On February 16, Edward S. Curtis is born near Whitewater, Wisconsin. His father is Johnson Asahel Curtis, a preacher and mother is Ellen Sheriff Curtis.
Siblings: Rafael Curtis (1862-1912); Eva Curtis (1870-?); Asahel Curtis (1875-1941).
The Curtis family moves to Cordova, Minnesota. Curtis' father begins preaching for United Brethren Church, which sends him out into the countryside to preach. Edward accompanies his father on these trips where they share a love of outdoor life.
Using a lens his father brought back from the Civil War, Edward builds his first camera at age 12 with the help of the Wilson's Photographics manual.
At the age of seventeen Edward spent time as an apprentice photographer in St. Paul, Minnesota.
His father's worsening health mandated that the family move to a more temperate climate, and they chose the booming Pacific Northwest. After Edward and his father settle in Washington territory, his mother, brother and sister join them. Three days after their arrival, Johnson dies of pneumonia. Rafael remains in Minnesota, eventually moving to Portland but quite separately from the rest of the family.
Edward injures his back while working in a lumberyard and is nursed back to health by Clara Philips, a neighbor who later becomes his wife. Soon after recovering Edward buys a view camera.
Curtis buys a $150 share in a photography studio with Rasmus Rothi and opens "Rothi and Curtis, Photographers".
Edward leaves the Rothi partnership and forms a new studio with Thomas Guptill. Curtis and Guptill soon becomes the premiere photographic portrait studio in Seattle. Both develop a reputation for portraits and landscapes.
Curtis marries Clara Phillips. They have four children. Harold Curtis (1899 - 1988); Elizabeth M. Curtis (1896-1973); Florence Curtis (1899-1987) who married Henry Graybill; and Katherine Curtis a.k.a. Billy (1909-?).
Curtis meets and photographs Princess Angeline (a.k.a. Kickisomlo), the daughter of Chief Sealth (Seattle), for whom Seattle was named.
Curtis, along with Thomas Guptill, his studio partner, wins bronze medal at National Photographers Convention in Chautauqua, New York (Argus magazine declares them the leading photographers in Puget Sound).
Curtis becomes the sole-owner of the photographic studio, now named "Edward S. Curtis, Photographer and Photoengraver".
Curtis starts leading climbing expeditions on Mount Rainier, sponsored by Portland's Mazamas club.
While on an expedition on Mount Rainier, Curtis rescues a group of hikers, including noted anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, Chief of US Biological Survey Clinton Hart Merriam and Chief of US Forestry Department Gifford Pinchot.
Curtis wins the grand prize and a gold medal in genre class at National Photographic Convention in Chautauqua, New York for his image "Homeward".
Based on his acquaintance with C. Hart Merriam, Curtis is appointed official photographer for the Harriman Alaska Expedition. From this experience, Curtis produced a souvenir album for the participants.
Curtis accompanies George Bird Grinnell to the Piegan Reservation in northwest Montana to photograph the Sun Dance ceremony of the Blackfoot Indians. He then travels to Arizona to photograph the Snake Dance of the Hopi Indians.
This is the beginning of what would become his life's work; photographing and publishing The North American Indian, a project that entailed documenting the culture of all the remaining Native American tribes west of the Mississippi river.
Curtis sells his engraving business and takes over the studio of Frank La Roche, another famous photographer of Alaska and the American Indians.
Orotone (or goldtone) photographs begin to be produced by the Curtis Studio. These are glass plate positive photographs with a remarkably luminous quality obtained by printing a reversed image on glass and then backing it with a mixture of powered gold pigment and banana oil. They are then housed in very ornately molded and gilded frames. The process is perfected by the Curtis Studio and given the name “Curt-Tone”. Curtis produces Curt-Tones of some of his most popular Indian images and they soon become a great source of income for the studio. Within a few years several thousand of them are sold.
After seeing Curtis' winning photograph of Marie Octavia Fischer in "The Prettiest Children in American" contest, published in Ladies' Home Journal, Walter Russell, a noted portrait painter, invites Curtis to photograph Theodore Roosevelt's sons. These photographs were to serve as models for the portraits Russell would later paint. It is during this meeting that Roosevelt encourages Curtis to continue with The North American Indian project.
June - Women's Century Club in Seattle sponsors the First Annual Exhibition & Sale of the Industrial & Allied Arts of Washington and Curtis is honored with a solo exhibition at the venue.
December - Curtis has an exhibition at Christensen’s Hall in Seattle.
Curtis has the opportunity to photograph Geronimo during a visit to the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where he makes his historic image of the aged leader. Geronimo is in Washington, D.C. on the occasion of Roosevelt's Inaugural parade.
April - Curtis holds fund-raising exhibitions in cities along the East Coast.
Curtis has his first photographic exhibit in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Louisa Satterlee, daughter-in-law of financier J. P. Morgan, purchases some Curtis photographs at the exhibit in New York City.
Curtis also exhibits at the Washington Club and the Cosmos Club. During this time, President Roosevelt sees Curtis' Indian photographs and later helps Curtis meet with J. P. Morgan.
Dr. Charles Goddard Weld purchased 108 prints from the exhibit at St. Botolph Club in Boston and later donates the prints to the Peabody Essex Museum in May of 1906.
