In a November 7, 2014, story, CNN’s Brandon Briggs shares the story about this “oldest photo” from Mashable.com and Amanda Uren of Retronaut.com, a website that archives historic photos. Apparently, the photo has appeared online before, but it’s generated more attention because Mashable published it as a full-page story… And just where is the human in this “earliest-known photo with a person”? In the lower left corner, a man has his boots cleaned with a sidewalk vendor. Louis Daguerre—the French photographer famous for pioneering the daguerreotype, an early photo process—captured the image in Paris.
But wait a second: It’s a Paris street, after all. It should be bustling. Where is everyone?
“The exposure time [for a daguerreotype ] was around seven minutes,” Uren explains, “and although the street would have been busy with traffic and pedestrians, it appears deserted. That’s because everything that moved was too fast to register on the plate. The exception is the man at the lower left who was still long enough to appear in the photograph.” Uren also notes that the daguerreotype process created a mirror image of the actual scene and measured 6.5 x 8.5 inches.
So, I began to wonder about the oldest photo within the half-million historic photographs in the archives here at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. I had my suspicions it would probably be an early image of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody as a child. It turns out we have two. The first is a photo of Cody at age 2 (1848) wearing a dress. Can you guess why?
Our other “oldest” images include Cody at age 4 (1850), George Armstrong Custer as a West Point cadet (1857), and detective Allan Pinkerton (1862).
L – R: William F. Cody, age 4. MS 6 William F. Cody Collection. P.6.672; West Point Cadet George Armstrong Custer, ca. 1857. MS 71 Vincent Mercaldo Collection. P.71.233; and Detective Allan Pinkerton, ca. 1862. MS 71 Vincent Mercaldo Collection. P.71.855. All from the archives of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming, USA
Explore the historic photos in the archives of the Center’s McCracken Research Library; if you find an older image, let us know! (And about that “dress” on Toddler Buffalo Bill? Believe it or not, it makes perfect sense!)