William Rulofson

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William Herman Rulofson
William H Rulofson (cropped).jpg
Born (1826-08-27)August 27, 1826[1]
Hampton, New Brunswick, Canada
Died November 2, 1878(1878-11-02) (aged 52)
San Francisco, California
Nationality Canadian-American
Known for Photography
Spouse(s) Amelia

William Herman Rulofson (September 27, 1826 – November 2, 1878) was a Canadian-American photographer, who along with his partner, H. W. Bradley, was considered one of the leading photographers in the city of San Francisco, California. He was also the brother of Edward H. Rulloff, a notorious murderer who was hanged for his crime in 1871.

Early life

Born the youngest of six children in Hampton, New Brunswick, Canada, Rulofson left his family and came to California during the Gold Rush. After a year of mining around Sonora, he journeyed back across the U.S. to Missouri to meet his wife Amelia and son, who had traveled from Saint John, New Brunswick. The reunited family then returned to Sonora.


In Sonora, Rulofson established the first permanent photograph gallery in the state[2] and plied his trade with a traveling daguerreotype wagon with partner John B. Cameron, taking portraits of miners. At one time, the city of Sonora was destroyed by fire, but the mobile studio was saved thanks to a team of oxen.[3]

In 1861, Rulofson moved to San Francisco and joined Bradley's studio. The pair were responsible for numerous portraits of leading Californians and also were noted for publishing the works of Eadweard Muybridge. He even testified on Muybridge's behalf when the latter was on trial for the murder of his wife's lover (he was acquitted, the act having been ruled as justifiable homicide).[4]

Rulofson's photographic talent was renowned. In 1873, he won gold prize at a competition in Vienna, and he was also elected president of the National Photographic Association in 1874. He was also a founding member as well as the official photographer of the Bohemian Club.[4] On one occasion, when taking official photographs of the fortress Alcatraz Island for the Department of War, he was arrested as a Confederate spy but was released.[2][5]

Rulofson also gained some notoriety for his role in the publication of the satirical The Dance of Death. Written by his son-in-law Thomas A. Harcourt and Ambrose Bierce and released under the pseudonym "William Herman", the book describes the "intolerable nastiness" of the waltz. A man engaged in the dance is described: "his eyes, gleaming with a fierce intolerable lust, gloat satyr-like over [his partner]."[6] Bierce later said, "Rulofson ... suggested the scheme and supplied the sinews of sin." Rulofson himself said of the book, "I have shown society what a loathsome ulcer festers in its midst."[4]

Personal life

Over the years, Rulofson and his wife had five children. After Amelia's death in 1867, Rulofson married Mary Jane Morgan, who had been working as a secretary in the photography studio. They also had five children together. Morgan apparently had an eye for the art and was influential in many of his works, although she was never credited as photographer. After Rulofson's death, Morgan would take control of his share of the studio, remaining in charge until 1889.[7]

Rulofson was rumored to have a vicious temper. He became estranged from his second son, who went to sea after Amelia's death "to escape the severity of his father's punishment". Upon his return at age 19, father and son agreed that the boy would be adopted by the ship's captain. His family was not immune to violence, either. In 1875, the youngest daughter of his first marriage died, apparently killed by her half-brother Charles.[4]

William Rulofson died on November 2, 1878, after falling from the roof of the Bradley & Rulofson studio in San Francisco. According to a report by The New York Times, he was heard to have exclaimed, "I am killed" during the descent.[8]


  1. ^ William Rulofson at Find a Grave
  2. ^ a b "Alfred C. Rulofson". Pacific Coast and Exposition Biographies. San Francisco, California: Chronicle Publishing. 1914. p. 319.
  3. ^ "COLUMBIA PHOTOGRAPHERS". Columbia Booksellers & Stationers. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  4. ^ a b c d Bailey, Richard W. (2003). "Prologue: Guilty Secrets". Rogue Scholar: The Sinister Life and Celebrated Death of Edward H. Rulloff (PDF). University of Michigan Press. pp. 4–7.
  5. ^ "Rulofson-Morgan Connection". Family Grove. May 7, 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  6. ^ Herman, William (1877). The Dance of Death. H. Keller & Co. p. 24.
  7. ^ Brown, Mary. "Women's Photography After the Gold Rush". Shaping San Francisco. Archived from the original on July 12, 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-15.
  8. ^ "WILLIAM H. RULOFSON'S FATAL FALL" (PDF). The New York Times. November 11, 1878.

External links

  • Herman, William (1877). The Dance of Death. H. Keller & Co.
  • William Rulofson at Find a Grave
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