W. M. Cline Company - a photographic legacy.

W. M. Cline Collection

A legacy remembered:
a lifetime of work almost lost.

During the era of pre-interstate travel, photo postcards showcasing beautiful scenery, popular attractions, and local businesses gained popularity. Postcards, especially from the South, likely bear the name Cline.

The W. M. Cline Company stood out as one of the largest and most successful photo finishing businesses in the South; its roots in the specialties of photographic postcards, pictorial lamp shades and color transparencies.

Walter Matson Cline, Sr. (1873-1941) was estimated to have taken over 75,000 pictures as he traveled. Cline was born Ohio and moved to Chattanooga in 1904, where he worked briefly with well-known photographers E. L. Mudge, A. W. Judd and Albin Hajos.

His son, Walter Matson Cline Jr. (1914-1984), started his career as an apprentice. He quickly expanded the family business, establishing the W. M. Cline Company in Chattanooga in 1938. The company published postcards featuring images taken by both his father and himself.

Walter M. Cline Sr.
Walter Cline Sr
Walter M. Cline Jr.
Walter Cline Jr

The W. M. Cline Company

In July of 1953, Cline opened a new plant at 1899 Dayton Blvd., where capacity increased to process and print up to 4,000 rolls of film and print 48,000 postcards each day - depicting scenes and points of interest in 24 states. A newspaper article noted an archive of over 30,000 negatives were utilized. The new plant also provided photo finishing for 250 area drug stores.

Cline owned property on the east side of Dayton Blvd, where water pumped from Stringer’s Branch accommodated all photo processing needs.

1958: a $200,000 state of the art color processing and print plant was added.

1959: Cline began aggressive acquisition spree, targeting related photo businesses.

1964: postcards accounted for only 10% of the company's overall business. The advent of the US Interstate system brought about a permanent transformation in travel patterns, causing the decline of businesses that once thrived along the previous routes. Consequently, the postcard industry, which had served these establishments, also faded away.

1969:Cline had finishing plants in Knoxville, TN; Huntsville, AL; Birmingham, AL; as well as offices and warehouses in Asheville, NC and Gatlinburg, TN.

1979: Cline sold his company to Fox-Stanley Photo of San Antonio, Texas.

The tragedy of indecision

Most film and photos are stored away, never to be seen again.

Shriveled negatives under advanced decomposition.

After his death in 1984, W. M. Cline Jr.’s photo negative collection was held in less than ideal storage conditions while in the possession of his second wife, Jo Ann Cline Yates. Unfortunately, this situation persisted until her recent passing in late 2022.

I visited what remained in early 2023. Four decades had not been kind to the collection. The air was strong with the smell of photo negative ‘self-destruction’ -- Vinegar Syndrome.

Fortunately, viable photos and other items were donated by Cline’s daughters to the Tennessee State Library and Archvies

The week prior to their transfer, it was determined that a large portion of the negatives were too degraded to be taken on by the TSLA. In a relatively short window of time, I was invited to and took on all I could transport in hopes of preserving some viable negatives.

The images made available here are thanks to the efforts and permissions by the daughters of W. M. Cline Jr.; Cathy Cline and Haley Cline Morgan, who wanted their father’s photographic legacy to be accessible.