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La Crosse County Historical Society discovers, collects, preserves, and shares the history of La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Object Record

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Object Name Camera, View
Catalog Number 2015.026.04
Description Aiken-Gleason Cycle Peek-a-Boo No. 1 camera. This is a 45 bellows camera, mahogany and brass interior, with carrying case. Intended to be carried in its case on the upper frame bar of a bicycle, hence Cycle in the name.
Collection LCHS Photography Collection
Date c. 1898
Material Leather/Glass/Metal/Wood
Dimensions H-5.5 W-2 L-6.5 inches
Length (in) 6.5
Height (in) 5.5
Width (in) 2
Dimension Details Dimensions are of camera when closed, not carrying case.
People Aiken, Frank
Gleason, Eugene P.
Search Terms Manufacturing
Featured in Things that Matter
Notes Featured in Things that Matter

"Long before we were taking selfies with our cellphones — and long before the Polaroid Swinger was popularized by a young Ali McGraw strolling on the beach with her instant camera — trend-setters could take photographs while on the go with a Cycle Peek-a-Boo camera.

A mere 5½ inches by 6½ inches when closed, this little bellows camera came with a case designed to be strapped to the upper frame bar of a bicycle, hence “cycle” in the name. Technology geeks of the 1890s could be doubly fulfilled, using the latest in transportation and documenting their excursions with a high-quality portable camera.

The Aiken-Gleason Co. of La Crosse made this camera in about 1898. The company was formed in 1896 and operated in the downtown area until 1901, when it was reorganized as the Imperial Camera and Manufacturing Co. Imperial continued to make and sell high-quality glass-plate cameras until it was absorbed by another company and moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1903, thus ending La Crosse’s brief entrée into camera manufacturing.

The Cycle Peek-a-Boo, along with three other cameras made in La Crosse by Aiken-Gleason and Imperial, are a recent donation to the collection of the La Crosse County Historical Society. Local historian and retired University of Wisconsin-La Crosse special collections director Ed Hill had collected these as part of his research about photography in La Crosse and has chosen to donate them so they can be part of the largest publicly owned collection of local artifacts.

According to Hill, “Imperial succumbed, as did so many other firms, to the competitive pressures and technologies of the several major photographic manufacturing companies of the day. Imperial produced cameras for just over two years. Its production was so influential, however, that its cameras can be found in collections and museums all over the United States."

This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune.
Title: Cycle Peek-a-Boo Camera
Author: Peggy Derrick
Publish Date: December 26, 2015