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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype

The following text is excepted from an article in the January 1872 issue of "The Philadelphia Photographer" (Vol. IX, No. 97, pp 1-4.) The article appears opposite the title page portrait of Samuel F. B. Morse. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Our Picture Last summer we asked the privilege of putting his picture in our magazine, together with that of the first camera he used in photography. He at once gave us the promise that he would do so, and ask his "old friend," Mr. Bogardus, to make the negatives for us as soon as he returned to his city residence, in the fall. He was then in Poughkeepsie, at his summer residence, "Locust Grove." In October he made good his promise, and sat for three double negatives, as immovably as any one possibly could. We wrote him our thanks, and stated that there was one more favor to ask in order to complete the gratification of our readers and us in the matter, namely, his own account of his connection with photography. He promptly responded in his own handwriting, as follows: New York, Nov. 18th 1871 Edward L. Wilson, Esq. DEAR SIR: In your letter of the 10th instant, you ask of me a sketch of my connection with the photographic art. I cheerfully comply with your request. In 1838, I visited Europe with my telegraphic invention, and early in the spring of 1839, in Paris, I formed the acquaintance of M. Daguerre, whose discovery, of fixing the image of the camera obscura, in connection with M. Niepce, was creating a great sensation in the scientific world. A proposition at that time was before the French Chamber of Deputies to grant Messrs. Daguerre and Niepce a pension, on condition that their process was given to the public. M. Daguerre had very freely shown to high officials the results of his process, but by the advice of the distinguished Arago, who had charge of the pension proposals in the Chambers, he abstained from any publicity of his formula until his pension should be secured. At this same time my telegraph was exciting in the French capital a similar sensation. I had made my arrangements to leave Paris for home in March of 1839, and one morning, in conversation with our eminent and worthy Consul, Robert Walsh, Esq., I lamented the necessity of leaving Paris without seeing these photographic results. He at once entered into my feelings and said, "I think you will find no difficulty in obtaining a sight of them. Drop a note to M. Daguerre, and invite him to see the telegraph, and I have no doubt he will return the compliment by inviting you to see his results." The plan was successful. M. Daguerre invited me to see his results at his diorama, where he had his laboratory, and the day after, accepted my invitation to witness the operation of my telegraph; and it is a noticeable incident that during the two hours in which he was with me, his diorama and laboratory, and the beautiful results I had seen the day before, were consumed by fire. In my interview with him, however, I requested him, as soon as his pension bill was passed, and the publication of his process was made, to send me a copy of his work, which he courteously promised to do, and accordingly in the summer of 1839 I received from him probably the first copy that came to America. From this copy, in which, of course, were the drawings of the necessary apparatus, I had constructed the first daguerreotype apparatus made in the United States. My first effort with it, was on a small plate of silvered copper, about the size of a playing card, procured from a hardware store; but defective as it was, I obtained a good representation of the Church of the Messiah in Broadway, taken from a back window in the New York University. This was, of course, before the construction of the New York Hotel. This I believe to have been the first photograph ever taken in America. Perceiving in its earliest stages that photography was an invaluable and incalculable aid to the arts of design, I practiced it for many months, taking pupils, many of whom, at this day, are among the most prosperous photographers. I early made arrangements to experiment with my eminent friend and colleague in the University, Prof. John W. Draper, building for the purpose a photographic studio upon the top of the University. Here I believe were made the first successful attempts by Dr. Draper, in taking photographic portraits with the eyes open, I having succeeded in taking portraits previously with the eyes shut, for it was considered at that date, that the clear sunlight upon the face was necessary to a result. And here it should be stated, that in reply to the a question which I put to M. Daguerre, Cannot you apply this to portraiture? he gave it as his opinion that it would be impracticable, because in obtaining his results on still objects, the time necessary was from fifteen to twenty minutes, and he believed it impossible for any one to preserve an immovable position for that length of time. The quick of instantaneous processes were not then discovered. Thus you have in brief my connection with the art, which owes its existence to Messrs. Daguerre and Niepce, and in which I profess to be only a humble follower. The wonderful improvements which have since been made by scores of ingenious men in various countries, have established the photographic art as one of the most useful, as well as beautiful, discoveries of the age. As to a sketch of my life, I would refer you to a biography in Harper's Monthly of January, 1862, which, so far as facts are concerned, is the best I have seen. With respect, your obedient servant, Sam'l F. B. Morse. We regret that we cannot reproduce the letter in his own handwriting, but a facsimile of his signature will be found on the mount. His writing is bolder and clearer than that of most men half his age. Our best and united thanks are assuredly due him for the pleasure and gratification he has given us, and for the early befriending of our art. When photography was a tender infant, holding up its tiny hands crying for some one to take it up and nurture it in this country, the artistic feelings of Prof. Morse were touched, and he brought the infant carefully across the ocean to its native home, where it has thrived and grown immeasurably. For this we honor Prof. Morse, and his memory shall be perpetuated in our minds as the Father of American Photography. (This letter varies slightly from the letter Abraham Bogardus says he received from Morse [also in 1871] which Bogardus published in his article, "The Daguerreotype." in the "St. Louis and Canadian Photographer" (Vol. 11, No. 12, December 1893; page 534-8. --G.E.) ----------------------------------------------------------------- 01-19-97

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