The Acquisitions Table: Abduction of Charlie Brewster Ross

Abduction of Charlie Brewster Ross. Philadelphia: Wm. F. Murphy’s Sons, 1874.

This broadside is an early example of the use of photography on public posters. Allan Pinkerton, founder of the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, invented the photographic mug shot; during the 1860s and early 1870s, he often used small albumen photos on wanted posters for train robbers and outlaws. The case of Charlie Brewster Ross gripped the Philadelphia/New York metro area for months in the summer of 1874. Charlie and his older brother, sons of a wealthy industrialist, were kidnapped by two men in a carriage while playing in front of their house. The men promised the boys, ages 6 and 4, candy and firecrackers.  The older boy was let go at the candy store, but the men ran off with Charlie and ransom letters soon began arriving at the Ross home.

 The story filled the popular and the flash press for weeks on end. Hired after the Philadelphia police ran out of leads, Pinkerton immediately printed up over 100,000 circular letters like this one, and distributed them nationwide at railroad stations, dockyards, schools and churches. The search continued throughout the summer with the kidnappers occasionally asking for money or attempting to arrange a swap. Reward money started at $20,000 but escalated to $50,000 and higher as Charlie’s parents became more desperate. In December the kidnappers were finally cornered in a closed up summer house outside of Brooklyn, NY, but both were shot and killed before they could reveal Charlie’s hiding place. No trace of the boy was ever found. Purchased on eBay. Harry G. Stoddard Memorial Fund.

Published by

Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

2 thoughts on “The Acquisitions Table: Abduction of Charlie Brewster Ross”

  1. hmmmm.Interesting story.They say history tends to repeat itsself.The resemblance between the Ross Baby and the Lindbergh baby is a bit creepy.Sad that they never found him though.Hard on the parents,never knowing.

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