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Published March 31, 2023

In the early 1940s William M. Rittase was hired by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) to produce photographs for use in marketing, advertising, and public relations.

Rittase was an accomplished photographer best known for his work with Fortune magazine in the 1930s. His work is now considered among some of the best and most artistic depictions of American industry. Yet he is little known outside of certain art circles and very little is known about his personal history. He passed away in 1968 in near obscurity with a published obituary of only a few lines.

His legacy is his photographs. He described his photographic philosophy this way:

“The photograph must be of something of close interest to the reader, perhaps possessing human emotions, naturalness, strength of portrayal, and an unusual viewpoint.”

Those photographs are now the subject of a new book, William Rittase, Photographer and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, published by the Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society with the help of a Virginia Humanities grant.

Here, we present a selection of photos from the book taken in Richmond, Newport News, Clifton Forge, Lee Hall, and Covington Virginia. To see more of his work and learn more about Rittase, purchase a copy of the book from the C&O Historical Society.

Vanessa Adkins, right, is apprenticing under her cousin Jessica Canaday Stewart learning the finer points of traditional Chickahominy dancing. Photos taken at the Fall Festival and Pow Wow in Charles City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012.

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