Around the turn of the century Kansas farmers harvested produce bigger than the imagination. Heavy equipment was needed to can giant peaches; a saw was used to cut an ear of corn; and a couple of onions made a wagon load. Picture postcards documented the produce prosperity.
William H. Martin of Ottawa, Kansas, is considered to be the best at producing exaggerated postcards. His work featured huge ears of corn and peaches, a giant rabbit being tracked by a car, and pumpkins uprooting a farmstead.
Martin's photography studio began experimenting with trick photography around 1908. He was so successful that he established the Martin Post Card Company in 1909 and reportedly produced seven million cards the next year.
Tall tale postcards required creativity and skill. A photographer took two black-and-white pictures: a wide shot and a close up. The enlarged image would be cut, placed, and glued over the wide shot to create the exaggeration. Headlines such as "Shipping a Few of Our Peaches" and "Harvesting a profitable crop of onions in Kansas" helped further the flight of fancy.
Considered western humor, exaggerated postcards were extremely successful in the Great Plains. Their puffery depicted the fertile farming for which many settlers had come to Kansas. They also showed a sense of humor in dealing with disaster in the state.
When a swarm of grasshoppers descended on Garden City in 1935, Frank D. "Pop" Conard had a vision. The photographer made a montage of giant insects with humans and sold the postcards like "hotcakes." "The idea," Conard said, "came to me after a flight of grasshoppers swarmed into Garden City attracted by the lights, and it was impossible to fill an automobile gasoline tank at filling stations that night. I went home to sleep, but awoke at 3:00 a.m. and all I could think about was grasshoppers. By morning I had the idea of having fun with the grasshoppers, and took my pictures and superimposed the hoppers with humans. I didn't do it for adverse impressions of Kansas, but as an exaggerated joke." A master retoucher, Conard continued to print "hopper whoppers" until his retirement in 1963. Grasshoppers were enlarged to battle a man, fit on the bed of a pickup, and hold up a train.
The picture postcard presented the possibility to inventive photographers to extend the traditional tall-tale to the photographic plate, and what is more, to devise entirely new forms that were possible only through photography. It brought into being visual effects that tall-tale tellers through the centuries had seen only in their fertile imaginations.
"They say pictures don't lie," explained Conard, "but from the sale of these postcards-the fastest selling novelty cards on the market it seems that Kansas people like a little funny, untruth."
Entry: Exaggerated Postcards
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: December 2004
Date Modified: November 2010
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.