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Allen, J. C. (John Calvin), 1881-1976



  • Existence: September 11, 1881 - July 21, 1976

Biographical Information

John Calvin (J. C.) Allen was born September 11, 1881. His mother died when he was a year and a half in age, and when he was six his father passed away. Before J. C.’s father died, he made arrangements for J. C. to live at the Indiana Soldier’s and Sailor’s Children’s Home. The Children’s Home operated a farm which gave J. C. his earliest agricultural training. He graduated from the Home in 1897 and took on a myriad of jobs. He was employed in railroads, coal mining, farming, and as a telegraph operator.

In 1904 he married Mary Abby Peavy. The Allens later had a son, Chester, and a daughter, Martha. Following their wedding, J. C. and Mary attended the World’s Fair in St. Louis and purchased a portable Kodak camera for the trip. This is how J. C. Allen was bitten by the photography bug. Later that year he purchased a wooden box camera that used 5 x 7 inches glass plates and found the clarity of the photographs to be superior to his other camera.

The married couple settled in on a farm along the Illinois-Indiana state line. Over time Allen developed proficiency in agronomy and livestock—the skills that led him to a position at Purdue in 1909. Allen stated that he was hired by the Purdue College of Agriculture to work in livestock judging, animal nutrition, poultry and agronomy. According to John O. Allen, J. C.’s grandson, he found using photographs in judging livestock useful because you could easily compare animals and look for examples of conformation.

J. C. Allen’s hiring by Purdue coincided with the brisk expansion of the College of Agriculture. He was able to document the early activities of Agricultural Extension around the state. Purdue placed several of his photographs in Agricultural Experiment Station publications. His work expanded beyond the College of Agriculture to chronicling the activities of the entire University, including taking photographs of Amelia Earhart when she was a lecturer at Purdue in the 1930s.

Allen also took photographs for his own personal business, J. C. Allen, later renamed J. C. Allen & Son. His photographs began appearing in publications such as Prairie Farmer, Breeder’s Gazette, and Farm Journal, as well as books. Allen would not only travel the Midwest and take photographs, but also the entire country taking photographs of farm life. However, he always returned to West Lafayette.

In 1929, after Chester graduated with a B. S. in Horticultural Science from Purdue, he went to work in his father’s office. Chester’s son John joined the family business in 1967 after receiving his B. S. in Agricultural Economics from Purdue and a stint in the Navy.

J. C. Allen retired in 1952, but still continued to take photographs for almost twenty-five more years. He passed away in 1976 at the age of 94.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:

J. C. Allen and Son, Inc. photographs and negatives, addition 07

 Unprocessed — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 20120530.1

J. C. Allen and Son, Inc. photographs and negatives, addition 09

 Unprocessed — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 20121121

J. C. Allen and Son, Inc. photographs and negatives, addition 13

 Unprocessed — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 20191211