Finally, I can say the following: The picture was taken in 1912 by a photo company called Underwood and Underwood as part of a political triptych that shows each of this year's presidential candidates cut and glued to the animal that represented their political party. William Howard Taft sits on an elephant on the left; and on the right Woodrow Wilson on a donkey. In the middle, Roosevelt “rides” his loyal moose to mark his Bull Moose Party.
Somewhere along the way, between 1912 and now, the photo of Teddy and the moose escaped the confines of its context and found a new life as an independent picture. Until 2011, it appeared in posts like Crackeds "18 old photos you don't think aren't photoshopping," claiming, "This image is real, this scene existed, and yes, at some point in our history you could have actually voted for this man. ”Posts like this were then exposed by other blog posts, such as Gizmodo's" The famous photo of Teddy Roosevelt riding a moose is wrong. "We go round and round again.
How and when was this photo separated from its original use in the course of this 99 year period, and did anyone in Roosevelt's life or even shortly afterwards actually believe that this image was real? I've spent months trying to figure it out ̵
During my search I contacted librarians, archivists and historians. Almost all of these sources answered with a variation of what William Tilchin, editor of [The Theodore Roosevelt Association Journal said to me: "Sorry, but I don't know the answer to your interesting question." None of the five Teddy Roosevelt biographers I got in touch with had an idea, nor had scientists on subjects such as the particular strain of American rough masculinity, which this photo shows so clearly.
For those of you who are impatient, I'm going to spoil the end of this quest now: I still don't have a clear answer. But I think the trip is illustrative.
First, some well-informed speculations. Based on my research, it can be rightly said that Underwood and Underwood did not attempt to mislead anyone that the then-candidate Roosevelt had actually ridden an elk. The company was highly regarded and "manipulated very little," said Karen Sieber, interim outreach coordinator at Theodore Roosevelt Center. "This is a rare exception." And most readers at that time would have seen the visual connection between Teddy and an elk primarily as an indication of his party, not an allusion to his harsh nature.
I would also not see the original triptych (called "The Race for The White House") in 1912 by so many people. The photo appears to have been published in only three or four newspapers, including the New York Tribune, The Times Dispatch from Richmond, Virginia, The Democrat and Chronicle and the San Francisco Call. That is unusual. "I spend a lot of time in historical newspaper databases, and things have generally been reprinted word for word in newspapers," says Sieber. She was surprised to see that the triptych was not widespread at the time. There is no evidence that Roosevelt-on-a-moose, let alone taffeta-on-an-elephant or Wilson-on-a-donkey, went viral in the 1910s.