Advertisement
Features

9 September 1839: Sir John Herschel takes the first glass-plate photograph

On this day in 1839, Sir John Herschel created the first glass-plate negative – a photographic technique that would remain in use in astronomy until the 1990s.

Cameras' have been around for a very long time. We know the Chinese were playing around with pinhole cameras in the fifth century BC. A pinhole camera is simply a box with a small hole in the front. Light enters through the hole and an upside-down image is displayed on the inside back wall of the box.

Advertisement - Article continues below

We also know the Chinese were aware that certain chemicals underwent a change when exposed to light. Combine the two and you should have a photograph'. Sadly, no ancient selfies have come down to us. But you never know

After that, the ancient Greeks toyed with the technology, then the Arabs and the Europeans after them, and on into the Renaissance. But it wasn't until the early 19th century that photography, as we understand it, was born.

Frenchman Louis Daguerre is famous for inventing the daguerreotype an early form of photography that used metal plates in 1839. But on 9 September of that same year, our own Sir John Herschel created a photographic negative on a glass plate, using silver chloride. It is he who introduced the word photography' into the English language.

Herschel was one of the great Victorian polymaths, happy to turn his hand at almost anything. Besides his pioneering work in photography, he excelled at botany, maths, chemistry and the family hobby: astronomy. His father was Sir William Herschel for whom the space observatory, which blasted off in 2009, is named.

But why talk about astronomy? Because the glass-plate method (with a few modifications along the way) was ideal for photographing the skies. So successful in fact, that astronomers continued to use it into the 1990s.

If all that wasn't enough for one man (besides naming a whole bunch of planetary moons), Herschel also invented the Cyanotype' method. Cyan is the blue colour used in printing, and the process was used to make blueprints'.

Also on this day

9 September 1513: James IV's invading Scots army defeated at the Battle of Flodden

Read more here

Advertisement
Advertisement

Recommended

Visit/519858/how-long-can-the-good-times-roll
Economy

How long can the good times roll?

Despite all the doom and gloom that has dominated our headlines for most of 2019, Britain and most of the rest of the developing world is currently en…
19 Dec 2019
Visit/economy/601346/are-we-back-on-the-road-to-serfdom
Economy

Are we back on the road to serfdom?

The coronavirus crisis has led to levels of state intervention unprecedented in peace time. The Austrian School reminds us of the challenges, say Dan …
22 May 2020
Visit/economy/601380/moneyweeks-quiz-of-the-week-16-22-may
Economy

MoneyWeek's quiz of the week, 16-22 May

Test your recollection of the events of the last seven days with MoneyWeek's quiz of the week
22 May 2020
Visit/economy/uk-economy/601344/what-are-negative-interest-rates-and-could-they-happen-here
UK Economy

What are negative interest rates and could they happen here?

Negative interest rates – where banks pay you to borrow money – now exist in many parts of the world. John Stepek explains why they are a terrible ide…
18 May 2020

Most Popular

Visit/economy/eu-economy/601422/heres-why-investors-should-care-about-the-eus-plan-to-tackle-covid-19
EU Economy

Here’s why investors should care about the EU’s plan to tackle Covid-19

The EU's €750bn rescue package makes a break-up of the eurozone much less likely. John Stepek explains why the scheme is such a big deal, and what it …
28 May 2020
Visit/investments/commodities/industrial-metals/601401/money-printing-infrastructure-base-metals-copper
Industrial metals

Governments’ money-printing mania bodes well for base metals

Money is being printed like there is no tomorrow. Much of it will be used to pay for infrastructure projects – and that will be good for metals, says …
27 May 2020
Visit/investments/funds/601385/in-support-of-active-fund-management
Funds

In support of active fund management

We’re fans of passive investing here at MoneyWeek. But active fund management has its place too, says Merryn Somerset Webb.
25 May 2020