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John Adams Whipple

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John Adams Whipple
From the August 1851 edition of the Photographic Art-Journal
Born(1822-09-10)September 10, 1822
DiedApril 10, 1891(1891-04-10) (aged 68)
Resting placeWorcester, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation(s)Photographer, inventor
Known forPhotographic pioneer
Elizabeth Mann
(m. 1819; died 1891)
  • Jonathan Whipple (father; 1795–1851)
  • Melinda Grout (mother; 1799–1863)
Portrait of Daniel Webster by J. A. Whipple, c. 1847

John Adams Whipple (September 10, 1822 – April 10, 1891)[1] was an American inventor and early photographer. He was the first in the United States to manufacture the chemicals used for daguerreotypes. He pioneered astronomical and night photography. He was a prize-winner for his extraordinary early photographs of the moon and he was the first to produce images of stars other than the sun. Among those was the star Vega and the Mizar-Alcor stellar sextuple system,[citation needed] which was thought to be a double star until 2009.[2]


Whipple was born in Grafton, Massachusetts, to Jonathan and Melinda (Grout) Whipple. While a boy he was an ardent student of chemistry, and on the introduction of the daguerreotype process into the United States (1839–1840) he was the first to manufacture the necessary chemicals.

View of the Moon, by Whipple, February 26, 1852

His health having become impaired through this work, he devoted his attention to photography. He made his first daguerreotype in the winter of 1840, "using a sun-glass for a lens, a candle box for a camera, and the handle of a silver spoon as a substitute for a plate." Over time he became a prominent daguerreotype portraitist in Boston. In addition to making portraits for the Whipple and Black studio, Whipple photographed important buildings in and around Boston, including the house occupied by General George Washington in 1775 and 1776 (photographed circa 1855, now in the Smithsonian).

Whipple married Elizabeth Mann (1819–1891) on May 12, 1847, in Boston.[1]

Advertisement, Boston Directory, 1848[3]

Between 1847 and 1852 Whipple and astronomer William Cranch Bond, director of the Harvard College Observatory, used Harvard's Great Refractor telescope to produce images of the moon that are remarkable in their clarity of detail and aesthetic power. This was the largest telescope in the world at that time, and their images of the moon took the prize for technical excellence in photography at the great 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition in London.[4]

On the night of July 16–17, 1850, Whipple and Bond made the first daguerreotype of a star (Vega). In 1863, Whipple used electric lights to take night photographs of Boston Common.

Whipple was as prolific as an inventor as a photographer. He invented crayon daguerreotypes and crystallotypes (daguerreotypes on glass). With his partner or assistant, William Breed Jones,[5] he developed the process for making paper prints from glass albumen negatives (crystallotypes). His American patents include Patent Number 6,056, the "Crayon Daguerreotype"; Patent Number 7,458, the "Crystallotype" (Credit shared with William B. Jones).

Whipple died suddenly, of pneumonia, on April 10, 1891, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was buried at Westborough, Worcester Co., Massachusetts.[1]

Image gallery[edit]

Collections of his works[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Whipple, Blaine (2007), 15 Generations of Whipples, vol. 2, Baltimore, Maryland: Gateway Press, pp. G620–G627
  2. ^ "First known binary star is discovered to be a triplet, quadruplet, quintuplet, sextuplet system".
  3. ^ Boston Directory. 1848
  4. ^ Messenheimer, Micah; Natanson, Barbara Orbach (July 22, 2021). ""A step out of and beyond nature": Picturing the Moon". Library of Congress Blogs. Archived from the original on July 22, 2021. Retrieved April 15, 2023. Whipple's daguerreotypes won a medal for excellence at the 1851 Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London, which lauded their role in starting "a new era in astronomical representation."
  5. ^ "Heliography". www.breadandbutterscience.com.