A Shaky Beginning
Born the youngest of sixteen children, Henry Wonacott’s family migrated to Oakland shortly following the death of his eighty year old father. At the age of thirteen, he accepted an apprenticeship and worked under Fred Shaw of Shaw & Shaw Photographers, learning the trade of photography. It was during the aftermath of the great 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco that his career began to take shape. Curiosity about the tragic event created a demand for images and information. As a young man of eighteen Wonacott seized the opportunity to embark on his own profitable business venture. He ferried across the bay to take pictures of the disaster and returned to his studio at night to make prints. The following day he would sell photographs on the street for a dollar apiece, claiming he earned as much as one thousand dollars per day. Eventually, the demand wore off and Wonacott looked for his future elsewhere.