Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday

Today’s Google Doodle is in celebration of Louis Daguerre’s 224th birthday. Lois Daguerre was a French artist and physicist, most celebrated for the invention of the diorama and the daguerreotype, the first commercially successful method of photography.

Born in Cormeilles-en-Parisis, Val-d’Oise, France, Daguerre apprenticed in architecture, theater design, and panoramic painting with Pierre Prevost. Daguerre was extraordinarily talented at theater illusion, and became a celebrated authority in the field.

Daguerre entered into collaboration in 1825 with Nicéphore Niépce, the first to produce a permanent photograph. In 1839 Daguerre presented the perfected Daguerreotype, and the invention was so successful that the French government secured the patent – in return for a handsome pension for Daguerre and his collaborators – and presented the invention as a “Free Gift to the World.”

The daguerreotype process involves exposing silver-coated copper plates to iodine, and then exposing these plates to light for several minutes. Due to the differences in colors and amounts of light reflecting off the objects in view, the corresponding areas of the plate became lighter or darker. Daguerre then coated the plates with mercury vapor heated to exactly 75 degrees Celsius, so that the mercury would amalgamate to the silver, and would ensure that the image stayed permanently in place by coating it with seawater.

At the same time that Daguerre was working on his photographic process, William Fox Talbot was working on his own photographic invention, called the calotype, in Great Britain. In order to protect his own invention, Daguerre registered the British patent for the daguerreotype in England only a week before the French government declared their “Gift to the World;” as a result, Great Britain was one of the few countries where the patent was enforced.

Despite the fact that a daguerreotype only produced one image (which could not be reproduced like Talbot’s calotype could,) the daguerreotype process became enormously successful and millions were produced, mostly of people. Daguerre remains famous today for the invention of the first successful permanent photograph, as well as for the diorama that every school-age child since the 1900s knew and loved so well.