[John Van Buren, half-length portrait, three-quarters to left]
Democratic congressman from New York, 1841-1843; son of President Martin Van Buren.
Scratched on back of plate: 75; 133.
Transfer; U.S. War College; 1920. (DLC/PP-1920:46153).
Forms part of: Daguerreotype collection (Library of Congress).
Produced by Mathew Brady's studio.
The daguerreotype is a photographic process invented by the Parisian inventor and entrepreneur Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787-1851) who was the first person to publicly announce a successful method of capturing images. His invention was an immediate hit, and France was soon gripped by ‘daguerreotypomania’. Daguerre released his formula and anyone was free to use it without paying a license fee – except in Britain, where he had secured a patent. Daguerreotypes required a subject to remain still for several minutes to ensure that the image would not blur.
Mathew Brady (1823-1896) was one of the most prolific photographers of the nineteenth century, creating a visual documentation of the Civil War period (1860-1865). During the Civil War, Brady and his associates traveled throughout the eastern part of the country, capturing the effects of the War through photographs of people, towns, and battlefields. Additionally, Brady kept studios in Washington, DC and New York City, where many influential politicians and war heroes sat for portraits. The U.S. National Archives has digitized over 6,000 images from the series Mathew Brady Photographs of Civil War-Era Personalities and Scenes (National Archives's Local Identifier 111-B) and included them in our online catalog. The U.S. National Archives was established in 1934 by President Franklin Roosevelt, but its major holdings date back to 1775. The National Archives keeps only those Federal records that are judged to have continuing value -- about 2 to 5 percent of those generated in any given year. By now, they add up to a formidable number, diverse in form as well as in content. In addition to the photographs and graphic images described above, there are approximately 9 billion pages of textual records; 7.2 million maps, charts, and architectural drawings; billions of machine-readable data sets; and more than 365,000 reels of film and 110,000 videotapes. All of these materials are preserved because they are important to the workings of Government, have long-term research worth, or provide information of value to citizens.
In 1844, Mathew Brady opened a photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York. By 1845, he began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opened a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Brady's early images were daguerreotypes, and he won many awards for his work. In 1850, Brady produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which featured noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, was not financially rewarding but invited increased attention to Brady's work. When the Civil War started, he used a mobile studio and darkroom enabled vivid battlefield photographs. Thousands of war scenes were captured, as well as portraits of generals and politicians on both sides of the conflict, though most of these were taken by his assistants, rather than by Brady himself. After the war, these pictures went out of fashion, and the government did not purchase the master-copies as he had anticipated. Brady's fortunes declined sharply, and he died in debt.