World’s oldest photograph of a human being …
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.)