Local historian focuses on the past of Berks County through photography

Photo by Emily Thiel George M. Meiser, IX poses with an original Edison phonograph in his backyard office. The phonograph is still in working condition.

From plate photography to the iPhone, Berks’ historian George M. Meiser, IX must adapt to the modernization of the world in order to preserve what is left of the county’s history.

Meiser is currently working on his twenty-second volume of The Passing Scene series, which highlights photographs with a plethora of coinciding information to document the past. Working as an educator for 40 years in the Schuylkill Valley School District, Reading School District and Wyomissing School District, and as principal of the Alsace Consolidated School; Oley Valley, teaching is inherent for this Reading native.

It was during this time teaching English and history that initiated his career as an historian.

“Most people are visual learners,” Meiser said. “If you show an old picture to a young person, it shows absolutely nothing...to their grandma it does, (but) they won’t recognize it unless you give them some sort of reference.”

In The Passing Scene series, Meiser pairs the old, historic photo with an inset of the same setting in present day for this very reason.

“Photography is highly contributory to preserving history,” he told Berks-Mont Newspapers. In the summer of 1972, Meiser took 5,000 pictures. “I went around and photographed all the old villages, views of the most interesting sights in the villages... particularly focusing on things I thought might disappear in time.”

For the retired teacher, it was a good thing he got started with photography at a young age. “I’ve been appalled by how much has disappeared.”

The Exeter Township resident has been taking photographs since he was just 9-years-old and has been witness to not only the changes in the county, but the changes in photography , as well. Meiser is experienced with a variety of cameras from the view master to plate cameras to, now, his iPhone.

“I never thought I’d see the day I’d use an iPhone for a picture for publication,” he said, showing a large print of a train with as much detail as the real thing. Meiser closed his darkroom in 1998 and “decided to do the digital thing ever since.”

The ease of snapping a photo on a mobile phone to immediately print it in his home is appealing to him. Digital photography has allowed the craft to be much more accessible to the average person. With prior ways of production, each negative cost $2.12, Meiser remembers.

“You made sure that when you took a picture you had the best quality [of conditions],” he said.

Whether it is a plate print or an iPhone shot, Meiser wants to provide readers of The Passing Scene with the highest resolution possible of the visual memories.

“Those books have the best quality photographs I can produce.”

Meiser drove 15,000 miles taking pictures throughout Berks County for one volume alone.

On his outings, he likes to document what may no longer be around, with churches being most likely to be kept in their original condition.

“There’s tradition there.”

Living and working in Berks County for his entire life has allowed Meiser to become very familiar with the places and the people.

“I’m always interested in the characters... those are the ones you remember -- which is probably what they think about me,” he said with a laugh “... but I don’t know.”

Meiser, along with his wife Gloria Jean, feel it is important to keep up with the history for the future generations.

“I figure at this point if I don’t do this, I’m not sure that anyone else will,” he said. For more information on George Meiser, IX and The Passing Scene series, visit his website at gmmix.com.

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About the Author

Emily Thiel

Emily Thiel is the editor of The Southern Berks News and is the Community Engagement Editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers. Emily joined Berks-Mont in March 2013. She graduated from Kutztown University in 2011 with a degree in English with a concentration in Cultural and Media Studies. Emily is a native of Allentown, Pa. Reach the author at ethiel@berksmontnews.com or follow Emily on Twitter: @sthrnberksnews.