Born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 7, 1865, to George Bain and Clara Mather Bain, the family soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where George grew up. While attending St. Louis University and studying chemistry, he learned the basics of photography, including developing prints on a windowsill with direct sunlight. He graduated with a law degree in 1883 and joined St. Louis’ Globe-Democrat staff as a reporter and moved over to the Post-Dispatch a year later. The Post-Dispatch sent him to Washington, D.C. as its bureau correspondent.
Bain later went to work for the United Press and, in 1898 founded the first news photography service in the United States – Bain News Service. A visionary who saw the potential of coupling photographs with words in newspapers and magazines, his news photo service focused on both people and events, from politics to sports, from disasters to celebrations. The Bain News Service accumulated photographs of worldwide coverage, which were distributed to various newspapers and was enhanced by receiving local pictures from its subscribers as part of their reimbursement.
By 1905 he had reputedly amassed one million photographs. The building that he operated in was swept by fire in 1908, destroying all the photos he had accumulated, but he started over, and, by pooling photographs produced by a variety of sources, he created another centralized repository of images.
Bain died in Manhattan, New York, on April 20, 1944. Today, the vast majority of his photographic collection survives at the Library of Congress, including some 40,000 glass plate negatives and 50,000 photographic prints. The bulk of the collection dates from the 1910s to the mid-1920s, but scattered images can be found as early as the 1890s and as late as the 1930s. The range of subjects includes celebrities, parades, sports events, immigration, political events, aviation, World War I, and the Mexican Revolution.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated December 2020.