Contents and Arrangement Expanded View

Collection Overview

Sommers, Robert J., 1881-1972
Robert J. Sommers 1928 Alaska Tour Album and Related Materials
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
1921-1972 (mostly 1928)
1.75 linear feet and 1 box
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box P-000175


Consists of a photograph album, loose photographs, and clippings belonging to Robert J. Sommers (1881-1972), primarily documenting his work as a highway engineer in Alaska in the late 1920s, as well as some materials related to his personal life and career as a civil engineer and businessman involved in construction. Of note is a photograph album documenting a tour of Alaska made in 1928 by Sommers with Governor George A. Parks and Major Malcolm Elliott.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

Consists of a photograph album, loose photographs, and clippings belonging to Robert J. Sommers (1881-1972), primarily documenting his work as a highway engineer in Alaska in the late 1920s, as well as some materials related to his personal life and career as a civil engineer and businessman involved in construction.

The photograph album contains over ninety images depicting a tour of Alaska made in 1928 by George A. Parks, the territorial governor; Major Malcolm Elliott, the Roads Commissioner; and Sommers, who was then the head Highway Engineer. The group traveled around the territory to inspect the existing Alaska highway system and plan for additional roads, and also to afford territorial officials a better understanding of northern Alaska. The photographer and compiler of the album was likely Sommers, as the majority of images of the traveling party depict only Parks and Elliott. The party traveled over 2,000 miles, mostly by air, on a circular route from Fairbanks to Nome and back, and then south via automobile to Cordova before returning to Juneau. Inside the front cover and on the first leaf of the album are reproductions of an itinerary with intermediate destinations, miles traveled, mode of transport, and dates of the various segments of the journey, which took place from May 22 to June 28. The album documents not only the conditions of highways and transportation infrastructure in northern Alaska, but also captures the residents and living conditions at the stops on their tour. The first series of photographs chronicles the ongoing construction of the Steese Highway (here labelled as the Yukon Highway), but also contains images of a married couple of placer miners in front of their cabin, gold dredgers near Fairbanks and Nome, their airplane and tour group at various airfields, and small outposts they visited. The middle portion of the album collects images from towns along the northern and most isolated portion of their circular route, including Kotzebue, Nulato, Tanana, Bettles, and Fort Yukon. The final section records the group's trip along the Richardson Highway south from Fairbanks, the work still being undertaken on the route, the workers employed on the project, the equipment in use, and some of the scenery and architecture along the highway.

There are also some loose photographs, including family snapshots, photographs related to Sommers's construction business, portraits of Sommers, Governor Parks, and other Alaska Territory officials, and photographs of Sitka and the Taku Glacier (taken by E. Andrews). Other items included in the collection are newspaper clippings and obituaries documenting Sommers's life and career, a certificate noting his membership in the Roosevelt Memorial Association, and a leather pouch monogrammed with his initials.

Collection Creator Biography:


Robert J. Sommers was born in Minnesota in 1881 to James and Mary Sommers. He studied to become a civil engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, and moved to the Alaska Territory in 1900, where he held several engineering and surveying positions in the territorial government before forming his own construction company in Juneau in 1931 in collaboration with George A. Parks. Sommers married Esther Nixon and had one son, Robert J. Sommers, Jr. He moved to Santa Barbara, California, in 1958, where he later died in 1972.

Collection History


Purchased from McBride Rare Books in 2021 (AM 2022-074).


No materials were removed from the collection during 2021 processing.


Processing of this collection was sponsored by the Delafield fund.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Kelly Bolding in December 2021. Finding aid written by Kelly Bolding in December 2021, incorporating some description from the dealer.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

Robert J. Sommers 1928 Alaska Tour Album and Related Materials; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Firestone Library
One Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544, USA
(609) 258-3184
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Box P-000175