January 9, 1839: First Practical Photography Revealed to the World

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A Brief History

On January 9, 1839, the first practical photographic process (Daguerreotype) was revealed by the French Academy of Sciences.

Digging Deeper

Digging deeper, we find many people had been working on the development of practical photography, but Daguerre, a French chemist, was the first to produce a process that was portable, not the size of an entire room, and that resulted in images of reasonable quality.

One of the great discoveries by Daguerre was the ability to use paper coated with concoctions containing silver and other chemicals instead of the image being produced on a metal plate.  That sure makes carrying photos of your dog in your wallet easier!

Milestone inventions are usually thought of as being a goldmine for the inventor, but that is not always the case.  In this case, Daguerre and the French government both wanted the world to have access to his invention for free! Daguerre made a deal with the government for an annual pension and all the other inventors had legal access to the Daguerre process to improve on it as they could.

Obviously, those improvements were made, and cameras and film have progressed to the point where we now have digital cameras that do not even need to use film.  Most cell phones have a camera built in, and many of those can take moving video.  Photography has come a long way from having to expose the metal plate covered in various chemicals for several minutes and cameras bigger than a breadbox to tiny cameras that can be pinned on one’s shirt or disguised as a ballpoint pen.

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Daguerre, merci beaucoup!

Question for students (and subscribers): Is there any particular historic event that happened before the invention of photography and that you wish we had a photograph of?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see:

Gernsheim, Helmut.  L. J. M. Daguerre: The History of the Diorama and the Daguerreotype.  Dover Publications, 1968.

Pinson, Stephen C.  Speculating Daguerre: Art and Enterprise in the Work of L. J. M. Daguerre.  University Of Chicago Press, 2012.

Wade, John.  From Daguerre to Digital: 150 Years of Classic Cameras.  Schiffer, 2012.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.