Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

World’s oldest photograph of a human being …

with 54 comments

oldest_human_photo.jpg

This is one of the, if not the, oldest known photograph of a human being in existence. It depends on how one defines photograph, but this was taken by Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre in 1838. (The fellow the daguerreotype was named after.) This is a photo of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris. This is a busy street and there was tons of traffic, but since the exposure was so long, about 15-20 minutes, none of the moving figures can be seen. The only people visible are a guy getting his boots polished and the bootblack. Who was this nameless gentleman or the bootblack? No one knows. I’m sure they never imagined that they had been immortalized, albeit anonymously, by a clever scientist testing his newly discovered method of preserving moments in time.

It was a different world then. The only motorized transportation was the railroad, and even it was in its infancy. Horses and sailing ships were still the primary means of getting around, the typical person probably never travelled more than 50 miles from where they were born. The first Atlantic steamship service started this year though, so the future was on the way. The telegraph had been invented, but the first commercial telegraph operations were a year away. There were commercial semaphore telegraphs operating, so it was possible to send a message over some distance for a price.

The first accurate measurement of the distance to a nearby star was calculated in 1838, the intellectuals were beginning to grasp just how big the universe really was. Though the discovery that there were other galaxies besides our own was still decades away. The first mass produced clocks were flooding markets in England and America, for the first time commoners could have a clock in their homes. Though it would be some decades before the time zone was invented, so clocks were set to local noon. They were the PCs of their day no doubt. What we would call a modern bicycle was still a year away, the bicycles of the era were propelled by pushing the ground with one’s feet. Gads.

Napoleon was still on everyone’s minds no doubt, the way Hitler is now the demon du jour, having been defeated less than three decades before. Slavery had been abolished in most of the civilized world, with the exception of the USA. In England Queen Victoria’s reign began the year before. I’m sure no one guessed she would reign until 1901, 63 years, the longest reign of any British Monarch. I doubt she or anyone guessed at the changes that would take place in her lifetime. And neither Germany nor Italy existed yet yet, both were a dozen or more smaller independent nations.

Here is a map of Europe in 1815. It would have looked the same in 1838 if I am not mistaken. America was a lot smaller then too, and Texas was an independent nation. In any event, nothing particularly profound about this post. I am just trying to share my love of history in general and old photographs in particular. (I’ve linked to this before, but here again is a lovely site about the history of photography.) Every age thinks it is at the end of history, and at the time, they were.

For first time readers, welcome to Doug’s Darkworld. This post is one of my most popular posts of all time, if you liked it you might also like The World’s First Eyewitness, World’s First Colour Photograph, and The World’s First Photograph.

(The above image, having been taken in 1838, is public domain under US law.)

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54 Responses

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  1. Hey that guy owes me money ! Seriously though I like this post,as w/ many of yours. The style the varied subject matter the brain jarring reminders to history I learned and loved at one time.Thanks and take care.

    in2thefray

    June 14, 2007 at 1:25 pm

  2. Good post — a pleasure to read.

    Stephen

    June 14, 2007 at 1:35 pm

  3. I enjoyed this post immensely. The photograph itself is quite stunning and mysterious – truly a wink in time (albeit a long wink). I actually lived two streets down from that road around 1986, and recognized the neighborhood immediately… the main thouroughfares of Paris change very slowly. As the French are very much dandies, the significance of the bootblack and client are particularly poingant and appropriate for the first photo of a human in that extraordinary city. Thank you for your post, it was most enriching.

    Diane

    June 20, 2007 at 12:39 am

  4. Thank you for this terrific and thoughtful post. It’s very generous of you to take you time to share this. What a fascinating picture. Oh, and people really were smaller, then! ;o)

    Mike

    September 15, 2007 at 5:54 pm

  5. nice post.
    heres another interesting question.who was the earliest born person ever documented on a photo?
    i had found some interesting revolutionary war vets photos posted awhile back,some that came from a book published in the mid 19th century of those vets.some were born about 1750! if these were the earliest ,that means then by other than time travel,no one born before them ever was recorded photographically.i also would like to know similarly on moving film.what old guys did edison film,who were they and how old.i wonder if he filmed anyone over 100 years old in the 1890s,which would make them from the 18th century on film.mind blowing.i’d kill to see lincoln on film and washington in a photo,let alone a movie! so what we need to do is invent time travel,,or rely on any aliens recordings if possible.

    john

    October 27, 2007 at 5:16 pm

  6. I posted the same question on http://www.neatorama.com/2006/08/29/the-wonderful-world-of-early-photography We have discussed this on a Swedish historical forum called forum.skalman.nu.

