On January 4, 1948, the British colony of Burma, now Myanmar, became an independent nation after more than sixty years of colonial rule. England had established control of the country in 1885, designating Burma a province of India. Ten years later, the U.S.-based World’s Transportation Commission, organized and led by American railroad publicist Joseph Gladding Pangborn toured the country. The Commission sought to gather information about transportation systems for the Field Columbian Museum in Chicago. The Commission included photographer William Henry Jackson, who visited Burma in the course of a two-year journey (1884-96) through North Africa, Asia, Australia, and Oceania.

Burial Ceremony of a Priest Near Mandalay. William Henry Jackson, photographer, 1895. World’s Transportation Commission. Prints & Photographs Division

Myanmar is located on the eastern coasts of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea in Southeast Asia. Thailand (formerly Siam), Laos, China, and India border Myanmar. Much of the terrain is mountainous and heavily forested. Myanmar’s rich natural resources include silver, copper, lead, zinc, tungsten, and tin. Tropical rain forests support a wide variety of animal life, including tigers and elephants.

Rangoon–Elephant About to Lift Large Beam. William Henry Jackson, photographer, March 1895. World’s Transportation Commission. Prints & Photographs Division

William Henry Jackson’s photographs of Burma capture everyday life in this predominantly Buddhist country. Jackson photographed everything from men walking on a street and a woman selling refreshments at a railway station, to the emblems of segregation. He also documented the region’s impressive architecture. One photo shows the photographer riding in a railroad trolley car.

Learn More

  • To further explore the World’s Transporation Commission collection, browse the Subject Index to examine nearly nine hundred photographs from two dozen countries, or retrace the commission’s trip by viewing the photographs from each country in the order listed in the Trip Itinerary.
  • Read Today in History features on Sri Lanka, the Suez Canal, and Yosemite to learn more about the World’s Transportation Commission and photographer William Henry Jackson.
  • The Library of Congress Country Studies provide online information about 101 countries and regions around the world. Search on the names of countries such as China, India, or Thailand to learn more about these nations.