The Gift of the Daguerreotype

In 1829, a French artist and designer named Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre struck a partnership with fellow inventor Joseph-Nicephore Niépce to develop a method to permanently capture the fleeting images visible in a camera obscura. Niépce passed away suddenly in 1833, but Daguerre kept experimenting, finally achieving success around 1834. The daguerreotype process used a polished sheet of silver-plated copper, treated with iodine to make it light-sensitive, which was exposed (for several minutes or more) under a lens, then “fixed” using mercury vapor. The existence of the process was first announced to the public in January of 1839—followed by an extraordinary move by the French government that would fuel the rapid growth of photography worldwide. Recognizing the enormous potential of this invention, the French government made a deal with Daguerre, acquiring the rights to the process in exchange for lifetime pensions for both Daguerre and Niépce’s son. Then the government gave it all away. On August 19, 1839, the details of the new daguerreotype process were presented to the public as a gift to the world from France.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Kevin Winter / Getty for The Recording Academy

    Photos of the Week: Lego Bugatti, Snowy Seattle, Cattle Dating

    Valentine’s Day among humans and animals, family reunions at an Indian border fence, an icy dinosaur in Latvia, snow kayaking in Estonia, International Condom Day in Mexico City, and much more

  • Ozge Elif Kizil / Anadolu Agency / Getty

    Images From Antarctica

    Photos from the past few years of the Antarctic landscape, wildlife, and research facilities, and some of the work taking place there

  • Ralph Morse / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

    50 Years Ago in Photos: A Look Back at 1969

    A half century ago, humans first set foot on the moon, hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in New York’s Catskill Mountains for a music festival that became a cultural milestone, and so much more.

  • Timothy A. Clary / AFP / Getty

    Photos From the 2019 Westminster Dog Show

    Images from the two-day competition and preliminary activities held in New York City at Piers 92/94 and Madison Square Garden