    The earliest born person we have found (so far) that we are sure to have been documented on a photo, is the German physician Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843) (see the photo on: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Hahnemann).

    We have also found pictures of Caroline Herschel (1750-1848) and John Leland (1754-1841), but these pictures don’t really look like photos, perhaps they’re based on photos?

    Anders

    November 28, 2007 at 7:07 am

  7. Check out this page:

    http://www.historicamericanprints.com/history.htm

    It seems that a Conrad Heyer born in 1749 was photopraphed in old age(he was a 107 when he died).

    Tom

    December 3, 2007 at 9:18 am

  8. [...] written the first photograph of a human being, here is another old photograph that has historical significance in an obscure way. The fine [...]

  9. There is one small difference in the maps: Belgium separated from Netherlands.

    Vjacheslav

    March 26, 2008 at 11:42 am

  10. Hi,
    I love photography, is it the oldes one

    Shashank Saxena

    August 5, 2008 at 8:06 am

  11. Between 1815 and 1838, Belgium was separated from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, Greece secceded from the Ottoman Empire, and I believe Poland was completely taken over by Russia.
    Other than that, a very inspiring article.

    Josh

    November 20, 2008 at 6:32 am

  12. Stumbled across this when googling “world’s oldest photograph”. Great stuff, very interesting & informative.

    Cheers,

    Neal

    November 26, 2008 at 4:31 am

  13. [...]  تصویر فوق عکس پرستشگاهی را در یک بلوار  در پاریس نشان می دهد. Tags: daguerreotype, عکس [...]

  14. Hey : ) Have I missunderstood or is this a real photograph? I know it says so, but it looks pretty much like a drawing to me.

    Anders

    December 7, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    • It looks like parts on the left have been drawn & the house appears to me later eighteen hundreds early nineteen centery.

      Joaquin Kiffe Ferguson

      October 30, 2009 at 10:35 pm

  15. IF it is real …very interesting….I am searching for more…thanks

    jaganmohan

    December 29, 2008 at 10:19 pm

  16. Wow, that is incredible. It is amazing how clear and clean some parts of it are despite the long exposure and moving subjects.

    Gregg

    April 9, 2009 at 3:08 pm

  17. good to see the oldest photograph ever taken by human being.

    Vijayendra

    September 4, 2009 at 2:46 am

  18. [...] a continuation of my world’s first photograph series, reproduced above is one of the world’s first known colour photographs. It is titled [...]

  19. Really a nice post! The map of Europe in 1838 wasn’t the same with this of 1815, because in 1821 the Greek Revolution took place. So, in 1838 existed the Kingdom of Greece, with King Otto.

    Theodore

    December 4, 2009 at 8:44 am

  20. I can’t seem to make out the humans.. but nice.

    Ataxia

    December 19, 2009 at 7:31 am

  21. Mesmerizing. The closest i can get to looking back in time. Provides all kinds of thoughts, like what was going on that day? What was it like to be there? I could still see the Tasmanian tiger and maybe some other extinct animals then… and find the over 430 something foot tree in southern Australia. What did my neighborhood look like in upstate N.Y.? Will someone look at a photo of me someday and wonder the same things 172 years or more from now? Old photos make me want to visit there/then…

    Erik

    March 1, 2010 at 1:56 am

    • Wow that’s too cool, to bad the persons name is lost to time.

      comrick317

      March 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm

  22. In 1838 Poland already was partitioned by Russia, Prussia and Austria sinse 43 years. Poland will regaine indepence in 1918, after 123 years of captivity.

    peter_1000

    May 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  23. wow its wonderful.. i m a history lover. so i love this photo. that gentleman never knew that he will be watched by the the people from 21st century.. if i could see his face.. and if i could know more about him.. its a pity that he didnt know his luck.
    thanks a lot for sharing such wonderful things. u have a great choice. hope to see more..

    chathurika

    May 15, 2010 at 8:59 pm

  24. Why wouldn’t it be taken by a human? Animals can’t take photos

    John

    June 6, 2010 at 1:13 pm

  25. Heard about the first human being photographed when I visited Barkerville, BC in Canada on my holidays this year. Very interesting and it looks just like it was explained to me. Ever want to go back in time you just need to go to Barkerville for a few days!! Very interesting.

