, a photographer in Milton, North Dakota, $25 for the privilege of serving as his apprentice. In 1910, Hultstrand studied photography for over a year at the Illinois College of Photography, in Effingham, and later at the Chicago Art Institute.
Hultstrand worked at studios in Portland, Oregon, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, before taking over the studio in Milton, North Dakota, previously owned by his former mentor John McCarthy. In 1916 he opened a studio in Park River that he maintained until the time of his death in 1968.
On November 14, 1917, Fred Hultstrand married Evangeline Baker of Osnabrock, North Dakota. They had two children, Victor and Donna Jean. Tragically, Victor was killed in an air crash over Florida in 1957. Donna Jean married Nolan Verwest and they made their home on a farm in Finley, North Dakota, where they still reside today.
Throughout his life, Fred Hultstrand exhibited the good sense to take note of the ways in which life went on about him and record his impressions by means of a camera. As early as 1911 he sensed a bit of historical worth when he rushed out to photograph a jaunty, unharmed fellow named McGooey and his freshly crashed aeroplane. As late as 1964, when he was in his 70s, he felt compelled to roam as far as Grassy Butte, out in the western part of the state, in order to photograph a sod post office still in operation.
Fred Hultstrand's photographs capture the rich history of life in North Dakota during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not only were the photographic images vividly portrayed, but many of them were also meticulously hand colored by two of Hultstrand's lifelong assistants, Thelma and Sylvia Wick. Whether in color or black and white, his photographs depict North Dakota in its early splendor, complete with over 60 varieties of sod buildings, larger houses, as well as such gala affairs as Fourth of July celebrations, church socials and school picnics, early farming techniques and other aspects of pioneer life.
Hultstrand's pictures capture North Dakota in ways words never could. They are truly a legacy, depicting not only North Dakota's heritage, but America's heritage as well.
for Regional Studies