Ellsworth Kolb was born to Methodist minister Edward and his wife Ella in 1876 in Smithfield, Pennsylvania. Five years' later, on February 15, 1881, Emery Kolb joined the growing family. The senior Kolb became a pharmacist, but his business proved insufficient to support the family adequately. Therefore, the brothers quit school at young ages to go to work, with Ellsworth working as a steel mill laborer and Emery finding employment at Pittsburgh's Westinghouse Electric Company.
In 1900, a work injury forced Ellsworth to look for greater work opportunities in the West. First, he worked briefly as a linesman for the Manitou Telephone Company in Colorado, then worked a snow plow on Pike's Peak, cleared roads in Yosemite and Yellowstone Parks, and then moved onto San Francisco to work as a carpenter's assistant. Ellsworth's love of the Grand Canyon region took him back to the region a year later, working as a porter at the nearby Bright Angel Hotel. Meanwhile, Emery developed a love for photography, and purchased his first small-view camera. After receiving a letter that he could find employment in the area in October 1902, Emery headed West to join his brother, armed with his 5 x 7 camera.
The brothers decided to go into business together in the small Arizona town of Williams, where they erected a makeshift tent studio. In the early lean days, Emery paid the bills by snapping photographs of local saloon girls, but eventually turned his lens toward the expansive landscape of the Grand Canyon. He photographed locations and trail groups before treating to his darkroom to develop his film, which was no easy task. The glass plates had to be coated with an emulsion that was light sensitive and could produce a rapid print. Because the Grand Canyon had no electricity at this time, prints had to be exposed in the sun.
Emery found a life partner in Blanche Bender, whom he married on October 11, 1905. Ellsworth married and divorced twice, but neither union lasted long. Still struggling to make ends meet, the brothers ventured into the remote North Rim of the canyon, where they took photographs of the seldom-seen desert bighorn sheep. The process was long and tedious, but the sales they generated made these frequent two-day treks profitable.
In 1911, the Kolb Brothers journeyed along the Colorado River from Wyoming to Mexico, which was recorded on motion picture film, believed to be the first of its kind in its region. Three years' later, their exploits were featured in a National Geographic Society publication. When the Grand Canyon was named a national park by the U.S. Department of Interior, Emery received an exclusive contract to operate his photography studio there, and renewed his contract every decade.
Ellsworth Kolb left the successful business in 1924 and settled in Los Angeles, California. He was an occasional lecturer, but he never achieved the level of prosperity or notoriety as his younger brother. Sadly, he died in total obscurity in 1960, and was returned for burial at the Grand Canyon's Pioneers Cemetery. Blanche Kolb also died that year, and Emery Kolb followed sixteen years’ later, in December 1976. Mr. and Mrs. Kolb are also interred in the Pioneers Cemetery. As William C. Suran observed in his 1991 biography of the Kolb brothers entitled With the Wings of an Angel, "Emery Kolb was the last of the early Grand Canyon pioneers."
2010 Arizona Stories (URL: http://www.azpbs.org/arizonastories/seasontwo/kolbbrothers.htm).
2008 Braddock, Allegheny County (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing), p. 38.
1986 Stereo World, Vol. XIII (Portland, OR: National Stereoscopic Association), p. 29.
1991 With the Wings of an Angel (URL: http://www.kaibab.org/kaibab.org/kolb/kolb.htm).
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