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Photographic History

Part I

Pre 1800: The forerunner of the camera is the camera obscura. This principle has been known since Aristotle's time. People had noted that a small opening in a darkroom projected an image of the sun on the opposite wall. Lenses were eventually added to create a better "image". This principle was then applied to what we now call cameras.


1802: Thomas Wedgwood, son of the famous potter, can make images, but can't "fix" them.

1816: Single wire telegraph is introduced.

1816:  Joseph Nicephore Niepce makes negative on paper sensitized with silver chloride, but he cannot make a positive, and the negative cannot be made permanent.

1819: Sir John Herschel discovers "fixer" but doesn't connect it to photography, a term he coined, until he becomes aware of Niepce and Daguerre's work.

1827: Niepce creates first permanent image with bitumen of judea that hardens with exposure to light. Daguerre is working separately.

1827: Charles Wheatstone conceives of a moving shutter.

1829: Joseph Nicephore Niepce and Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre form a partnership to develop photography in France. They use a copper base. Niepce dies in 1830.

1835: William Henry Fox Talbot makes "sun" pictures using paper in England.

1837: Daguerre makes his first daguerreotype. Generally used 1839 to late 1850s. A daguerreotype is a one of a kind, reversed image made on a plate of highly polished silver plated copper. The plate is sensitized with iodine vapor, exposed and developed with mercury vapor. Thus a very fragile surface that had to be protected with glass and a hard case. Exposures could range into the minutes.

Head clamps would support the subject. And don't smile, you might move, let alone show your bad teeth. A daguerreotype would cost $2 to $3 dollars. (Different dollars today!) It's been estimated that over 30 million were made in the U.S. between 1840-1860.

1839: The daguerreotype is announced at the Academy of Sciences in Paris.

1839: The Giroux Daguerreotype camera is the first commercially produced camera.

1839: Jan. 31st Talbot announces his paper negative process to the Royal Society in England.

1840: Josef Max Petzval designs an improved, much faster lens for daguerreian portraiture. (f/3.5 instead of ./11)

1841: A newspaper ad for Daguerreotype photography appeared in the Detroit Daily Advertiser from October 14 through December 9, 1841. The unnamed photographer was on the 4th floor of the Republican Building, corner of Jefferson Avenue and Bates Street, Detroit.  This is the earliest ad discovered for photographic services in Michigan. (Source: David V. Tinder, March 15, 2013)

1842: The cyanotype process is introduced Sir John Herschel. Still used today in "blue prints". The cyanotype process involves impregnating paper with iron salts and then used in contact printing. The paper is then washed, leaving a white image on an attractive blue instead of black.

1843: Talbot establishes the first photofinishing laboratory at Reading, England.

1843: Anna Children Atkins who published Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843.  She designed, constructed and developed each separate page at her home in Halstead Place, Kent. This achievement made her the first woman photographer in addition to the first person to use photographic illustrations in a book.

1844: Talbot publishes The Pencil of Nature, the first book published with photographs.

1845: Mathew Brady begins his career by taking portraits of famous people.

1846-47: Irish potato famine.

1848: Claude Felix Abel Niepce de Saint-Victor starts to use albumen on glass plates as a negative.

1849: Sir David Brewester develops stereo photography.


1850: Albumen paper is introduced.

1851: The wet-collodion process is introduced by Frederick Scott Archer. This process is remarkably easier and could produce negatives, thus images are no longer one of a kind.

1854: Disderi patents carte-de-visites in France. These images made portrait photography readily available to everyone.

1854: The ambrotype is patented. Generally used 1855-1860. An ambrotype process was used for only a few years. Glass was coated with sticky iodized collodion. The plate is then sensitized with silver nitrate and exposed when still wet. It is then developed and dried. Then this faint image is backed with black paint, a blank tin type plate or a black piece of cloth to bring out the image. It was easier to view than a daguerreotype, but it didn't have it's "magic".

1854: Roger Fenton travels to the Crimean War to photograph Britains involvement. This brings the war home and he becomes the first well known war photographer.

1855: The tintype appears in the US. Generally used 1855 to the 1900s. The instantly popular tintype was the invention of either Prof. Hamilton Smith of Ohio or Adolphe Alexandre Martin. They are made on a thin sheet of iron covered with a layer of black paint. This served as the base for the same iodized collodion coating and silver nitrate bath used in the ambrotype process. Millions were produced well into the 20th century. A highly durable image, people carried them about in their pockets or mailed them to distant relatives. Tintypes were housed in many different ways. First in the same style cases as ambrotypes and daguerreotypes, then in various paper mats, or even nothing at all.

1855: Gaspard Felix Tournachon (Nadar) takes the first aerial photos from a manned hot air balloon.

1858: The first negative/image manipulations are done by Oscar Rejlander.

1860: Oliver Wendell Holmes invents the familiar Holmes stereo viewer.

1861-65: The Civil War is brought to the public by Mathew Brady and his crews.

1871: Richard Leach Maddox invent the first gelatin dry plate. No more chemical mixing and immediately taking pictures.

1873: Photos are now reproduced using the half tone method.

1877: Eadweard Muybridge is one of the first to capture motion with consecutive images. He was commissioned by California governor Leland Stanford to settle a wager that a galloping horse would have all four feet off the ground at once. The Governor won.

