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

  • Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Beach Classroom, Giant Eye, Trench Puppies

    Cherry blossoms in Germany, Fashion Week in Madrid, an island castle in Switzerland, Ramadan prayers in Mecca, a volcanic eruption in the Caribbean, a comfort dog at the U.S. Capitol, and much more

  • Luis Tato for The Washington Post

    Winners of the 2021 World Press Photo Contest

    Some of the winning entries in this year’s annual photo competition

  • Fabrice Coffrini / AFP / Getty

    Protecting Crops Against a Spring Frost

    Images of a widespread battle against the cold in France, Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland

  • Gabriel Bouys / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Plastic Lake, Van Cat, Burning Judas

    Ballet in an empty Syrian market, a forest fire in California, a briefing by the Easter Bunny in the White House, riots in Northern Ireland, a giant sand dune in France, and much more