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A Guide to the Joseph Robert Neller Photographs

Finding aid created by Dept. Staff

University of Florida Smathers Libraries - Special and Area Studies Collections
August 2008

Descriptive Summary

Creator: Neller, J. R. (Joseph Robert), 1891-
Title: Joseph Robert Neller Photographs
Dates: 1916-1919
Abstract: Photographs, loose and bound in scrapbooks, processed by the U.S. First Army's 5th Photographic Section during World War I. There is also a unit history and a small amount of memorabilia.
Extent: 0.8 Linear feet. 3 boxes.
Identification: Ms Coll. 89
Language(s): English

Biographical/Historical Note

Joseph Robert Neller was born on November 13, 1891 in Ashby, Minnesota. He received his Bachelor of Science from Macalester College, Minnesota in 1913, his Master of Science from the University of Minnesota in 1915, and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1921. His specialization in graduate school was in the area of soil biology.

After receiving his bachelors degree Neller taught in public schools in Minnesota until 1917 when he enlisted in the army and became a member of the 5th Photographic Section of the First Army. The purpose of the unit was to process film exposed by air observers and to plot the photographs against reconnaissance maps. The unit was also responsible for camera maintenance. Neller served in the section's map department. He entered the service on November 27, 1917 and embarked for France on June 12, 1918 with the rank of corporal.

The section was initially attached to the 99th Aero Squadron at Luxueil. There the section continued its training and processed film of the surrounding countryside. Eventually, the section was assigned to the 104th Aero Squadron in the Fifth Observation Group, Fifth Corps, First Army. Its photo laboratory was set up at an air base at Souilly 20 kilometers south of Verdun. The unit took part in the campaigns at St. Mihiel in September and was later moved to Foucaucourt in the Argonne sector. After the armistice, the section was sent to the Rhine River in Trampot, France. Dated photographs indicate the unit was in the Rhine area as late as May, 1919.

After his return to civilian life Neller continued his education and his professional pursuits. He was a research chemist for the Texas Company from 1920-1921. In 1922 he was an assistant chemist at the Agricultural Experiment Station at State College in Washington and in 1927 was promoted to associate chemist. In 1930 he was appointed associate biochemist at the Everglades Experiment Station, and in 1937 he became the biochemist in charge of the specialized area of the study of muck and peat soils. In 1944 he was transferred to the main station in Gainesville where his title was that of Soil Chemist. He retired in 1962.

Neller's wartime service is the sole focus of the materials in this collection. Many of the photographs were processed by Neller's unit and are clearly marked as such. The provenance of others is unclear; some are obvious commercial photos. Some are dated prior to the section's arrival in France.

In addition to aerial mapping, the collection contains oblique shots taken from the air as well as many ground images. The ground photos depict units in the field, the devastation wrought by the war, the members and equipment of the 5th Photographic Section and the 104th Aero Squadron, and abandoned German equipment and trenches. French civilian and rural life is documented as well and there are many photos taken after the armistice. Of note are images of a football game attended by General Pershing and the King and Queen of Belgium. There are also a few photos of Texas, including aerial shots in the Houston area, taken while the section trained at a base in Ellington.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of loose and bound photographs. The latter consists of two photo albums. The album pages include short descriptive identifications, which have been transcribed and are available in a separate PDF document. Also included in the collection are a typed five-page unit history of unknown authorship and a brief handwritten account of the section's operations by Neller. Several copies of reconnaissance maps appear in the collection as well as one original. The last is dated November 10, 1918. Neller's service papers as well as memorabilia obtained by Neller complete the collection.

Access or Use Restrictions


The collection is open for research.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Joseph Robert Neller Photographs, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida.

Selected Subjects and Access Terms

Argonne, Battle of the, France, 1918.
Photographic interpretation.
Photographic reconnaissance systems.
Saint Mihiel, Battle of, Saint Mihiel, France, 1918.
United States Army American Expeditionary Forces.
United States Army. Army, 1st.
World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- France -- Aerial operations.

For further information, please contact: Special Collections Access Services.

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