About the Collection
The Photo Copy Service collection consists primarily of Madison photographs taken by two commercial photographers, Angus McVicar (1903-1964) and George Stein (1913-2004). The two photographers worked together in Madison, taking photographs of street scenes; the built environment; civic, educational, governmental and fraternal organizations; the University of Wisconsin campus; and businesses, store fronts and window and merchandise displays.
As the primary photographer for Photo Copy Service, Angus McVicar made his commercial photographs to satisfy his customers' needs. However, the images have far broader appeal that goes beyond and transcends the purpose for which they were originally created. The subjects covered in the collection are varied, covering the decades of the 1920s through the 1960s. The great diversity of subject matter is due to the range of clients he served, including newspapers, small businesses, insurance companies, auto dealerships, sororities and fraternities, and private individuals.
Because the business was located in Madison, Wisconsin, the images tend to concentrate on the downtown area, but also include many views of the University of Wisconsin campus and activities. He photographed primarily the exteriors of businesses, usually for advertising purposes; but this work includes interiors and people engaged in their work as well. His early work for The Capital Times newspaper broadened his scope of subjects to include celebrities, car accidents, fires, and other newsworthy events.
Angus Boyd McVicar was born 17 June 1903 in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, and moved to Madison in 1917 with his parents, Dea and Anna. He attended Carroll College in Waukesha for two years, then returned to Madison in 1925 to marry his childhood sweetheart, Genevieve Milward. The following year, at the age of 23, he started the McVicar Photo Service in the basement of the family's floral shop at 723 University Avenue. Incidentally, he was the first photographer in Madison to use a flash for supplemental lighting.
In 1942, McVicar sold his photography business to George Stein, who had worked for McVicar since he was a teenager and who renamed the business Photo Copy Service. McVicar then concentrated on running his family's more lucrative floral business. During World War II he was a volunteer Civilian Defense plane spotter. After the war, the floral business was so competitive that Angus closed the University Floral Shop and went back into photography, working for Stein's Photo Copy Service until 1958 and for the University of Wisconsin from 1957 to 1964. McVicar's hobby was photographing flowers, and he was a member of several nature conservation organizations, as well as a long-time Mason. He died 8 May 1964 in Madison; he and his wife are buried in Forest Hill Cemetery.
In 1963, Stein moved the Photo Copy Service business to his home in Verona when his West Mifflin Street building was bought by the city of Madison. He continued to take photographs into the 1980s.
Until the 1950s, when the transition was made to 4x5 inch format, all of the images were made using an 8x10 camera. The resultant large format negatives provide exceptional detail and tonal rendition to the subjects McVicar and Stein chose to photograph.
In 1999, Historic Madison, Inc. purchased the Photo Copy Service collection from a private collector, then donated it to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Of the approximately 10,000 images in the collection - both negatives and prints - about 2,000 are available online. The entire collection may be accessed in the Archives Research Room.