When Edwin Tangen arrived on the Front Range at the turn of the 20th century, he turned his large-format camera lens on Boulder County and never looked away. Upon his death in 1951, the Norwegian-born photographer left behind a trove of more than 16,000 images of the region’s people and places — from commercial stereographs to panoramic views and slices of everyday life.
“Tangen captured a time period in Boulder history. His photographs are invaluable for this reason,” Nicole Docimo, archivist at the Carnegie Library for Local History, told the Boulder Reporting Lab.
A branch of the Boulder Public Library, the local history archive at 1125 Pine St. is a community resource designed to help residents understand and engage with the past in their own backyard through extensive collections of photographs, assessor’s cards, newspaper clippings, genealogy resources and more. It’s also home to the Edwin Tangen collection, featuring more than 1,100 digitized images by the prolific local documentarian.
But as the Carnegie archive demonstrates, Tangen’s legacy in Boulder goes beyond general and commercial photography. He was also a ballistics expert who served as an identification officer for the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office for more than 30 years, reportedly earning praise from controversial FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover for his assistance in solving crimes throughout Colorado. With his keen photographer’s eye, Tangene could construct a narrative of events based on the rifling marks of a fired bullet, which he presented as evidence in court through 8-by-10-inch “microphotograph” prints.
“Largely he was self-educated and self-trained. Experience is what lifted him to a rather eminent position in this country — in the west, especially, in criminal identification work,” Bob Looney, a former Daily Camera reporter who covered the sheriff’s office during Tangen’s tenure, said in a 1978 interview from Carnegie’s Maria Rogers oral history collection.
Tangen established a commercial photography studio at 1407 Pearl St. in Boulder, where he lived above Kahn’s women’s clothing store, at the current site of Avanti Food & Beverage. The bachelor spent the last five decades of his life there, toiling away in his dark room when not working at the sheriff’s office or adventuring with the Rocky Mountain Climbers Club.
Below are five images from the digitized portion of the Edwin Tangen collection at the Carnegie Library for Local History. Check out the full online archive to keep exploring, or contact library staff to find additional images and clippings from the life and work of one of Boulder’s foremost historical photographers.
All images by Edwin Tangen, courtesy Carnegie Library for Local History / Museum of Boulder Collection.
Residents pose among slum dwellings on the south side of Canyon Boulevard between 10th and 11th streets, an area known as “The Jungle,” in 1920. The land was acquired and razed by the City of Boulder a year later to make way for the construction of present-day Central Park.
“Squatters on city property along Boulder creek have either moved to other parts of town or have left Boulder,” a reporter with the Boulder Tribune wrote upon the removal. “Their former homes were torn down and the land has been filled in with dirt from the paving district, giving a former eyesore part of town a very respectable look.”
A crowd gathers for a bicycle race organized by the Boulder Lions Club in front of the Temple Drug Company store on the corner of Pearl and 14th streets, near Edwin Tangen’s home photography studio, in 1921.
Eben G. Fine was the president and general manager of the Temple Drug Company; his stepson, Hal S. Coulson, was vice president. Like Tangen, both men were noted photographers around Boulder in the early 20th century.
Members of the Rocky Mountain Climbers Club pose for a photo during a hike to the lakes below Mount Audubon in 1921. This photo was taken by Tangen on the Brainard Lake Dam, with Mount Toll on the left and Mount Audubon on the right.
“He was known to take a portable darkroom tent and chemistry on pack mules when he traveled into the mountains and other remote locations,” according to historians Thomas W. Adair and Bruce Adams.
Tangen was the “unofficial photographer” for the group, which formed in 1898 as the Colorado Chautauqua Climbers Club. Today the organization’s historic meeting room has been preserved as a rental space at the Colorado Chautauqua at 900 Baseline Rd.
Groundbreaking ceremony for the Boulder Community Hospital on June 9, 1925. Mount Sanitas looms in the background, along with the Crystal Ice Company ice house just behind the assembly. The shovel is held by William Loach, general manager of the Wolf Tongue Mining Company.
The staff of the Boulder News-Herald poses with copies of the newspaper announcing the end of the first World War in front of their building at 1430 Pearl St. on Nov. 11, 1918.
Tangen captured various scenes of life during wartime in Boulder — from U.S. Navy radiomen marches to hiking soldiers, civil initiatives and barracks built on the UC Boulder campus to house to house soldiers during WWI.
Can’t get enough Boulder history? The Carnegie Library for Local History is currently open by appointment, but you can browse digitized archives like the Edwin Tangen collection 24/7. Basic research and scanning services by email can be requested here.