How the Rise of the Camera Launched a Fight to Protect Gilded Age Americans’ Privacy

Article by Sohini Desai: “In 1904, a widow named Elizabeth Peck had her portrait taken at a studio in a small Iowa town. The photographer sold the negatives to Duffy’s Pure Malt Whiskey, a company that avoided liquor taxes for years by falsely advertising its product as medicinal. Duffy’s ads claimed the fantastical: that it cured everything from influenza to consumption, that it was endorsed by clergymen, that it could help you live until the age of 106. The portrait of Peck ended up in one of these dubious ads, published in newspapers across the country alongside what appeared to be her unqualified praise: “After years of constant use of your Pure Malt Whiskey, both by myself and as given to patients in my capacity as nurse, I have no hesitation in recommending it.”

Duffy’s lies were numerous. Peck (misleadingly identified as “Mrs. A. Schuman”) was not a nurse, and she had not spent years constantly slinging back malt beverages. In fact, she fully abstained from alcohol. Peck never consented to the ad.

The camera’s first great age—which began in 1888 when George Eastman debuted the Kodak—is full of stories like this one. Beyond the wonders of a quickly developing art form and technology lay widespread lack of control over one’s own image, perverse incentives to make a quick buck, and generalized fear at the prospect of humiliation and the invasion of privacy…(More)”.