M. Thomas, Photographer of Thomas Edison’s Favorite Photo

Posted by: Eileen A. Souza

Last year I participated in the course “Family Photographs: Identifying, Preserving, and Sharing Your Visual Heritage” with instructor Maureen Taylor. The course is part of the great offerings of the Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research (VIGR).

One of the topics discussed was the photographer’s mark or logo on the photo. I searched my entire photo collection and only found two photos that included photographer information. One was American Art Studio, H. E. Weikel, Mt. Carmel, Pa. and the other was M. Thomas, Shamokin, Pa. For the moving story of H. E. Weikel, please see may earlier post The Tragic Life of Henry E. Weikel, Mt. Carmel Photographer.

According to both Find A Grave and a 2004 Shamokin News-Item article by Mark Gilger, Myron Thomas was born 7 August 1851, the son of Amos Thomas and Hannah Williams. The family lived in Shamokin, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania. He appears with his family in the 1860 US census incorrectly enumerated as Mira a 9-year-old female.

Myron Thomas was self-taught and worked at mastering the new method of making a photographic image by chemistry. He established his first studio in 1876 on the south side of Sunbury Street between Shamokin and Franklin streets. After two years on Sunbury Street, Myron Thomas moved his studio to its final location on Independence Street founding the Thomas Studio (1878 – 1998). Myron Thomas married Emma A. Dyer (1859 – 1954) 10 October 1878 and the couple celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1928.

M. Thomas established a chain of studios in Pennsylvania, including Mount Carmel, Ashland and Tamaqua. The Shamokin studio remained the principal center for processing photos. They specialized in aerial, commercial, publicity, copies, and framing. Newspaper articles indicate that Myron’s daughter, Lillian, followed in her father’s footsteps and also became a well-known photographer.

He retired in 1929, selling the business to two of his sons, Ralph and Paul Thomas, who continued to operate the studio at the same location. Myron Thomas died 17 January 1940, at the age of 89.

Thomas Edison - Thomas Studio

Thomas Edison – Thomas Studio

A letter dated 7 April 1898, from Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, phonograph and many other contrivances, asked M. Thomas for a copy of the portrait that he described as one of the best ever taken and his favorite. Edison had a portrait taken at the studio in 1876 – 1877, by Myron Thomas, founder of the business. At the time, Edison, was living in Shamokin near Thomas’ studio.

While he was in the Shamokin area, Edison was responsible for providing electricity to St. Edward Church on North Shamokin Street, which was the first church building in America to have electrical lighting.

The photo below, taken by M. Thomas, has been dated to the 1880s. My great-grandfather Andrew Gunther (1858 – 1931) arrived in America in 1881. He married Eva Meisberger (1861 – 1941) on 11 February 1884 in Shamokin at St. Edwards Church. Eva was the daughter of my 2nd great-grandfather, Theobald Meisberger. Their family was one of the founding families of St. Edward’s church.

According to Maureen Taylor, the dress Eva is wearing is a work day dress, but these are poor coal mining families so this may be her best dress. My speculation is that this may be an 1884 wedding photo of the couple.

Andrew Gunther and Eva Meisberger photo by M. Thomas, Shamokin, Pa., ca. 1884. Original photo in possession of the author.

Andrew Gunther and Eva Meisberger photo by M. Thomas, Shamokin, Pa., ca. 1884. Original photo in possession of the author.



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8 Responses to M. Thomas, Photographer of Thomas Edison’s Favorite Photo

  1. Andy Smith says:

    Regarding Lillian Thomas, she is the DAUGHTER (not the sister) of Byron Thomas. Myron had four brothers and no sisters. Thought you might want to make a correction on that.

  2. Barbara Fleming says:

    Myron Thomas was my great grandfather. He and his wife, Emma Alice Dyer had seven children, six of whom lived to adulthood. They were Laura (my grandmother), Ralph, Claire, Lillian, Paul and Elsie Lucile. Another son, Leon Myron was born and died in 1886.

    • It was fascinating research Mr. Thomas. Thank you for the additional information on his family.

    • Barbara Ewart says:

      Ms. Fleming – I came across this article and believe we may be related. Myron Thomas was my great-great grandfather. His son Ralph had a son named Richard Thomas who had a daughter Donna Thomas – My Mother. I have inherited many, many photos from Thomas Studios as my mother was a child model for both Paul and Lillian’s works. I also had the pleasure to meet “Uncle Paul and “Aunt” Lillian as a small child.

      • Barbara Goldberg Esmond says:

        Did Donna Thomas graduate from Shamokin High School in 1958, if so I am a classmate and we are having a reunion on September 29, it would be great if Donna could attend.

    • Barbara Ewart says:

      Yes, she did. I have her High School Diploma from Shamokin Area Joint High School = May 1958. Unfortunately, Donna passed away in 2006.

  3. Barbara Fleming says:

    Ms. Ewart, we are indeed related. We also spent a lot of time with Aunt Lillian and Uncle Paul and I may also have met your mother Donna as a small child. There were always many family members visiting or staying at our house in Philadelphia. At that time I lived there with my grandparents, my parents and my sister. Aunt Lillian painted china, colored the photographs for the studio and also painted miniature portraits, one of which is supposed to be in the Philadelphia Art Museum. Uncle Paul did aerial photography in both WW1and WW2. I have been working on the family tree on Ancestry. Com and have been in touch with a descendant of Clinton Cleaver Thomas who lives in Canada. Clinton was another brother of “Papa Thomas” (Myron Thomas)

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