Eighty years ago, people crammed into a booth at the Washington City Auditorium to view a display of 500 photographs taken by Missourian photographers.

According to a story that appeared in the Sept. 4, 1941, edition of The Missourian, between 25 and 50 people were packed into a double-wide booth at any given time over the three-day run of Farm Products Show, the forerunner to the Washington Town & Country Fair. They were there to check out pictures from Washington and the surrounding area that had appeared in the newspaper over the previous year.

The Farm Products Show drew a record crowd in 1941. The merchandise and livestock displays, horseshoe-pitching contests, cow-milking competitions and evening dances were well received and well attended, according to news reports.

But The Missourian’s photo booth proved especially popular.

Likely one of the reasons for the interest in the pictures that year was that The Missourian had started running group photos the previous October of local men leaving for military service. It was a novel idea at the time.

Back then, The Missourian was known throughout the area as the “paper with the pictures” because of the large number of photographs that the paper published. The practice was unusual for a community newspaper at the time.

James. L. Miller, an intrepid photojournalist, purchased the paper in 1937. By 1941, The Missourian had its own engraving plant and was running more photographs in its paper than perhaps any other newspaper of its size in the country.

Miller’s passion for visual storytelling inspired several generations of Missourian photographers and began a tradition of excellence and innovation in photojournalism. He traveled the world with his Hasselblad camera and captured striking images that would punctuate his stories on the places he visted and the people he met.

Miller; his son, Jim Miller Jr., who served as Missourian photo editor for decades; and current Missourian Sports Editor Bill Battle have all been inducted in the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame. The idea for the Hall of Fame came from another of Miller’s sons, Bill Miller Sr., who served as Missourian publisher for over 40 years.

The Missourian has chronicled Franklin County’s rich history since the late 1800s. It has an unmatched collection of the region’s stories, as well as the photographs that ran with those stories. Now, the paper’s deep photo archive is becoming available to the public.

This weekend, The Missourian’s “Lens of Time,” an online archive of photographs that appeared in the pages of the newspaper since the late 1930s, will make its debut. People will be able to access the photos on The Missourian’s website, emissourian.com, by clicking on the “Lens of Time” icon. (or by clicking here, if you're reading online)

The pictures, which will be organized into specific galleries, will be available for purchase. The first galleries will feature photographs that appeared in The Missourian in the 1940s through 1996. New photo galleries will be uploaded every month.

The idea of an online photo archive was inspired by the popularity of the “Looking Back” feature that runs in the print edition of The Missourian and the boxes of old photo prints and negatives the company has uncovered as it moves from its downtown Washington location to its production facility at 6321 Bluff Road.

“The interest in old photographs — really in history — is the same today as it was in 1941 when all those people came to our photo booth at the precursor to our modern fair,” Missourian Publisher Tricia Miller said.

“We couldn’t let these visual assets sit on a shelf any longer,” she said. “We think these incredible photos will really resonate with the public. And one great thing about technology is that we can share these images through our website to people all over the world.”

The “Lens of Time” photo archive is about creating something new from something old and highlighting the work of the journalists who came before the current staff, Tricia Miller said. “It’s also a way to preserve them for future generations,” she added.

“We want to celebrate and highlight our newspaper’s visual legacy,” she said. “We think our readers will really enjoy these incredible photographs.”