    Liz

    August 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm

  26. The photo is not the oldest ever.it is belived to be a photo taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. An 1837 daguerreotype by Daguerre, the first to complete the full process.

    jfdjw

    September 11, 2010 at 7:54 am

  27. This photo is amazing considering it was taken almost 200 years ago. I wish I could go back in time and experience life there at that time in history

    Denny

    October 25, 2010 at 10:49 pm

  28. Love this post. In fact, love all your posts. There is a fringe school of thought that claims the shroud of Turin is a sort of photograph on fabric attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci. Obviously further -unlikely- tests would be needed.

    Anyway, love your posts. thanks for posting

    Adriana

    October 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm

  29. This is an amazing picture and it’s funny to think that almost 200 years ago, someone was being photographed. It’s almost eerie. It almost looks like there is a child peering through one of the top windows in the building. Does anybody else see it?

    mel mccleskey

    October 28, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    • Or perhaps, it’s just a ghost! In that case, that becomes the first ever ghost to be photographed! ;)

      Rohit

      July 11, 2011 at 11:12 am

  30. [...] GizmodoEs y Unitedcats Foto Flickr y Wikipedia Entradas Recargadas19 septiembre 2010 — Perú pudo evitar el ataque [...]

  31. To think we are seeing a photo of someone most likely born in the 1700’s!! fascinating to say the least.

    Mike

    November 5, 2010 at 9:39 am

  32. [...] people across time.  There’s a photograph from 1838 which is currently recognized as the first photo of a human.  It appears to be a man getting his shoe shined.  This is incidental to the rest of the image, [...]

    The Fascination of History

    December 14, 2010 at 9:39 am

  33. [...] Starters Guide to Photography Fundamentals Posted by BrianNotess on Dec 15, 2010Since the early 1800s humankind has been trying to transfer visual experiences into physical (and later) digital images. [...]

  34. This is a really gay website… Just saying!

    Shelby

    April 20, 2011 at 11:42 am

  35. who can see peter pan ? i can see him

    ShevooZaxoo

    January 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm

  36. Great post ! I am a parisian and I used to leave a few streets away from boulevard du temple on rue de bretagne. I knew about this picture and I absolutely enjoyed your commentaries. It is very moving to see a glimpse of what life would have been almost 2 centuries ago and to see this 2 unidentified persons, so mysterious.

    amazinggraceparis

    February 17, 2012 at 3:23 am

  37. Excellent goods from you, man. I’ve be mindful your stuff prior to and you’re simply extremely excellent. I really like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which during which you are saying it. You’re making it entertaining and you continue to care for to stay it wise. I can not wait to read far more from you. That is actually a great web site.

    Queen Sheets

    April 12, 2012 at 2:53 pm

  38. Do you know when this photo is taken?:

    One of the people there, Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab was live from 1701 to 1793 M. So if it’s true, then the photo above is the oldest photo that ever exist….

    If it’s not real, then whose photo is it?

    A Nizami

    April 23, 2012 at 11:45 pm

  39. I am the one that had taken that photo of those three standing there with a girl that had ran away from the scene and the other photo ofthe pyrimid shaped things it acually was a drwaing and the one a photo the first camera on earth steven segal had somthing he used that was not humane to capture photo,s mine was acually a nice invention one photo at a time and i have the first drawings on earth i believe i have no other family on the earth because of the holocaust and the murders that caused the holocaust the courts had made many mistakes in hireineg criminals to help them cary out executions they had turned on the courts and they used each other to get out of trouble and into more now they hide and commit crimes of mafia to hide thank you.

    • (To Richard) PLEASE SEEK HELP.

