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Tampa Bay history preserved through local brothers' camera lens

The Burgert Brothers took photos of Hillsborough County from 1899 to the 1960s. Around 20,000 pieces of their collection are housed inside a popular Tampa library.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County was founded in 1834. Tampa became a city 53 years later. From cigars to trains to citrus, the area saw rapid growth over the years.

The Burgert Brothers were there for much of it with their cameras at the ready.

“There are gems everywhere in here,” said Jennifer Grubb, a librarian at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa.

Grubb oversees the collection of Burgert Brothers photos. The library owns rights to about 20,000 photographs of the 80,000-piece collection. They are on display on the library’s fourth floor and online.

“They really do cover anything. They cover all the demographics,” said Grubb. “They have photos of the Negro League. It covers all of Tampa’s history.”

The cigar industry took over Ybor city in 1886 and sold over 500 million cigars per year at its peak. The Burgert Brothers were there. 

The first Gasparilla celebration was held in May 1904. The Burgert Brothers were there, too. 

It seemed that whenever something big happened in Tampa Bay between 1899 and the 1960s, the Burgert Brothers captured it through their lenses.

“The Collection chronicles the history of the Tampa Bay area as it faced wars, natural disasters, economic booms and busts,” reads a brochure available to library guests. “The images of a view of a community at work, from cigar factories, sponge docks, and strawberry fields, to grocery stores, service stations, and bank lobbies.”

The family left behind a unique way to view Tampa's history.

“The Burgert Brothers was a family studio. It began in 1899,” said Grubb. “They loved the area and they loved taking photos of all sorts of things.”

A new feature to the library highlights the Burgert Brothers’ work and injects a modern twist. Author and photographer Chip Weiner compiled a side-by-side collection of locations from Burgert Brothers photos from then and now. The book was pieced together during 2020.

The chance to see such stunning images from the past can’t be missed. If you can't see them in person, check out the Burgert Brothers work in the library's digital collection.

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