Alexander S. Wolcott

Alexander S. Wolcott
Alexander wolcott.jpg
circa 1843
Born (1804-06-14)June 14, 1804
Died March 26, 1844(1844-03-26) (aged 39)
Nationality American
Occupation Manufacturer
Known for World's first portrait studio
Notable work
First U.S. patented camera

Alexander Simon Wolcott (also Alexander S. Wolcott and A. S. Wolcott; June 14, 1804 – March 26, 1844) was a maker of medical supplies. He was a nineteenth-century pioneer photographer and inventor. He made with John Johnson the world's first commercial photography portrait studio and patented the first US camera that made photographs.

Early life

Wolcott was born on June 14, 1804, in New London, Connecticut.[1] He was the son of Alexander Wolcott, Sr. and Joanne (Paull) Wolcott.[2]


Wolcott reflector mirror camera diagram of patent No. 1,562
Wolcott's box camera invention patented May 8, 1840

Wolcott lived in New York City in the 1830s and made dental supplies for a living.[3][4] He worked in the mechanics of designing instruments that used optics.[5] In 1839 he became an associated with Johnson, a jeweler and watchmaker's assistant.[6] Johnson took to Wolcott on October 6, 1839, a copy of the specifications on Daguerre's method of capturing a likeness of a person and storing on a permanent plate that would hold the picture indefinitely.[7][8] They made a camera that day based on Daguerre's method and started experimenting with it.[1][9]

Wolcott improved on Daguerre's lens camera by making a camera that used a mirror instead.[3][10] On October 7, 1839, Wolcott made the first portrait in the world with a prototype of his daguerreotype camera when he took a picture of his partner Johnson.[11][12][13][14] Wolcott patented it on May 8, 1840 (US #1,582).[15] It became known as "Wolcott's camera" and referred to as the "mirror camera."[16] It was the first US patent in photography.[17][18]

Wolcott and Johnson started using their camera on March 4, 1840, in a New York City business on Broadway called the "Daguerreian Parlor" that made commercial portraits in a studio.[19][20][21][22] It was in the Granite Building.[23] They had opened the world's first commercial daguerreotype gallery, a portrait photography studio.[9][24][25][26] By June they had a branch studio in Washington D.C., which was operated by John G. Stevenson.[27]

Wolcott's patented camera used a polished concave mirror to reflect the focused light onto a photosensitive plate that was less than a half inch square.[17] The pictures were not a negative image of reverse colors, but a correct positive image that did not require reversion of the image.[28] The size of the photo-sensitive plate was eventually increased to just over two square inches that they could make a likeness image, because of their refined mechanical lighting techniques.[14]

Wolcott and Johnson continued to improve their photography techniques as time went on. Wolcott improved his photo-sensitive plate and came up with a chemical "accelerator" that was a mix of bromide and chloride. This along with improved polished silver plates earned them a second U.S. patent in photography in December 1841, designated #2,391. They also came up with new innovative studio lighting by designing special outdoor mirrors that provided more light to the inside studio itself for faster better quality portrait pictures.[29]

Later life

Wolcott died on November 10, 1844, in Stamford, Connecticut.[1][28]


  1. ^ a b c Falk 1999, p. 3116.
  2. ^ Hannavy 2013, p. 1502.
  3. ^ a b KodakMuseum 1989, p. 21.
  4. ^ McGraw-Hill 1969, pp. 136–137.
  5. ^ Newhall 1976, p. 156.
  6. ^ Gillespie 2016, p. 138.
  7. ^ APHA 1984, p. 54.
  8. ^ Heathcote 2002, pp. 87–89.
  9. ^ a b Newhall 1976, p. 25.
  10. ^ Signals 1953, p. 18.
  11. ^ Watson, Elmo Scott (June 13, 1940). "Again is Raised the Question of Who Made the First Camera in the U.S." The Times-Independent. Moab, Utah. p. 2 – via open access. Wolcott who was an instrument maker and manufacturer of dental supplies took a daguerreotype of his partner John Johnson on October 7, 1839, according to Taft and this was the first photographic portrait.
  12. ^ "Who made the first good daguerreotype!". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York. February 1, 1883. p. 2 – via open access.
  13. ^ Watson, Elmo Scott (November 24, 1938). "Next Year Will Be Celebrated The Centennial of Photography". The Times-Independent. Moab, Utah. p. 3 – via open access.
  14. ^ a b McDarrah 1999, p. 541.
  15. ^ Macintosh 1843, pp. 275–283.
  16. ^ Ikenson 2012, p. 15.
  17. ^ a b Hannavy 2013, pp. 1056, 1502.
  18. ^ "Patent issued". New Castle News. New Castle, Pennsylvania. June 8, 1978. p. 15 – via open access.
  19. ^ Hirsch 2017, p. 32.
  20. ^ Gernsheim 1986, p. 31.
  21. ^ Glenner 1990, p. 11.
  22. ^ Kane 1997, p. 414.
  23. ^ Gillespie 2016, p. 139.
  24. ^ Schimmelman 2002, p. 3.
  25. ^ Daguerreian Society 2008, p. 105.
  26. ^ Baird 1975, p. 1.
  27. ^ Taft 1938, p. 460.
  28. ^ a b "Mr. Alexander S. Wolcott". The Times-Picayune. New Orleans, Louisiana. November 20, 1844. p. 2 – via open access.
  29. ^ Hannavy 2013, pp. 1502–1503.


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