1878: Karl Klic perfects the a precise and commercially successful photogravure printing.

1880: George Eastman commercially manufactures dry plates ending the messy wet collodion era.

1886-89: Heinrich R. Hertz produces radio waves.

1887: Thomas Alva Edison and W. K. L. Dickson start work on a motion picture cameras.

Part II

1887: Adolfe Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke invent flash powder.

1889 to early 1900's: The still ongoing conflict of "is photography a fine art" begins to form with the Pictorialists and the Photo Secessionists. Peter Henry Emerson and Alfred Stieglitz emerge as the main spokesmen.

1890: Karl Ferdinand Braun invents the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT).

1891: Eastman Kodak introduces transparent nitrocellulose film and a photo finishing service for the general public. It comes in the form of a simple box camera that came preloaded with enough film for 100 exposures. When complete, the whole unit would be sent back to Kodak for processing, printing and reloading. Thus the Kodak slogan "You press the button--We do the rest."

1891:  George Shiras 3rd first to photograph wild animals by flashlight, near Marquette, Michigan. Shiras and John Hammer later perfect a device which causes wild animals to trip a shutter and set off a flash, taking their own photos at night.

1891:  Cullen C. Packard of Kalamazoo, Michigan, patents the Packard shutter.  Many are still in use today.

1894: The Lumiere brothers come up with the first projector for showing movies. It also doubles as a camera.

1895: Pocket Kodak is introduced.

1895: Wilhelm Conrad Rotgen discovers x-rays.


1900: The first mass market camera, the Brownie, is introduced. Cost, a dollar. The proliferation of amateur photography begins!! In the rest of American society, changes in postal regulations and the Rural Free Delivery system and the addition of accessible photography leads to the widespread popularity of postcards, including the now collectable "real photo" postcards.

1901: Queen Victoria dies.

1902: Otto von Bronk applies for a patent on color television.

1905:  Alfred Stieglitz opens Gallery 291 to display Photo-Secession Movement photographs.

1907: The Lumiere brothers reveal the first permanent color process, the autochrome, using potato starch grains.

1910: The cell process of animation is patented by John Randolph Bray in the US, thus the beginning of cartoons.

1912: The Titanic sinks.

1914: The first 35 mm cameras are introduced.

1914-18: WWI

1915: D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" is shown. Condemned by the NAACP for it's racist content.

1919: United Artists is formed by Mary Pickford, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith.

1920: Women earn the right to vote.

1923: Kodak introduces a 16 mm camera for amateurs.

1923: First radio network in US.

1925: 35 mm Leica cameras are marketed.

1925: Paul Vierkotter invents the flashbulb.

1927: "The Jazz Singer" is released and is the first successful "Talkie".

1927: Lindbergh's famous flight across the Atlantic, alone.

1929: The Stock Market crash, beginning the Depression.

1931: Harold Edgerton comes up with stop action images with the use of a flash.

1932: Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others found “Group 64,” dedicated to a straight photography aesthetic as opposed to soft pictorialism.

1932: The first photo cell light meter is introduced. No more exposure guessing.

1933: Prohibition ends.

1935: Kodachrome (for slides) is introduced.

1935-1940: The Farm Security Administration (FSA) conducts the largest social documentary project ever, employing Dorthea Lange, Walker Evans, and others to produce over 500,000 photographs to generate public support for Roosevelt's New Deal programs to end the Great Depression.

1936: The Argus A is the first of a line of inexpensive U.S. made 35 mm cameras.

1936: Life Magazine debuts, the Nations most popular magazine, brings photographs into American homes for 40 years.

1937: The Hindenburg zeppelin explodes in a fire.

1939: "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz" are the first Technicolor classics.

1939: Hitler invades Poland starting WWII.

1939: A television program is broadcast, live of course, from the World's Fair in New York.

1939:  Argus C-3 introduced.  Made in Ann Arbor, Michigan, this camera brought 35mm photography to more than 3 million customers at a fraction of the price of European cameras with the same features.

1941: Eastman Kodak introduces the first color negative film, KODACOLOR.

1941: Pearl Harbor is bombed.

1941:  In August, Harry Callahan and Todd Webb attend Ansel Adams’ Detroit workshop, launching two acclaimed careers in photography.  Weeks later, Adams takes his iconic photograph, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico.

1945: Atomic bomb is dropped.

1948: The first Nikon is introduced along with the Polaroid camera.


1950-60's: The drive-in theater is in it's prime.

1955: The "Family of Man" exhibit, organized by Edward Steichen, opens in New York.

1959: "The Americans" is published by Robert Franks challenging the American Cold-War status quo. It also launches a generation of "social landscape" photographers.

1963: Instamatic cameras are introduced.

1965-73: The Vietnam War.

1969: The first photograph from the moon.

1970: IMAX process is introduced in Japan at Expo '70.

1972: The Pocket Instamatic Camera-110 is introduced.

1976: Canon's AE-1 35 mm camera is the first camera with a microprocessor.

1978: Konica introduces the first auto focus camera.

1984: Canon introduces the first electronic still camera.

1987: Kodak and Fuji introduce disposable cameras.

1988: Sony and Fuji introduce the first digital cameras.

1989: The Berlin Wall comes down.

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