Louis Semple Clarke Collection

What's online?

The online collection contains images dating from the mid-to-late 1880s that showcase American automotive inventor and entrepreneur Louis Semple Clarke’s hobby of photographing the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club’s “pleasure lake,” of which Clarke was a member. This lake was created by the South Fork Dam, which notoriously broke on May 31, 1889, leading to the infamous Johnstown Flood.

What's in the entire collection?

The Clarke Collection contains images dating from the mid-1880s to 1889 that highlight some of the members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. The photographs, taken by club member Louis Semple Clarke, are believed to be among the only visual documents of the club and its environs. The photographs were believed lost for over a century until Clarke's granddaughter, Ms. Virginia Anthony Soule, came across them in her attic in 1991. In 1996, Ms. Soule donated the collection to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association.

The collection consists of 65* individual photographs taken by Mr. Louis Semple Clarke, using photographic equipment he built himself. The photographs depict numerous scenes at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club during the late 1880s, in the final years of the club's existence before the 1889 Johnstown Flood. Also included in the collection are a series of negatives, contact sheets, and reproduced photographic prints.

*Currently, there are 64 photographs that have been uploaded to Historic Pittsburgh with one final photograph that remains to be scanned. This photograph will be added at the earliest available opportunity.

About Louis Semple Clarke

Louis Semple Clarke (1866-1957) was an American automotive industry businessman and inventor, responsible for several innovations leading to the modern automobile, such as circulating motor oil, the spark plug, and the left-hand (driver’s side) placement of the steering wheel.

Clarke was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Thomas Shields Clarke, a wealthy steamboat magnate. Clarke grew up in a wealthy family who were members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, and Clarke spent many summers, documenting his experiences through photographs he took. Clarke officially became a member of the club in April 1889. He was reputedly the last member to join before the club disbanded following the events of the May 1889 Johnstown Flood.

In the 1890s, Clarke began his career in the nascent automobile industry. In 1897, Clarke and his brother Charles established the Pittsburgh Automobile Company and manufactured a small number of vehicles for sale. In 1899, the company was renamed the Autocar Company and was moved to Philadelphia to take advantage of a larger market.

In 1901, Clarke's company produced the first ever multi-cylinder, shaft-driven car. Among Clarke's other innovations was the invention of the first automobile spark plug in 1896, the development of the first circulating oil system for automobiles, and the American convention of having the steering wheel on the left-hand side of the car.

Clarke served as the chief engineer and vice-president of the Autocar Company until his retirement in 1929. He moved to Palm Beach, Florida, where he passed away in 1957 at the age of ninety.

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