Daguerreotypes: The First Photograph

Creating the first permanent photograph.

By California State Library

In1837, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre developed a method to produce direct positive images onto silver-coated copper plates – creating the first permanent photograph. Once the daguerreotype process was introduced, it exploded in popularity, especially in America. Prior to the invention of photography, only those who could afford to hire a professional artist could acquire a likeness of themselves or loved ones.

Rich Family Portrait, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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George Thomas Rich (son) at left, Samuel Rich (center) and his wife, Rosine de Motte Rich (right). The Rich family were early pioneers and migrated to California during the Gold Rush.

Daguerreotypes were available to everyone, from middle-class families to seamstresses, factory workers, and miners. Because the process did not involve negatives, each daguerreotype was a one-of-a-kind image. Please enjoy this small collection of daguerreotypes that can be found at the California State Library.

Lillie Hitchcock Coit, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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This photograph of Lillie Hitchcock Coit (1843-1929) was taken when she was four years old. As an adult, Coit was a well-known patron of San Francisco’s volunteer firefighters and the benefactor of the construction of Coit Tower in San Francisco.

James Holmes, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Bust-length portrait of James Holmes, a California pioneer.

Levi & Mary Hite Sanford, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Early California pioneers Levi and Mary married in 1859 and settled in Sacramento. This photo was taken in 1860, shortly after their marriage. Mary was the daughter of Arabellah and Alexander Hite (shown in the next slide).

Arrabellah and Alexander Hite, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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The Hite family migrated to California in 1853 and settled in Sacramento, where they raised thirteen children.

Margaret Blake-Alverson, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Margaret Blake-Alverson (1836-1923) was a professional singer and voice coach. She began her career singing in churches and then in operas. In 1913, she published Sixty Years of California Songs, describing her career.

Matilda Heron, Actress, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Matilda Heron (1830-1877) was a popular 19th century actress. She performed in California between 1853 and 1854. This photograph depicts her in costume for her role in the play Medea.

James Allen, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Portrait of James Allen, who came to California sometime in the early 1850s. He was elected mayor of Marysville in 1855. A handwritten note with the case states that this daguerreotype was a gift to Mrs. George M. Belden of Canton, Ohio on the occasion of Allen's notification of his election as State Printer of California.

John Rollin Ridge, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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John Rollin Ridge (1827-1867) was a member of the Cherokee Nation. His Cherokee name was Cheesquatalawny, or Yellow Bird. Ridge came to California during the Gold Rush but disliked mining and turned to writing to earn a living. He published what is now considered the first Native American novel and first novel written in California, The Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta: The Celebrated California Bandit (1854).

Two Miners, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Seated portrait of two miners with arms folded across their chests wearing hats.

Unidentified Woman, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Portrait of a seated women with left arm resting on table, right hand in lap, broach on wide lace collar, hair parted in the middle, large ear rings, wide, puffy sleeves.

John Neely Johnson, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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John Neely Johnson (1825-1872) was a lawyer and politician. He served as the fourth governor of California from 1856 -1858.

Mary Ellen Gallup, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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Portrait of Mary Ellen Gallup as a young woman. The Gallup family were early pioneers to California and settled in Sacramento.

Howard Burt, Marcus Aurelius & Samuel Root, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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This photograph was taken by Marcus Aurelius Root, who operated a photo studio with his brother Samuel Root in New York City from 1849 to 1857. The image was probably taken sometime in the early 1850s, shortly before Howard Burt (1832-1867) migrated to California.

William H. Rulofson, 19th Century, From the collection of: California State Library
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William H. Rulofson (1826-1878) was a 19th century photographer. He and his partner, John B. Cameron, traveled from mining town to mining town with their daguerreotype camera, taking photographs of miners. Eventually, Rulofson moved to San Francisco and set up a studio, where he took numerous portraits of leading Californians

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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