Robert C. Carter photograph album of the St. Francis Dam disaster site

Biographical and Historical Notes

Robert C. Carter

Robert Coolidge Carter was born on November 2, 1918, in Boston, Massachusetts to Fred Louis Carter, Jr. and Marion McLoon Carter. In 1925, he and his family moved to Los Angeles, California. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in chemistry, and in 1942 he found work in the San Francisco Bay area at the Avon Refinery of Tidewater Associated Oil Co. In 1944 he married Mae Louise Riedy, and they had two daughters together. In 1956 their family moved to Delaware when Carter was transferred to his company's newly built refinery, where he served as the Supervisor of the Catalytic Cracking Unit. Outside of their respective careers, the Carters travelled extensively around the world. Robert died in 2019 at the age of 100, survived by his wife, who died a little over a year later.


"Obituary-Robert Coolidge Carter." Delaware Online, October 22, 2019.

St. Francis Dam

Begun in 1924 and finished during May of 1926, the St. Francis Dam was a curved concrete gravity dam built in the San Francisquito Canyon, north of Los Angeles, California. It was intended to store excess water from the Los Angeles aqueduct system built around a decade prior. On March 12, 1928, the dam failed. Nearly 500 people were killed in the resulting flood waters, which swept 54 miles out into the ocean. While remnants of the debris remain at the site, they are small or deemed relatively safe for tourists; remnants such as the piece of wall dubbed the "Tombstone" were destroyed in the years following the disaster to prevent further casualties.


"Case Study: St. Francis Dam (California, 1928)." ASDSO Lessons Learned. Accessed October 3, 2021.

"St. Francis Dam: Worst Civil Engineering Failure of the 20th Century.", December 2, 2020. Accessed October 3, 2021.

Scope and Contents

The Robert C. Carter photograph album of the St. Francis Dam disaster site consists of thirty-one black-and-white photographs, including one loose photograph. Each photograph depicts the San Francisquito Canyon landscape in the aftermath of the St. Francis Dam disaster of 1928. Several pictures contain young Robert Carter and his family posing together or traversing the rocky site. Another common subject is the large piece of still-standing dam wall dubbed the "Tombstone," which can be seen clearly in at least five of the shots.