22 Of The Most Incredible “First” Pictures From History

Well, you have to start somewhere.

1. The world’s first photo ever taken.

While several others had experimented with capturing images, the first permanent photo was made by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. His earliest surviving picture is called “View From the Window at Le Gras” and was taken from a window of his estate at Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France.

2. The world’s first picture of people.

Photos made in 1838 required a long exposure time, which meant that anything moving would immediately disappear from the picture. Luckily for photographer Louis Daguerre, there was a shoeshiner in the lower lefthand corner of this picture who stood still just long enough to be caught on camera.

3. The world’s first “selfie” (also the world’s first portrait!).

Robert Cornelius was a lamp maker turned pioneer of photography. After his skills in silver polishing made him a perfect candidate to begin experimenting in early photography, he snapped the world’s first portrait outside of his family store in Philadelphia, 1839.

4. The world’s first photo “hoax.”

Hippolyte Bayard had claimed to be the inventor of photography. But after Louis Daguerre beat Bayard to the French Academy of Sciences, Bayard took it personally. In response, Bayard created this picture in 1840, along with the written statement “The corpse which you see here is that of M. Bayard.”

5. The first-ever picture of a full moon.

J. W. Draper / Getty Images

Using a telescope, scientist John William Draper is credited with capturing the first picture of a full moon in 1840.

6. The world’s first photo of people getting drunk.

David Octavius Hill was a Scottish pioneer of photography with a sense of humor. So what did he do when this groundbreaking new invention hit the streets for the first time? He snapped a picture of himself and his buddies getting drunk in 1844.

7. The world’s first photo of the sun.

Five years after the first picture of a full moon was taken, French physicists Louis Fizeau and Lion Foucault captured this image of the sun in 1845.

8. The first-ever pictures from a war zone.

 

The Crimean War of 1853–1856 had the attention of Europe during the mid-19th century. So Prince Albert and the Duke of Newcastle made the request that photographer Roger Fenton go the Crimea and record the happenings. As a result, Fenton captured some of the first pictures ever taken of an active war zone. Despite witnessing the war firsthand, Fenton has been criticized for staging many of the pictures he took.

9. The world’s first aerial photo (well, sorta).

Taken from a hot air ballon above Boston, photographer James Wallace Black captured the oldest surviving aerial photo in 1860.

 

But James Wallace Black wasn’t the first to take a photo up in the air! In fact, a French photographer by the name of Nadar is credited to have made similar photos in Paris two years before Black did. Unfortunately, none of those pictures survive today. Womp womp womp.

10. The world’s first color picture.

To make this picture in 1861, physicist James Clerk Maxwell had photographer Thomas Sutton take three of the same pictures with different color filters over the lens: one red, one green, and one blue-violet. When the three images were merged, they formed the first-ever color photo!

11. The world’s first high speed photo shoot.

In 1872, a railroad baron named Leland Stanford hired photographer Eadweard Muybridge to find out if there’s ever a moment when all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground at the same time while it runs (before photography, people didn’t know these things!). It took some time, but Muybridge used a dozen cameras triggered by strings in 1878 to prove that all four of a horse’s hooves do in fact leave the ground at once.

12. The world’s first photo of lightning.

In September 1882, Philadelphia photographer and Franklin Institute member William Jennings is credited with accomplishing what was once impossible: capturing a bolt of lightning on camera.

13. The world’s first photo of an airplane in flight.

John T. Daniels / AP

On Dec. 17, 1903, photographer and friend of the Wright brothers John T. Daniels captured history in the making. Daniels mentioned later that he was so excited to see the plane take off that he almost forgot to take the picture!

14. The first photo of an actual tornado.

When a tornado touched down near Central City, Kansas, on April 24, 1884, a local fruit farmer and amateur photographer named A.A. Adams quickly assembled his cumbersome camera equipment and captured the first-ever image of a tornado.

15. The first photos of an atomic explosion.

AP Photo / U.S. Army

In this sequence of photos, a mushroom cloud is recorded by an Army automatic motion picture camera 6 miles away as the first atomic bomb test was conducted in Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945.

16. The first photo taken from outer space.

On Oct. 24, 1946, the United States of America launched a suborbital V-2 rocket at the White Sands Missile Range, along with a camera that snapped a picture every second and a half during its journey. At 65 miles above Earth, these pictures were taken five times higher than any other picture before.

17. The world’s first-ever digital photo.

In 1957, American engineer Russell Kirsch, along with his team at the National Bureau of Standards, developed with world’s first digital image scanner. The first digital image Kirsch ever made was a scan of his 3-month-old son, Walden.

18. The first picture of Earth taken from the Moon.

In 1966, the world caught its first glimpse of our planet from the perspective of the moon. This photo was taken on Aug. 3, 1966, just as Lunar Orbiter I was about to pass behind the moon on its 16th orbit.

19. The first photo from the surface of Mars.

On July 20, 1976, the Viking 1 lander touched down on Mars and snapped the first picture ever taken on the surface of the Red Planet.

20. The first photo to be uploaded on the World Wide Web.

In 1992, the parody rock group Les Horribles Cernettes (which was founded by staff of the European Organization for Nuclear Research) was asked by their colleague Tim Berners-Lee to contribute a photo to something he invented called “the World Wide Web.” Little did they know that their picture would be the first one ever on today’s internet!

21. The first direct photo ever taken of DNA.

Enzo Di Fabrizio

In 2012, using an electron microscope and a microscopic “photo studio” constructed from water-repellant silicon pillars, a physics professor at Magna Graecia University named Enzo Di Fabrizio captured what was previously thought impossible — an actual portrait of DNA.

22. The first picture of the inside of a hydrogen atom.

Stodolna et al. / Physical Review Letters

Using a newly invented quantum microscope, physicist Aneta Stodolna and her team at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in the Netherlands captured the first picture of a hydrogen atom’s orbital structure in 2013. Up until that point, scientists had described quantum particles by studying their wavelength, but never actually by observing the electrons themselves.

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