From Commerce to History
Robert Runyon's Postcards of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville 1910-1926
ROBERT RUNYON (1881-1968) is currently known to historians for his unique and extensive photographic record of the Mexican Revolution and other conflicts that occurred along the border between the United States and Mexico from 1913 to 1916. While these images are justly regarded as a major resource, it is likely that the average citizens of his region and indeed the nation were more familiar with the postcards he produced and sold to the resident, military, and tourist markets of Brownsville and Matamoros, and adjacent communities in Texas and Mexico.
The more than 500 hundred postcards in the Robert Runyon collection include real photographic postcards (photographs printed on postcard stock instead of photographic paper), hand-tinted postcards, and several souvenir view folders which contain both standard postcards and accordion folded image attachments. Images portray the flora, fauna, architecture, industry, and social life of Brownsville, Texas and the Lower Rio Grande Valley as well as the border conflict and revolution in Mexico during the years 1913-1916.
Robert Runyon's success as a commercial photographer and purveyor of local photographic postcards, as well as the importance of his work in documenting the history of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville, was the result in large part of a fortunate confluence of talent and circumstances. Born in 1881 in Catlettsburg, Kentucky, he left his native state in 1909, after the death of his wife, to begin a new career and life in Texas. Success in his first job as a clerk for the Gulf Coast News and Hotel Company in Houston led to a position as manager of their lunchroom and curio shop in
Photograph of the International Bridge crossing the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas to Matamoros, Mexico. [Robert Runyon Photograph Collection; RUN03751]
Hand-tinted postcard printed from the black and white photo above. [Robert Runyon Photograph Collection; RUN_12683]
the Brownsville Depot. An amateur photographer since 1907, Runyon began to use this skill to make money by selling his own postcards along with others at the shop as early as 1910. After engaging in an extensive correspondence and self instruction
program to learn about the postcard business, Runyon contacted Tom Jones Art Publishing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio, and began ordering postcards from his own negatives.