During the 1910s, Luke Hoffman was an Ottawa University student pursuing a degree in science and a passion for photography. His photographs capture all aspects of university life between about 1913 and 1917. The Franklin County Historical Society’s new exhibit, The Photographs of Luke Hoffman, University Student, features 23 of Hoffman’s photos.
Born in Illinois, Hoffman was the youngest child of German immigrant parents. He moved to Ottawa to attend Ottawa University Academy (a high school program) and Ottawa University. Hoffman was a skilled airbrush artist and graphic designer, and he ultimately served as editor-in-chief for the Ottawan, Ottawa University’s annual yearbook. In 1914, American Photography magazine featured a photo printing machine he invented.
Thanks to companies like Kodak (inventor of the Brownie camera), cameras became affordable and accessible to everyday users in the early 1900s, and Hoffman was a member of OU’s Kodak photography club. Hoffman captured hundreds of lively and often funny images of student life—in the classroom, in residence halls and boarding rooms, at play, and around town. Some of his photos found their way to the pages of OU’s annual yearbook, but many
survive only as lone prints—some less than two inches wide—in three photo albums donated to FCHS in 2010 by Hoffman’s daughter-in-law, Dorothea (Kepler) Hoffman, and granddaughter, Barbara (Hoffman) Stout. The albums had been tucked away in a trunk for decades.
Hoffman enlisted in the U.S. Army as an aviation photographer after graduating in 1917 and married OU student Ethel Chaffee while he was on leave in 1918. He was a professional photographer in Colorado for many years before moving to California. Ethel died in 1964. He later married Clara Moon. Luke Hoffman died in 1983.
The Photographs of Luke Hoffman, University Student, will be on display at the Old Depot Museum, 135 West Tecumseh Street, through August 2024.