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

  • Daniel Ochoa de Olza / AP

    Hurling Turnips at the Jarramplas

    Every January, the streets of Piornal, Spain, fill with residents armed with turnips, seeking to punish the devil-like Jarramplas.

  • © Hannah Le Leu / Ocean Art

    Winners of the 2021 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest

    Some of the top images from the 13 categories of underwater photography in this year’s competition

  • Ozkan Bilgin / Anadolu Agency / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Ice Disk, Snowy Owl, Giant Ichthyosaur

    Ducklings at the Pennsylvania Farm Show, a fish-operated vehicle in Israel, a whale off the California coast, the 2022 Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, and much more

  • Washington Alves / Reuters

    Heavy Rainfall Causes Severe Flooding in Brazil

    Weeks of heavy rain have inundated communities in several Brazilian states.