Wendell P. Dabney      

Guide to African American Resources
at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives




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Richard L. Hunster
  Born in Madison, Indiana in July 1862, Richard L. Hunster was the son of Alexander A. and Catherine Campbell Hunster. Richardís parents were free blacks whose families had left the South in the 1830s and settled in Cincinnati. Like other members of the Hunster family, Alexander was a barber. He married Catherine in 1846, and they moved to Madison around 1858.  
Near the close of the Civil War, the Hunsters relocated to Portsmouth, Ohio, and the family expanded to six children. While little is known of Richard Hunsterís childhood, it does appear his family lived comfortably in Portsmouth. Alexander Hunster continued working as a barber, and he practiced his trade aboard the steamboats that plied the Ohio River. Richard probably visited his father at the Portsmouth wharf, and in all likelihood it was here where he developed his lifelong passion for the river.
The steamboat Bostona
Taken from Ludlow, Kentucky, the steamboat Bostona is headed down river for dismantling in 1899
Photo by Richard L. Hunster, W.J. Devine Collection (Photo SC#97)
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

Following the death of his father in 1877, the familyís financial situation changed, and within a few years Richard left home to support himself. By 1882 he was in Cincinnati working as a porter, and in the late 1880s, he found employment as an artist. By 1896 he gained suitable training to become a professional photographer. Operating with limited financial resources, he could never afford his own studio, and his rented apartment served the dual purpose of workplace and living space.
While portraiture was most likely his primary source of income, it is not portraits for which Richard Hunster is best known. Steamboat pictures were his favorite pastime, and Hunsterís photographs of the Ohio River and the steamboats that traveled in and out of the port of Cincinnati are those for which he is best remembered. Hunster sold these photographs to collectors and rivermen who loved the steamboats as much as he did.
While there were a number of photographers along the river who were in the ďsteamboat picture business,Ē Richard Hunster was probably the only black photographer who was engaged in this profession, and his views of Cincinnati steamboats were considered quite excellent. The bulk of his images were of packet boats that carried passengers and freight for steamboat lines like the Louisville and Cincinnati Packet Company, the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati Packet Line, and the Greene Line. He also photographed excursion boats like the Island Queen, which carried passengers between the Cincinnati Public Landing and Coney Island. On occasion, he also took views of the towboats that pushed barges through the Cincinnati harbor.
The first Island Queen
The first Island Queen pulls away from the foot of Vine Street on her way to Coney Island around 1896
Photo by Richard L. Hunster, W.J. Devine Collection (Photo SC#97)
Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center

The Cincinnati city directories last list Hunster as a photographer in 1924, and a couple years later he was known to be working as a porter at the Palace Hotel. Richard Hunster died of a cerebral hemorrhage on January 23, 1928, and he is buried in Union Baptist Cemetery.

To learn more about Richard L. Hunster, consult the following resources:

African American National Biography
General q920.0092 A258
See Vol. 4, pages 375-376 for information about Richard L. Hunster.
View catalog record   Request slip
Richard L. Hunster and His Photographs of Cincinnati Steamboats
By MíLissa Kesterman, in Queen City Heritage, Vol. 57, No. 2/3, Summer/Fall 1999, pages 37‑49.
General f906 H673B
This article discusses Hunsterís steamboat photographs and contains illustrations of
his work.
View article (PDF)
Steamboat Pictures
By Captain Frederick Way, Jr., in The Waterways Journal, Vol. 49, No. 27, October 5, 1935, page 6.
General ff656 W333
This article discusses the collecting of steamboat photographs and contains Captain Wayís personal recollection of Hunster when he visited him in 1917.
View catalog record   Request slip

Sources Used for Biographical Sketch:
  • The African American National Biography, General q920.0092 A258, Vol. 4, pp. 375-376, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.
  • Kesterman, MíLissa. "Richard L. Hunster and His Photographs of Cincinnati Steamboats," Queen City Heritage, Vol. 57, No. 2/3, Summer/Fall 1999, pages 27-49, General f906 H673B, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Cincinnati Museum Center.


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This online guide opened on February 10, 2004.