Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920

On September 13, 1888, Fred Hultstrand. was born in his family's sod house in Osnabrock Township of Cavalier County, Dakota Territory. His parents were Anders and Johanna, who had immigrated from Gilleberg, Sweden, in 1882. Anders, a blacksmith by trade, filed on a homestead in Osnabrock Township in 1885. There were six children in the family: Annie, who was born in Sweden, Mandus, Fred, Bernard, Andrew, and Alfred. The Hultstrands were members of Highland Lutheran Church. The children attended Soper School in Osnabrock Township, and Fred only spoke Swedish when he began school.

A Young HultstrandIn 1905, when Fred was 17 years old, he was introduced to photography when he saw a neighbor developing negatives. Later that year he began processing his own negatives in the cellar of the family home. Soon after his exposure to photography, Hultstrand knew that he wanted to become a photographer. While managing the family farm with his older brother, Fred went to the nearby town of Milton, N.D., where he paid $25 to become photographer John McCarthy's studio apprentice. In 1909 he left for Wallace, Idaho, where he photographed lead and zinc mines for Barnard's Studio. He worked without pay so that the studio would hire him and teach him the trade of photography. Hultstrand returned to North Dakota in the fall of 1910 to earn money by helping a brother with harvest activities. Throughout his years of learning photography he worked at odd jobs including railroader, logger, steam engineer, thresher, farmer, carpenter, and blacksmith to earn enough money to cover day to day expenses. In 1910-11 he studied photography at the Illinois College of Photography at Effingham. While there he experimented with some of the first color film available. He received his degree on August 1, 1911. He was then off to Portland, Oregon to gain more experience in photography. Returning to North Dakota in 1912, Hultstrand bought the Milton, North Dakota, studio where he had once apprenticed. After two years at Milton he went for additional schooling at the Chicago Art Institute. Before settling permanently in North Dakota, he went to Canada to work for a short time at a Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, studio.

On November 14, 1917, when Hultstrand was 29 years old, he married Evangeline (Eva) Baker from Osnabrock, North Dakota. Eva was born on the Baker family farm near Osnabrock on January 21, 1892. Her parents had emigrated to that area from Ontario, Canada, in 1885. Eva earned her teaching certificate at the Valley City (N.D.) Normal School, now Valley City State University, and taught in rural Cavalier County schools prior to her marriage. Mr. and Mrs. Hultstrand had two children, Victor Fred and Donna Jean.

Hultstrand StudioHultstrand purchased the photography studio in Park River, North Dakota, from Peter Ostboe in 1916. He would work at the Hultstrand Studio the rest of his life. In addition to portrait photography, the studio offered framing and film processing services. He also had a great interest in early radios and from the back room of the studio he built and sold radios from 1924 to 1944. Hultstrand was known to spend hours at a time at his re-touching desk, as every portrait had to meet his very high standards before it could bear the Hultstrand Studio insignia and leave the studio. In the 1920s he hired two sisters, Thelma and Sylvia Wick, to work as studio assistants. Thelma also did the hand-painting in oil of Hultstrand's photographs. The sisters remained at the studio until it closed upon Hultstrand's death in 1968. After spending a year going through all the photographs Hultstrand had ever taken and the office records, the studio was sold. It then became a bank and later a beauty shop.

The photographs that Hultstrand made, collected, and displayed showed his desire to preserve North Dakota history. He was very interested in early farm life and small town life in the state. Hultstrand knew that a way of life was disappearing. As he stated, "I've been trying to record what has been, because I knew it would rapidly change." And change it did. He wanted to save and share photographs taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s with generations to come so that the past would not be forgotten. He also liked to contrast early photographs and late photographs in regard to subjects such as farming and trains. Hultstrand believed that seeing history through pictures could be just as important as reading history in books. He began collecting historic photographs very early in his career. In the 1960s he held two public exhibits of his framed collection at the Park River (N.D.) City Hall Auditorium.

In addition to working as a photographer, Hultstrand also served his community. He served as the mayor of Park River from 1938 to 1946, a school board member for thirteen years of which five years he served as president, a member of the Park River Commercial Club and served as its president, and a member of the Park River Fire Department. He was also a 32° Mason, a member of the Shrine at Kem Temple in Grand Forks, N.D., and a Past Grand Noble in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. His early avocations as a young man included playing the guitar, horseshoe, and tennis.

In 1937 Hultstrand served as president of the North Dakota Photographers' Association. In 1962 the United States Treasury Department used one of the photographs in Hultstrand's collection to serve as the basis for the design of a stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Homestead Act. The stamp featured the John Bakken family standing outside their sod house near Milton. At the North Dakota Photography Convention in Fargo in 1965 he was selected as North Dakota's Photographer of the Year and recognized by the Professional Photographers of America for outstanding achievement. Hultstrand's work drew international attention after his death. In 1975 Norway issued a stamp to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of Norwegian emigration to America. Norway's stamp was based on the same photograph as that used for the U.S. stamp.

Fred and EvaFred died at age seventy-nine on June 28, 1968, and Eva died at age seventy-eight on September 22, 1970. Their son, Victor Fred, attended North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo, now North Dakota State University, graduating with a degree in agriculture in 1940. But it was aviation, not agriculture, that inspired him. After graduating from college he served as an aviator in the United States Navy, rising to the rank of commander. He married Doris Sandiford, and they had two children, Victor and Robert. In February 1957 he was killed in a crash near Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, while testing a new helicopter. Fred and Eva's daughter, Donna Jean, graduated from Mayville (N.D.) State Teachers College, now Mayville State University, and taught at Carrington, N.D. She married L. Nolan Verwest and moved to a farm near Finley, North Dakota. They have two children, Loree and Lisa, and live there still today. Donna Jean received, through her father's will, his framed photograph collection, the Fred Hultstrand History in Pictures Collection, which she in turn donated to North Dakota State University.

Return to the main Hultstrand page
Northern Great Plains: Photographs from the Fred Hultstrand and F.A. Pazandak Collections