FIRST PHOTO EVER TAKEN AT A PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION

FIRST PHOTO EVER TAKEN AT A PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION

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© Montgomery C. Meigs Papers—Library of Congress Inauguration of James Buchanan, President of the United States, at the east front of the U.S. Capitol, March 4, 1857.

The 1850s were a significant period of growth in the history of photography. The wet collodion process, which was invented in 1851, gave photographers the ability to make direct contact prints from a glass negative. This process did have its difficulties — a portable darkroom was needed to accompany the photographer and long exposures were still often necessary. But the new process was enough of an improvement that it allowed photographers to document many landmark events for the first time, and the period saw various photographic milestones.

As President Donald J. Trump is being sworn in, thousands upon thousands of cameras are capturing the event for posterity (and Instagram likes). But in March of 1857, taking a picture was far more difficult than wresting that phablet out of your too-small pocket.

This image, seen above, was taken by John Wood, who worked for the Architect of the Capitol under Montgomery C. Meigs. According to a presentation given by Wayne Firth (retired Senior photographer at the Architect of the Capitol) in 1996 at the National Building Museum at the U.S. Capitol, Meigs, who was in charge of the construction of the Capitol at the time, hired Wood as a “photographic draftsman” for the building of the Capitol. His job was to photograph the drawings of the construction so they could be easily duplicated.

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