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J. Milton Lawless Photographs

Identifier: MSS 0334

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of about 3250 images ranging from the 1920s to the 1980s.

It includes 930 8x10" prints, a few oversized black and white prints, 21 glass plate negatives, and 23 tintypes of members of Lawless’ family. There are also a number of 4x5" and 5x7" film negatives, as well as other slides and prints.

Among the subjects are: Architecture, Aerial photos, the Astrodome, Epsom Downs (1930s), Oil, the Inter Urban, Rice University, the San Jacinto Monument, Sylvan Beach, Street Scenes, and Trains.

Images from the 1920s and 1930s were shot by Merchants Photo. Images from the 1940s through the early 1980s were shot by Lawless or his employees. There are boxes of cards listing clients and subjects. There is also a Sample Book Lawless used for selling stock photos.

Also included is some of the camera and darkroom equipment used by the studio.


  • 1920s-1980s


Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research. Access to fragile photographs will be provided via digital surrogates.

Use Restrictions

Permission to publish or reproduce materials from MSS 0334 J. Milton Lawless Photographs must be obtained from the Houston Metropolitan Research Center or the appropriate copyright holder.

Biographical Note

James Milton Lawless was a well-known commercial photographer in Houston for over 40 years. He was born in Kurten, Texas (in Brazos County), and moved with his family as a child to College Station, TX. During the oil boom his parents moved again to Goose Creek (later Baytown, Texas) where Milton attended grade school. He graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in Baytown in 1930. Lawless went to New York to work, and eventually studied photography at Columbia University.

Returning to Texas, Lawless moved to Baytown, where he worked for the Baytown Sun as a photographer and engraver. In 1945 he moved to Houston where he purchased the Merchants Photo Service, a commercial photography business located at 415 Louisiana. From this, he established J. Milton Lawless and Son photo studio. In 1945, Lawless moved the business to 2421 Milam. In 1951 he married Lois Hanna of Baytown. The couple had two children: R. W. and Kathy. Milton Lawless was a member of the Houston Advertising Federation, River Oaks Lions Club, and Slippery Rock Booster Club. He was also a pilot and boat racer.

Lawless operated out of the Milam Street studio until his death on February 20, 1985.

Source: "Services set for Lawless" obituary, Baytown Sun, February 24, 1985, via


30.25 Linear Feet (44 boxes) : 3,250 photographs

Language of Materials


Photo Database

HMRC's Photographic Archives Database ( contains an inventory of photographs in this collection.

Digitized Materials

Some of the images from this collection have been digitized and are available on the Houston Public Library Digital Archives at


Updates Needed
Matt Richardson
January 29, 2021
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center Repository


The African American Library at the Gregory School
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
Houston Metropolitan Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002