      Reader

      June 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

      • I am sorry that you feel that way although it is the truth there are some pepole who have commited some very evil crimes on this earth and if you are unable to realize that you need help when my family was murdered they took me to a underground facility and put me in the most wicked place with others it hurt so bad that i shot right through the air and went digging through the ground as a infant learned to speak as a infant and threw up structures that is the photo that is in the pictchure do you think that the structure is of a sound mind that it appears think about it the piramid structchure is from the pepole who worked for the courts and they had become sick from murdering so many then committing suicide at the some time placing their brains ontop of children trying to condem them it was so evil that i threw up the structchures that are in the shape of triangles and other shapes look ata them closley and you will see this and other countries where shaped in a matter of fifty years all the wars one right after another they have children that they hurt so bad me one of them that the children started to build objects and throw up structures from the pain those that have done this are the very ones that hide as the goverment hollywood wasa building where they murdered thousans of woman and children there is a underground hole in the earth that was dug out by the mouth of a child in pain where they now make hollywood movies to hide the evidence of what had happened as big as the earth did you forget it is as big as the earth and they are all overthe movie priest and cronicles of riddick made underground the new movie tronis in the underground hole that reaches across the earth did you forget that there where evil pepole that tried to murder everyone that had any knowledge of the favortizim for the courts those that put on wolly fur coats and sent there high price children to work for the courts the years have chandged fast and if you really think about it in fifty years pepole came running to the united states for free every thing houses being built with free everything in them keep telling yourself that evil never happened nor did the holocaust or all of the murders take place some of them where hurt so bad that structchers where built from the pain you need the help it happened where did they all go did it just get up and disappear the pictchure of the pyrimid shaped objects as buildings is from a child who threw up the structure from what they had did to him believe it. i was one of those who was hurt very bad and still get it today if you had ever seen a child put into some of the places where those murderers put them and used thier own brain that was sick from the crimes that they had commited then place the top portion of the brain ontop of the child right at the time that they had commited suicide then the child becomming over whelmed by the sick garbadge stored in their brain on a bran new baby that does not have the capaibility to comprehend it will make you sick look at some of the photo,s of what garbadge that those murderers had done then rethink what you said it happened they fought for a rifle to have the right to their family and the fur coat the wolly mamoth cat they ran the courts the citizens found out and they broke up they then sold and made the rifle for more the tank the motor the blimp the black powder it caused the havock on the earth within fifity some odd years.

        richard lindsey

        June 11, 2012 at 11:02 am

  40. by the way the goverment changes the dates all the time from when the holocaust happened and before to hide many family from all over the world wantting to join the infamous cort jestersd of king henry and those from england to be above all the rest and have everthing handed to them

  41. and i still live in utah in america and being held hostage for many things i could not possibly do for real no joke the pepole that have committed the holocaust crimes murdered and do not want the truth being told some so horrible that the world would take these humans and burry them some where that bad for real

  42. Awesome blog! Thank you for the multiple subject history lesson! I love history, and I wish I had paid attention in school!!! (Mr. W was just a bit too boring!)

    Just me

    June 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm

  43. look at the other photo of the pyrimid shaped structchures of the other oldest photo taken that is throwup from a child that had been hurt there is another photo of what they had done to an infant at http://www.gladlaw.com to an infant in an electric chair burmt a hammer inside his head at the bottom of the page a lady is holding his head up with a towel over her arms because he is so hot from the electric chair the infant is sitting in some how the inside of his brain is not there there is a hammer there though there are evil pepole in the world look at that photo http://www.gladlaw.com at the bottom of the page go to the death penalty area believe it.

    richard lindsey

    June 11, 2012 at 11:09 am

  44. [...] I read all comments, but in some cases, it’s just too much (the zenpadiso comments.) Or just too weird (Richard, at the end of the comments.) Sometimes people personally involved in events I describe have chimed in. I can only be flattered [...]

  45. [...] 這張照片拍攝是由Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre在法國巴黎的Boulevard du Temple所拍攝的,時間是1838年。出處(Source):unitedcats.wordpress.com [...]

  46. Hello Doug, I’m still new here but I think I’m going to LIKE this place!! Please refer to the attached link – it’s quite possible that Daguerre captured a human portrait as early as 1837 – labeled “M. Huet.” Take a look & let me know what you think!!

    Scroll down…..

    http://www.en.daguerre-france.com/index.php?affichage=menugeneral&id_inf=13&PHPSESSID=7sk2imsauharvdda0sogtg6hd7

    Johnny B

    February 14, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    • Hmm, it does indeed look like this predates the above photo. I will look into this further as time permits. Thanks. — Doug

      unitedcats

      April 15, 2013 at 8:00 pm

  47. [...] 這張照片拍攝是由Louis Jacques-Mande Daguerre在法國巴黎的Boulevard du Temple所拍攝的,時間是1838年。http://unitedcats.wordpress.com/2007/06/12/worlds-oldest-photograph-of-a-human-being/ [...]

    Earliest Photo

    May 5, 2013 at 10:14 am


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