June 20 - Curtis participates in a memorial service and reburial of Chief Joseph on the Colville Reservation in northeastern Washington State.
January - Curtis secures funds from J. P. Morgan, with support from President Theodore Roosevelt, for the fieldwork to produce a twenty volume illustrated text of American Indians, The North American Indian, to be completed in five years.
April - Curtis hires William Myers, a Seattle newspaper reporter and stenographer, to act as his field assistant. He is soon amazed at Myers' astonishing skills at phonetics, which becomes invaluable in translating Indian language and song.
August - after making persistent inquiries for six years, Shipaulovi Snake Priest Sikyaletstiwa initiates Curtis into the Hopi Snake Dance religious society. He becomes the first and perhaps the only white man to date to experience all aspects of this sixteen-day initiation and ceremony.
Also in 1906, Curtis begins writing a series of articles for Scribner's magazine.
Curtis photographs Alice Roosevelt's wedding to Nicholas Longworth.
First volume of The North American Indian is published, with a foreword by Theodore Roosevelt.
Curtis breaks his hip and suffers life-long limp while filming a Kwakiutl whale hunt on the Northwest Coast. Curtis is slapped by the whale's tail as he directs canoe paddlers to move closer for a better shot of the whale. The canoe and camera sink as Kwakiutl whalers rescue Curtis.
The Curtis Picture Musicale, a means of raising much needed funds, is performed extensively throughout the east coast, including Carnegie Hall, in New York City, and the Brooklyn Institute.
After 5 years, only 8 of the planned twenty volumes are completed.
Article in Photographic Times "Writing History with the Camera".
To raise money for the Project, Curtis spends $75,000 making a full-length film about Kwakiutl culture. Titled, "In The Land of the Headhunters", the film is released in 1914 and is a commercial failure.
"In the Land of the Headhunters" premiers at Casino Theatre, NY.
With 10 volumes of The North American Indian published, U.S. enters World War I. Interest in the project wanes, delaying publication of additional volumes for eight years.
Curtis signs a yearlong contract with Frank Leslie's Magazine "Beauty Spots of America."
Curtis' wife Clara files for divorce. In the settlement, she receives the studio and all the negatives. Before turning the studio over to Clara, Curtis' daughter Beth and two assistants copy some of the glass plate negatives and then apparently destroy all of the originals, in an attempt to prevent Clara from profiting from the Indian pictures.
Curtis and his daughter Beth move to Los Angeles and open a new Curtis Studio in the Biltmore Hotel.
Curtis finances fieldwork for finishing The North American Indian by doing studio work and working in Hollywood as a still photographer and movie camera operator. Curtis assists Cecil B. Demille with the Ten Commandments.
Volume 12 published.
Curtis helped to found the Indian Welfare League along with Marah Ellis Ryan, Dr. John Adams Comstock, and Ida May Adams. The League worked primarily as a charitable organization for Indians: finding work, providing legal services, and raising funds. They eventually became political and took credit for successfully passing the Indian Citizenship Act of April 1924, which extended US citizenship to all Indians.
Curtis lectures in Santa Fe, New Mexico at a new anthropological museum. In his lecture he summarized current issues affecting the North American Indian. He began his lecture with the image “The Vanishing Race” and outlined the activities of the Indian Welfare League.
Curtis travels to Alaska to document the native Eskimo tribes, a that trip culminates three decades of fieldwork.
The last volume of The North American Indian is published.
Curtis is apparently hospitalized in a Denver clinic for exhaustion and depression.
With the country in the depths of the Great Depression, there is little interest in the work and it sinks into obscurity. By this time Curtis has lost all financial interest in The North American Indian and the corresponding copyrights.
The Morgan family sells all materials remaining from The North American Indian project, including photogravure plates and complete and partially finished volumes to the Charles Lauriat Company, a rare book dealer in Boston. Curtis turns his attention to gold mining and farming.
Curtis works on Cecil B. DeMille's film, "The Plainsman", shooting stills and motion picture film.
During the 1940's, Curtis works on a book about sea otters and another about gold mining.
Curtis dies in Los Angeles at the age of 84 of a heart attack at the home of his daughter, Beth. Edward Curtis is buried at Forest Lawn cemetery in Hollywood Hills, California.
In its seventy-six-word obituary, The New York Times, while stating that Curtis was famous worldwide as an ethnographer of North American Indians, it noted only in passing that he also had been a photographer.
Original copper photogravure plates for The North American Indian project are discovered at Lauriat Bookstore and sold to a group of investors.
Bill Holm and George Quimby, both of the Thomas Burke Memorial Museum at the University of Washington, find and restore the only surviving print of Curtis' 1914 motion picture "In the Land of the Head-Hunters". A new score of original music is added and performed by members of the Kwakiutl tribe. It is renamed "In the Land of the War Canoes: A Drama of Kwakiutl Life". In 1999 the original film was deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.
Florence Graybill Curtis, one of Curtis' daughters, publishes a distinguished history of her father, which is still in print.
Numerous Curtis books, articles and exhibitions, nationally and internationally, are produced. Curtis' work is exhibited in over 80 countries and books are published internationally in at least five languages. Edward S. Curtis becomes one of the most well-known and widely exhibited and collected photographers in the history of the medium.