Simon L. Stein was born on August 12, 1854 in Marienbad, Germany (at the time part of Bohemia, which is now Czechoslovakia). He lost both parents at an early age, and by the age of 12, he immigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago. As a teenager, he apprenticed for photographer A. J. Lawson, and by the time he relocated to Milwaukee, Mr. Stein was already an accomplished portrait photographer. He began as a retoucher for Hugo von Broich, and in 1879 purchased the Broich & Cramer Studio at the corner of North Third and West State Streets. From the beginning, he established himself as an uncompromising classical portraitist whose works were characterized by their elegant simplicity and evocative uses of lighting.
With his studio an immediate critical and financial success, Mr. Stein turned his attentions to his personal life and married Bertha Gutterman, with whom he would have four children - daughter Martha and sons Julian, Clarence, and Sidney. By the end of the nineteenth century, Mr. Stein was poised to open a lavish studio at the corner of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Streets, the likes of which most Americans had never seen. The 1897 issue of Wilson's Photographic Magazine proclaimed, “It may be fairly said that the new studio recently opened in Milwaukee by our good friend Mr. S. L. Stein surpasses in completeness and beauty any establishment of its kind in this country. We doubt, indeed, whether its equal can be named among the many famous studios of Europe.” Its imposing five-story structure included a massive and fully outfitted photographic studio, which included photographs, portraits, drawings, sculpture, frames, glass and dry plates, negatives, and card mounts. The massive inventory also included non-photographic items such as furniture, electrical appliances, telephones, and office equipment.
Although Mr. Stein proved himself to be an astute businessman and respected civic leader, his first love remained photography. In 1900, he served as President of the Photographic Association of America, which held its annual convention in Milwaukee. His exhibited portraits received 20 prestigious medals including the Paris Exposition Universelle, the World's Columbian International Exposition, the Pan-Pacific International Exposition, and the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. His professional reputation as one of America's foremost portrait photographers was equalled only by such contemporaries as Julius Strauss, Frank Scott Clark, and Pirie MacDonald. Mr. Stein also experimented with various color-plate processes, and successfully printed photographs directly onto metal plates.
In 1913, Mr. Stein wanted to celebrate the legacy of his adopted state by proposing to donate 500 portraits of its most prominent residents to the Wisconsin Historical Society. By 1920, he had completed 322 portraits when he suffered a debilitating stroke. His son Julian, by now a prominent photographer in his own right, returned to Milwaukee to oversee his father's studio operations. Although he seemed to be recovering, 67-year-old S. L. Stein succumbed to a massive stroke on March 4, 1922. It seemed appropriate to all who knew him that the portrait master died at his studio, doing what he loved most. Julian Stein continued operating his father's portrait studio until his death in 1937.
1922 Abel's Photographic Weekly, Vol. XXIX (Lorain, OH: Abel Publishing Company), p. 256.
1922 Bulletin of Photography, Vol. XXX (Philadelphia: Frank V. Chambers), p. 315.
1922 Photo-Era Magazine, Vol. XLVIII (Wolfeboro, NH: A. H. Beardsley), p. 287.
1905 The Professional and Amateur Photographer, Vol. X (Buffalo: Professional Photographer Publishing Company), p. 430.
1897 Wilson's Photographic Magazine, Vol. XXXIV (New York: Edward L. Wilson), pp. 161-166.
1999 Wisconsin Historical Society (URL: https://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/feature/stein).
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