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Thousands of cameras and other equipment represent the technical and business side of the field.

The daguerreotype, the first photographic process, was invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851) and spread rapidly around the world after its presentation to the public in Paris in 1839.

The firm was known around the world for its aesthetic accomplishments and technical finesse.

The Boston partnership produced among the finest portrait daguerreotypes in America for leading political, intellectual, and artistic figures, from Daniel Webster (37.14.2) to Harriet Beecher Stowe (). A skilled daguerreotypist, he learned the technical aspects of the process from the American pioneers of the medium, Samuel Morse and John Draper.

The most successful artists built lavish portrait studios on the upper floors of buildings on and just off Broadway, and in other major American cities from Boston to San Francisco.

Fascinated by François Gouraud’s demonstrations in Boston of Daguerre’s new invention, Albert Sands Southworth (1811–1894), a pharmacist in Cabotville (now Chicopee), Massachusetts, went to New York in 1840 to study the technique with Samuel F. Morse (1791–1872) (2005.100.75), who had learned about photography from Daguerre himself.

Nineteenth-century photography, from its initial development by W. Glass stereographs and news-service negatives by the Underwood & Underwood firm document life in America between the 1890s and the 1930s.

The history of amateur photography and photojournalism are preserved here, along with the work of 20th-century masters such as Richard Avedon and Edward Weston.

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Although born in Europe, the daguerreotype was extremely popular in the United States—especially in New York City, where in the late 1850s hundreds of daguerreotypists vied for clients.

No artist is more closely tied to the early years of American photographic practice than Mathew B. Brady opened his first studio in 1844 and set himself the task of photographing the nation’s leading figures—presidents (56.517.4) and military men, business leaders and stars of the stage, writers and artists.

In the mid-1850s, however, Brady and other artists began using collodion-on-glass negatives, or wet plates, and soon the era of the daguerreotype was over.

Holmes (1820–1886) (1997.382.52) could simultaneously record the city’s inhabitants and its streets and monuments, something not easily accomplished with the daguerreotype process.

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The vast majority of American photographs made before the Civil War era are portraits.By the late 1850s, most American artists had switched from the daguerreotype process to large glass-plate negatives and albumen silver prints that combined the exquisite clarity of the daguerreotype and the endless reproducibility of paper-print photography.

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