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Introduced by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre in 1839, the daguerreotype was the first publicly announced photographic process. A daguerreotype is made by treating a silver-coated copper plate with light-sensitive chemicals, exposing it in a camera, and developing it with a mercury vapor. The result is an exquisitely detailed image.

Harvard's extensive photographic holdings include more than 3,500 daguerreotypes, which are gathered together in this online collection. Housed in libraries, museums, and archives across the University, Harvard's daguerreotypes include some of the earliest successful photographs of the moon, views of the first operations using ether as an anesthetic, rare portraits of African-born slaves, and Harvard's earliest photographic class albums. Portraits include Horatio Alger, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Jenny Lind, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and James McNeill Whistler. The collections represent the work of pioneering daguerreotypists Mathew Brady, Albert Sands Southworth and Josiah Johnson Hawes, John Adams Whipple, and others.

Daguerreotypes at Harvard had its genesis in a 1995 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which enabled Harvard to preserve and enhance access to its daguerreotype collections. This online collection, developed through the Weissman Preservation Center Photograph Preservation Program, is made possible with generous support from Paul M. and Harriet L. Weissman and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.