Arnold Arboretum
Colorado College

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Great Smoky Mountain Regional Project

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Images of the Great Smoky Mountains

James (Jim) and Robin Thompson were the most prominent photographers in Knoxville from the 1920s through the 1940s. Jim became particularly well-known for his images of the Great Smoky Mountains. A dedicated hiker and founding member of the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, he traversed the many peaks of the Smokies, often in the company of fellow photographer Albert "Dutch" Roth. Jim Thompson's photographs apppeared in many contemporary publications extolling the beauty of the Smokies, including reports to the federal government urging the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Thompsons began their career together in the 1920s working in the family business founded by their father in 1902 known as Thompson Brothers Commercial Photographers. The strong link with the Smokies was in place early on with Jim Thompson advertising his company as "Still boosting the Smoky Mountains and Making Good Pictures." They split the business in 1927, becoming two individual companies. During the split, Jim continued photographing the Smokies. Around 1935, they reformed as Thompsons, Inc. Commercial Photographers. The company continues today as Thompson Photo Products.

Although it is impossible to know at this late date which photographs in the collection were taken by which brother, Jim, ever the passionate hiker, took most of the Smokies photographs. According to the Thompson family, Robin took the six aerial photographs. The aerials have been identified as such in their accompanying records. A search of the word aerial will pull up those images.

Working in collaboration with the McClung Historical Collection, the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library, and Tutt Library, Digital Library Initiatives is excited to offer a glimpse of the Great Smoky Mountains as seen through the lenses of the Thompson Brothers. The total scope of the Thompson Brothers' photographic work is immense; the Albums and Single Image collections represent a fraction of the entire catalog. The digital images in the Single Images collection are taken from the Thompson Photograph Collection at the McClung Historical Collection of the Knox County Public Library and the Albert G. (Dutch) Roth Photo Album, 1925-1937 (MS2584) of the University of Tennessee Special Collections Library. The digital images in the Albums are taken from the Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library Archives of Harvard University and Tutt Special Collections of Colorado College, respectively.