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A guide to the Alexander Ryan photographs, circa 1895-1926
P77-003 (SAFR 23353)  
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Collection Details
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  • Access
  • Publication and Use Rights
  • Processing Note
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Historical or Biographical Note
  • Collection Scope and Content
  • Collection Arrangement

  • Title: Alexander Ryan photographs
    Date: circa 1895-1926
    Date (bulk): 1900-1920
    Identifier/Call Number: P77-003 (SAFR 23353)
    Creator: Ryan, Alexander
    Physical Description: 680 items. Some items available online.
    Repository: San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, Historic Documents Department
    Building E, Fort Mason
    San Francisco, CA 94123
    Abstract: The Alexander Ryan photographs, circa 1895-1926, bulk 1900-1920, (SAFR 23353, P77-003) are comprised mainly of photographs depicting views aboard American-Hawaiian Steamship Company and Matson Navigation Company merchant steamships, taken during Ryan's career as a marine engineer. The collection has been processed to the item level and is open for use.
    Physical Location: San Francisco Maritime NHP, Historic Documents Department
    Language(s): In English.


    This collection is open for use unless otherwise noted.
    Nitrate negatives are restricted from use. Copies can be provided for access.
    Glass plate negatives may require special handling by the reference staff.

    Publication and Use Rights

    Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the researcher's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

    Processing Note

    Each photographic image has been assigned an item number; there are often multiple physical forms of each image (e.g. a negative and a print) which has been noted in the physical description field. All photographs are housed by type for preservation purposes, in item number order.
    An inventory located in the collection file provides a brief description of the contents of the collection evidently as it was received by the museum in 1977. Original boxes 1-13 contained glass plate negatives and folders 14-29 contained nitrate negatives. The original order was not maintained and was lost. At some point the negatives were given item numbers, possibly in order of their densitometry reading when preservation contact negatives and interpositives were made from the nitrate negatives. When processed in 2012, the archivist kept the assigned item numbers, but intellectually arranged the negatives into series in an attempt to reunite negatives with similar content. The processing archivist was unable to find physical items for item numbers 017, 018, 154, and 155. It is presumed that these were nitrate negatives which were among those discarded in 1980 and 1988 due to condition issues. They could not be located in nitrate storage (or in the nitrate storage discard box) as of March 2013. There were two instances of duplicate numbers. Two different images had been assigned item number 001, and two different images had been assigned item number 160 by previous SAFR staff. In order to eliminate gaps in numbering, items that had been assigned duplicate numbers or that were lacking an item number were assigned one of the unused numbers. The previous item number or lack of item number has been noted in the summary note field in the item level record. A note on the 1977 accession form states that a description of Ryan is contained in a tape recording by a Matson captain. The name Cox is crossed out and Beggs is written in. It is uncertain which oral history recording the note is referring to. Description Notes: Dates refer to when the original photograph was taken. Many of the photographic prints and negatives in this collection are copies that were made much later than when the original photograph was taken.
    The original box or folder location from the circa 1977 inventory was indicated on most but not all of the item's envelopes. The envelopes contained minimal descriptive information and nearly all lacked specific dates. In the original inventory (see collection file), Box 2 contained photos of "friends at Alex McKay's on board" [sic] and Folder 15 contained photos of "Al Lewis and party." These two people likely appear in some of the photographs, but specific items could not be identified.
    The descriptions in this collection guide were compiled using the best available sources of information. Such sources include the creator's annotations or descriptions, collection accession files, primary and secondary source material and subject matter experts. While every effort was made to provide accurate information, in the event that you find any errors in this guide please contact the reference staff in order for us to evaulate and make corrections to this guide.
    Please cite the title and collection number in any correspondence with our staff.

    Preferred Citation

    [Item description], [Location within collection organization identified by Collection Number/Series Number/File Unit Number/Item Number], P77-003 (SAFR 23353), Alexander Ryan photographs, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

    Acquisition Information

    Purchased by the National Maritime Museum from an unknown source on or near February 2, 1977 (see SFMM Accession Ledger 453/13).

    Historical or Biographical Note

    Alexander Ryan (1871-1964) served as chief engineer aboard merchant vessels operated by various shipping companies, including American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, Oceanic Steamship Company, and Matson Navigation Company, between 1902-1930.
    Alexander Ryan was born October 24, 1871, in Danbury, Connecticut, to John Ryan and Mary A. (Very) Ryan. He received a public education before beginning his career at sea when he obtained his first marine engineer license in New York in 1893. In January 1902, Ryan became licensed as chief engineer for ocean steamers of unlisted tonnage.
    Ryan served in the United States Navy during the Spanish American War as senior chief machinist aboard YANKEE (built 1915; auxiliary cruiser; U.S. Navy). During WWI, he served as chief engineer aboard MAUI (built 1917; transport; U.S. Navy). He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander in 1918, and was released from active service in 1919. Due to his efforts in successfully repairing MAUI's engines while en route, Ryan was recommended for a Distinguished Service Medal. He was granted a silver star on February 11, 1921 and received letters of commendation from President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.
    Ryan worked for various shipping companies, including the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company, Oceanic Steamship Company, and Matson Navigation Company. CALIFORNIAN (built 1900; cargo vessel), BUCKMAN (built 1901; merchant vessel), ADMIRAL SAMPSON (built 1898; merchant vessel), VENTURA (built 1900; passenger vessel), and MANOA (built 1913; merchant vessel) are among the vessels on which Ryan served as chief engineer. In addition, Ryan served as supervising engineer for the construction of the Matson merchant vessels MANULANI (built 1921; merchant vessel), MANUKAI (built 1921; merchant vessel), and MAUI in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1926, Ryan became chief engineer of Oceanic's passenger ship SIERRA (built 1900; passenger vessel). When SIERRA was sold to Matson, Ryan maintained his position aboard the steamship until his retirement in 1930.
    Ryan married Alice Gertrude Lasswell (1871-1940) on April 13, 1904. They resided in Redwood City, California and San Francisco, California. Ryan was a member of several organizations including the American Society of Naval Engineers of Washington, D.C.; Richter McKinnon Camp No. 2, United Spanish War Veterans; American Legion Post 105 of Redwood City; Danbury, Connecticut Lodge No. 120, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Redwood City Lodge No. 168, Free & Accepted Masons; San Jose Consistory, Scottish Rite, Islam Temple of the Shrine; and Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
    Alexander Ryan died in San Francisco on July 12, 1964 and is buried in the San Francisco National Cemetery in San Francisco, California.


