John Adams Whipple, a pioneering American photographer, was born Sep. 10, 1822. Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of William Cranch Bond, the first director of the Harvard College Observatory and the overseer of its 15″ refracting telescope. Beginning in 1847, when the Great Refractor was installed, Bond and Whipple teamed up to take daguerreotypes of the Moon. These were by far the best astrophotographs taken in the swaddling days of photography; one of them was exhibited at the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 in London and won an award. An 1852 Whipple daguerreotype of the moon survives at Harvard (see first image above). It is still very impressive; it must have been quite remarkable when it was fresh.

Whipple went on to found a photographic studio in Boston and become a respected portrait and architectural photographer. One of his portraits, an albumen print taken in 1863, shows Asa Gray, professor of botany at Harvard, good friend of Charles Darwin, and one of the earliest defenders of Darwinian evolution in America (second image).

And while these next two photos, both daguerreotypes, have nothing to do with science, they do show us how good Whipple was at turning photography from a dry and uncharismatic art into one full of warmth and humor. The first (third image) is a family portrait of landscape gardener Henry Winthrop Sargent. It exudes both wit and charm and resides in the collection of the Boston Athenaeum. The second (fourth image), a delightfully droll double portrait, shows a floppy felt hat in a chair at left, being retrieved by a body-less hand, and Professor Cornelius Conway Felton on the right, with his hat now comfortably back where it belongs. This photograph is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City. Comments or corrections are welcome; please direct to