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Livingston Biddle photograph albums

Identifier: MC-00-098

Content Description

Livingston Biddle, Sr. (1877-1959), a nephew of George W. Childs Drexel (1868-1944), compiled the three albums in this collection, which document international voyages the family took from 1905 to 1914 on George Drexel’s yacht, Alcedo. The albums record at least two separate journeys. The photographs depict landscapes from the deck of the Alcedo, cities, rural areas, and religious sites, and the activities of the travel party. These activities include sightseeing, hunting, and meeting people native to the areas visited and European colonizers. The captions for many of the candid portraits of native people comment on their dress, customs, and culture from a denigrating colonial perspective. The collection reflects the viewpoint of wealthy American tourists traveling through the Middle East, Asia, and Africa at the turn of the twentieth century.

In Volume I, the Alcedo appears to begin a journey in Lisbon, Portugal, passing by Cadiz, Spain, and continuing through the Strait of Gibraltar toward Crete, where the group stops at ancient ruins. Some time is spent in modern-day Syria and Lebanon, with photographs featuring the city of Damascus and the Roman ruins of Baalbek. The group explores Jerusalem and Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Travel continues through the Suez Canal to stops in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and cities in Sudan and Ethiopia. (Captions describe the region as Abyssinia.) After a stop in Aden, Yemen, the Alcedo makes port in Mumbai (captioned Bombay) and the Drexels spend time sightseeing and hunting. Various Indian cities and religious sites are depicted as the group travels inland.

The journey depicted in Volume II, perhaps a continuation of Volume I, begins in Burma and includes stops in Thailand and Singapore. The group tours Garut (Garoet in captions), Indonesia (West Java), and spends time in the Malaysian territory of Borneo (identified by city name and Borneo in captions). A sequence of images captures aspects of the American colonization of the Philippines. Two photographs taken by a different photographer and dated December 1906 depict the body of a man whom American soldiers shot repeatedly after he reportedly rushed the group in Zamboanga. They visit Manila and Taal Lake and its volcano. Sailing north to China, the group first stops in modern-day Guangzhou (Canton in captions) and follows the coast, stopping in other Chinese cities and Taiwan. There are many views of Shanghai and Beijing (Peking in captions), including a series of photographs depicting a beheading. The party appears to stop briefly in Korea before beginning the last leg of their travels in Japan. This volume contains violent images that may be offensive or harmful to researchers.

Volume III begins in the Canary and Azores islands. Photographs depict Iran, Muscat in Oman, and Karachi, Pakistan (India at that time, reflected in captions). There are views of Delhi, Jaipur, and Jodhpur. The largest section of photographs in the album portrays time spent in Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya (British East Africa in captions). According to one caption, in Nairobi a Kikuyu chief, his family, and a group of warriors visited the Drexel party from a nearby village, and the warriors performed a war dance. The American tourists are shown speaking with the chief and his family.

The group follows a section of the route of the Smithsonian Roosevelt African Expedition of 1909, beginning in Mombasa and traveling north to Khartoum in modern-day Sudan by way of Nairobi and Lake Victoria. The Drexel men are depicted posing with large plains animals shot during their own big game hunting trip. After the hunting excursion and time in Nairobi, the group travels to Victoria Falls and other stops in Uganda, Zanzibar, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. The Alcedo appears to leave Mozambique from Maputo Bay and sails along the southern tip of Africa to Cape Town, South Africa. They continue up the west coast, stopping at many coastal colonies including Luanda, Angola (St. Paolo de Loanda in caption); Cotonou, Benin; Accra, Ghana; Monrovia, Liberia; Freetown, Sierra Leone; and Dakar, Senegal. At the end of the trip, the Alcedo stops in Cape Verde, the Canary Islands, and Portugal. On the return voyage to the United States, the group stays at the historic Hamilton hotel in Bermuda.


  • 1905-1914


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research use.

Biographical / Historical

George W. Childs Drexel (1868-1944) was the youngest child of financier and founder of Drexel University, Anthony Joseph Drexel (1826–1893). George Drexel was owner and editor of the Public Ledger for eight years after the death of his namesake, George W. Childs (1829–1894). Passionate about motor cars and yachting, George Drexel ardently pursued these interests, buoyed by family wealth after the sale of the Public Ledger. His steam yacht Alcedo launched for the first time from Wilmington, Delaware shipyards in 1897. George Drexel, his wife Mary Stretch Irick Drexel (1868-1948), and family and friends enjoyed numerous trips on the Alcedo.

These albums document at least two extended trips the family took between 1905 and 1914. In September 1906, The Washington Post reported that the Drexels were embarking on a “lengthened cruise, including a visit to Japan,” which is likely the journey documented in Volumes I and II of this collection. A later tour in 1910-1911 took the family on excursions in India and Pakistan, and followed the 1909 Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition route through East Africa. (The Smithsonian-Roosevelt mission, led by former President Theodore Roosevelt, was largely funded by anonymous private donors and provided the Smithsonian with 11,400 specimens including 1,000 large animal skins and 4,000 small mammals. The trip benefited from Roosevelt’s renown and was viewed by participants and supporters as an effort to collect specimens for the United States that were already in danger of extinction due to rampant over-hunting and poaching. A Philadelphia Inquirer article from 1911 described the Drexels’ travels as following “Roosevelt’s hunting trail” and added that the family’s hunt had produced “trophies of the chase,” and “heads and skins of rare animals.” The trip began in October of 1910 and they returned to Philadelphia in late April 1911.

Livingston Biddle, Sr. (1877-1959), son of Edward Biddle and Emilie Drexel (daughter of Anthony Joseph Drexel), accompanied George and Mary Drexel on these travels and later created the albums in this collection. In 1917, George Childs Drexel gifted the Alecdo to the American war effort and the yacht became the first U.S. armed vessel sunk by a German torpedo.

Sources consulted:

"Excursion to Foreign Lands Very Popular." Philadelphia Inquirer (1860-1934), 9 April 1911, p. 31.

"Launch of Drexel's Yacht: A Steel Seagoing Steam Vessel of Good Size and Speed." New York Times (1857-1922), 11 April 1897.

Lunde, Darrin. “Teddy Roosevelt’s Epic (But Strangely Altruistic) Hunt for a White Rhino.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution. 12 April 2016.

"Mr. and Mrs. Drexel to Visit Japan." The Washington Post, 19 September 1906.

Rottenberg, Dan. The Man Who Made Wall Street. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001.

“Smithsonian African Expedition (1909).” Smithsonian Institution Archives.


1.3 Cubic Feet (3 volumes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Cordelia Frances Biddle, 2015.

Existence and Location of Copies

All three albums were digitized by Crowley in September 2019. The facsimiles can be accessed online at

Livingston Biddle photograph albums
Molly Reynolds
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Drexel University Archives Repository

W. W. Hagerty Library
3300 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104 United States
215.895.2070 (Fax)