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Robert J. Sommers 1928 Alaska Tour Album and Related Materials


Held at: Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Manuscripts Division. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections


Robert J. Sommers was born in Minnesota in 1881 to James and Mary Sommers. He studied to become a civil engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, and moved to the Alaska Territory in 1900, where he held several engineering and surveying positions in the territorial government before forming his own construction company in Juneau in 1931 in collaboration with George A. Parks. Sommers married Esther Nixon and had one son, Robert J. Sommers, Jr. He moved to Santa Barbara, California, in 1958, where he later died in 1972.

Consists of a photograph album, loose photographs, and clippings belonging to Robert J. Sommers (1881-1972), primarily documenting his work as a highway engineer in Alaska in the late 1920s, as well as some materials related to his personal life and career as a civil engineer and businessman involved in construction.

The photograph album contains over ninety images depicting a tour of Alaska made in 1928 by George A. Parks, the territorial governor; Major Malcolm Elliott, the Roads Commissioner; and Sommers, who was then the head Highway Engineer. The group traveled around the territory to inspect the existing Alaska highway system and plan for additional roads, and also to afford territorial officials a better understanding of northern Alaska. The photographer and compiler of the album was likely Sommers, as the majority of images of the traveling party depict only Parks and Elliott. The party traveled over 2,000 miles, mostly by air, on a circular route from Fairbanks to Nome and back, and then south via automobile to Cordova before returning to Juneau. Inside the front cover and on the first leaf of the album are reproductions of an itinerary with intermediate destinations, miles traveled, mode of transport, and dates of the various segments of the journey, which took place from May 22 to June 28. The album documents not only the conditions of highways and transportation infrastructure in northern Alaska, but also captures the residents and living conditions at the stops on their tour. The first series of photographs chronicles the ongoing construction of the Steese Highway (here labelled as the Yukon Highway), but also contains images of a married couple of placer miners in front of their cabin, gold dredgers near Fairbanks and Nome, their airplane and tour group at various airfields, and small outposts they visited. The middle portion of the album collects images from towns along the northern and most isolated portion of their circular route, including Kotzebue, Nulato, Tanana, Bettles, and Fort Yukon. The final section records the group's trip along the Richardson Highway south from Fairbanks, the work still being undertaken on the route, the workers employed on the project, the equipment in use, and some of the scenery and architecture along the highway.

There are also some loose photographs, including family snapshots, photographs related to Sommers's construction business, portraits of Sommers, Governor Parks, and other Alaska Territory officials, and photographs of Sitka and the Taku Glacier (taken by E. Andrews). Other items included in the collection are newspaper clippings and obituaries documenting Sommers's life and career, a certificate noting his membership in the Roosevelt Memorial Association, and a leather pouch monogrammed with his initials.

Purchased from McBride Rare Books in 2021 (AM 2022-074).

This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in December 2021. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in December 2021, incorporating some description from the dealer.

No materials were removed from the collection during 2021 processing.

Manuscripts Division
Finding Aid Author
Kelly Bolding
Finding Aid Date
Processing of this collection was sponsored by the Delafield fund.
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. No further photoduplication of copies of material in the collection can be made when Princeton University Library does not own the original. Inquiries regarding publishing material from the collection should be directed to Special Collections Public Services staff through the Ask Us! form. The library has no information on the status of literary rights in the collection and researchers are responsible for determining any questions of copyright.

Collection Inventory

1928 Alaska Tour Photograph Album, 1928. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Loose Photographs, circa 1920s-1940s. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Clippings and Certificate, 1921-1972. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

Leather Pouch, undated. 1 folder.
Physical Description

1 folder

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