GWW takes its name from George Washington Wilson (7 February 1823 – 9 March 1893), a prominent nineteenth-century photographer who was born and raised in Aberdeen. He trained as a portraitist in Edinburgh and London in the 1840s, before returning to Northeast Scotland in the 1850s to establish George Washington Wilson and Co., a commercial painting and photographic enterprise. Wilson made a name for himself among the middle classes and landed gentry. In 1854, he was invited to take photographs of the Royal family during their visit to the Balmoral Estates. He received the official appointment of Photographer Royal for Scotland in 1860 and his relationship with the Royal family continued throughout his career.
George Washington Wilson and Co. employed a staff of photographers who took photographs all over Britain and around the world, including the colonial townships of South Africa; cities and towns in Australia; and numerous locations in North Africa.
By the early 1880s, George Washington Wilson and Co. had become the largest and best-known photographic and printing firm in Scotland. Wilson handed the business over to his sons in 1888. The company only survived for a short time thereafter. Much of George Washington Wilson and Co. was sold in 1905. The company finally ceased trading in 1908, when the stock was auctioned off.
The company’s photographic plates passed into the possession of Fred Hardie, and then to the photographer, Archibald J. B. Strachan, who in 1954, offered them to the University of Aberdeen Library. The entire collection of photographic plates is searchable and viewable online through the University’s photographic database. For research queries or to visit the collection, please contact the University’s Special Collections Centre.