Architectural Scenes and Outdoor Views
The daguerreotype of the south side of the White House was probably taken in the winter of 1846 during President James K. Polk's administration. A small patch of snow is visible in the foreground of the image. This work was one of five daguerreotypes of Washington buildings, including the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Patent Office, acquired by the Library in 1972.
One of the earliest surviving photographs of the Capitol, John Plumbe, Jr.'s daguerreotype shows the building with its old copper-sheathed wooden dome. The photographer had hoped to sell "plumbeotypes," hand-produced lithographic images based on daguerreotypes, of several Washington buildings, as well as likenesses of prominent individuals. His endeavor was not successful, and very few plumbeotypes have survived.
In 1853, Platt Babbitt opened a daguerreotype studio at Niagara Falls. He was probably the first daguerreotypist to specialize in tourist photography by taking images of people watching the Falls. This view is an early news photograph. Two men boating in the Niagara River were overwhelmed by the river's strong current, lost control of their boat, and crashed into a rock. The current carried one man immediately over the Falls to his death. The daguerreotype shows the second man, stranded on a log which had jammed between two rocks. He weathered the current for eighteen exhausting hours before succumbing to the river.
Most likely this image was taken by the daguerreotypist, L.J. Phillips. Phillips may have worked as an itinerant daguerreotypist. His sign, which is made of cloth, can be seen under the upper right window of the County House. It was not unusual for photographers to set up a temporary studio in a town that did not have a resident daguerreotypist.