MATHEW J. STEFFENS - REVISED EARLY CHRONOLOGY
by Thomas G. Yanul, copyright Page 11
Because new material has come to light regarding the photographers early years in Chicago, it seems easier to add this page rather than re-write the first Steffens page.
Since there is/was very little information available concerning Steffens' early years, what was published in the Photo Beacon Photography Magazine in 1894, was at the time, the only information of record. This article had him returning to Chicago from Detroit within days of the great Chicago fire of 1871 and setting up business as a photographer on or near 22nd St. Additional found materials indicate this was not exactly the case. There still was a gap in time from 1871 to 1886 or so. The ability to say exactly where Steffens was at this time is compounded by various names and address found in Chicago city directories. The reference to "Joseph Steffens" in early years would seem to indicate M.J. was using his middle name because later, at the same address, the use of M. J. Steffens is used. And I suppose its possible there were two M.J. Steffens photographers in the city at that time, but its unlikely.
The first record of place & time - 1873 - puts "Joseph Steffens" at 94 Archer Av. This changes to 102 Archer av in 1874-77, but back to 92 in 1879, and then to 2135 Archer av in 1880. I would suspect these are all the same location, taking simple errors and city numbering changes into account. The business card shown above came from a kind of rememberance book titled "Autographs" filled with personal messages to a young woman named "Lydia A. Gaus, Chicago, Feb.8th, 1880" In it, Steffens wrote three pages of aphorisms to live by, one page in English, and another that was written
in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and French and German ! They are dated May and June, 1880. What Steffens connection with this woman is unknown. The book was found in Oregon.
In 1882 the appearance of a partnership is recorded, as "Steffens & Schneider".
This appears to last only one to three years, with Peter Schneider being listed alone
at the 2135 Archer av address 1885 to 1893. But a cdv with the rear advertising logo
of "Steffens & Schneider" was hand dated 1881. So the partnership may have been
at least two or more years. Another cdv dated 1878 bears the logo of "Steffens
& Co.", which would indicate he is not operating alone, but probably with Schneider
as an employee rather than a partner.
In 1882 M.J. Steffens appears for the first time at 2246 Cottage Grove Av. He is at this address through the 1884-86 directories. And in 1886 it has already been determined that Steffens buys the former church building at 57, 22nd St., a building he remodels twice in subsequent years. The Cottage Grove address is actually just around the corner from his 22nd street address, about one block distance as the crow flies.
There remains the task of figuring out exactly where the old Archer av address is as regards current geography...much has changed since the 1880's. Also, what the social make-up was around the Archer avenue address at the time. His brief partnership with Peter Schneider is an unkown as regards who Schneider was, or why their partnership came about. Schneider was a German immigrant, his wife Swiss, so
the connection may have begun along those lines first. It would seem reasonable that Steffens was not operating officially - in the city directory - for at least one or two
years following his arrival in Chicago in 1871. That is if he did return and actually
stay in Chicago rather than go back to Detroit for any period of time. He was afterall
a rather young man, being 17 in 1871, the same year he married Rossete Fisher.
Obviously, unless some miraculous diary appears fleshing out the particulars of Mathew Steffens' life, we have what we have. Which is a fairly good outline of where he
was and where he operated. It would of course be nice to have more biographical personal material, but as of now this is what we know.
The next addition of substance regarding Steffens will be his attempts to revive daguereotypy in the late 19th C. Bits and pieces are at hand but much more needs
to be gleaned. It is an interesting story.
Steffens & Schneider-1880
For higher quality image
click on photo
Steffens & Co. 1878
92 Archer Av.
Steffens & Schneider
2135 Archer Av.
MATHEW STEFFENS & ROSETTE FISCHER
PHOTO COURTESY KIRK -FISCHER FAMILY, SWITZERLAND
press on photo for larger image
MOUNTED ON AN EARLY STEFFENS CARD WHICH IS STRONGEST PROOF HE WAS A WORKING PHOTOGRAPHER IN 1871
R-EARLIEST KNOWN PHOTO OF M.J,. STEFFENS, ARCHER AV STUDIO, 1874-77
PHOTO COURTESY KIRK-FISCHER FAMILY, SWITZERLAND ELISABETH KIRK DIRECT DESCENDANT
OF FRIEDRICH FISCHER, ROSETTE'S BROTHER,
M J Steffens
92 Archer Av.
ABOVE-back of 3 CDV's from
Univ. Penn Spec. Coll's.
CABINET CARD, MID-1870'S.
|FRIEDRICH FISCHER WHO BECAME STEFFENS'
TO AMERICA 1870 WITH FOUR SISTERS.
ONE WAS ROSETTE WHO MARRIED M.J. STEFFENS 1871.
WHILE IN CHICAGO, FRIEDRICH PERFORMED WITH THE SWISS MALE CHOIR.
HE RETURNED TO SWITZERLAND 1871 WITH MELTED NAILS FROM THE CHICAGO FIRE AS SOUVENIRS.
PHOTO BY JOSHUA SMITH 546 CANAL ST., CHICAGO OPERATED 1866-1886