    • California State Library; Sacramento, California; California, World War I Soldier Service Records; Roll: 21. Accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.ancestry.com.
    • San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985. Microfilm publication, 1129 rolls. Researchity. San Francisco, California. Accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.ancestry.com.
    • Scanlon, Jerry, ed. "Who's Who Afloat and Ashore," Pacific Marine Review XXVII, no. 3 (March 1930): 13.
    • United States Department of Veterans Affairs. "National Gravesite Locator." Accessed December 10, 2012. http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov.
    • United States Census Bureau. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Year: 1910; Census Place: Township 3, San Mateo, California; Roll: T624_104; Page: 19A; Enumeration District: 0058; FHL microfilm: 1374117. Accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.ancestry.com.
    Additional resources: Maui (Motor Patrol Boat, SP-1514). Being the "Log" of the U.S.S. Maui in the World War with Photographic Illustrations. [New York?]: Brooklyn Eagle Press, [1919?]. Accessible via The Internet Archive at http://www.archive.org/details/beinglogofussmau00mauirich. Ancestry.com contains several passenger and crew lists which record Alexander Ryan as chief engineer aboard MANOA, MAUI, VENTURA, and SIERRA.

    Collection Scope and Content

    The Alexander Ryan photographs, circa 1895-1926, bulk 1900-1920, (SAFR 23353, P77-003) are comprised mainly of photographs depicting views aboard American-Hawaiian Steamship Company and Matson Navigation Company merchant steamships, taken during Ryan's career as a marine engineer. The collection has been processed to the item level and is open for use.
    The collection contains photographs likely taken by Alexander Ryan which depict his travels aboard various merchant steamships, circa 1895-1926. There are 307 unique photographic images in 680 physical forms consisting of 61 prints, 146 glass plate negatives, 157 nitrate negatives, 157 preservation contact negatives and 158 preservation contact interpositives, as well as 1 document.
    Approximately one-third of the collection comprises views of CALIFORNIAN (built 1900; cargo vessel), LURLINE (built 1908; merchant vessel), and MANOA (built 1913; merchant vessel) between 1900-1925. The photographs show vessels in drydock as well as scenes taken on and below deck. Photographs also show crew members and passengers aboard vessels, of which approximately 75 show women. Some photos show women dressed in borrowed crew uniforms and wearing fake moustaches and goatees. The collection also contains views of other miscellaneous sailing, steam, and naval vessels, and views of coastlines and waterfronts as seen from the water. Additional photos depict people and scenery ashore. Although a majority of the photograph's locations are unknown, a small group has been identified as San Francisco, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C. scenes.

    Collection Arrangement

    The collection's original order is unknown and the photographs are physically arranged and accessed by the item number assigned by previous SAFR staff.
    To provide greater context and reunite similar images, the collection has been intellectually arranged and described in the following series, subseries and file units by vessel type and place. Within these subdivisions, each image is described at the item level and identified by the item number assigned. Because items were numbered without considering the image's content, item numbers within the series descriptions are not in consecutive order. For example, Series 1.1, File Unit 3 contains items 186-190, 200, 225, and 268 yet they all show deck views of CALIFORNIAN in heavy weather. However, the photographs are arranged physically, and located in the containers, by item number.
    Series 1 is arranged into subseries for three significant steamships--CALIFORNIAN, LURLINE, and MANOA and other miscellaneous steamers. Subseries 1.1 - 1.3 are further arranged into file units reflecting different types of views of the three vessels, including drydock views, machinery below deck, and people aboard. Subseries 1.4 is arranged into file units alphabetically by vessel name, followed by unidentified vessels, and copies of forms and licenses.
    Series 2 includes views of additional vessel types, subdivided into sailing, naval, and miscellaneous vessels. Series 3 includes views of scenery and people ashore, subdivided by location.

    Series Arrangement

    • 1. Steam merchant vessels
    • 1.1 Californian (built 1900; cargo vessel)
    • 1.2 Lurline (built 1908; merchant vessel)
    • 1.3 Manoa (built 1913; merchant vessel)
    • 1.4 Other merchant vessels
    • 2. Sailing, naval, and other vessels
    • 2.1 Sailing vessels
    • 2.2 Naval vessels
    • 2.3 Other vessels
    • 3. Coastlines, cities, and people ashore
    • 3.1 Coastlines
    • 3.2 San Francisco Bay area scenes
    • 3.3 Hawaii scenes
    • 3.4 Washington, D.C. scenes
    • 3.5 Unidentified waterfronts and views ashore

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Marine engineers
    Passenger ships
    Cargo ships
    Merchant ships
    Coastwise shipping
    Ocean travel
    Crew portraits
    an, Alexander
    erican-Hawaiian Steamship Company
    Matson Navigation Company
    Californian (built 1900; cargo vessel)
    Lurline (built 1908; merchant vessel)
    Manoa (Ship)
    Black-and-white negatives
    Black-and-white prints
    Cellulous nitrate film
    Glass negatives