Photography was introduced to the United States by Samuel Morse - who we know better as the inventor of the early telegraph system and the Morse Code. Samuel was a portrait painter working in New York City when he received late notice by horse carrier that his wife was ill. By the time he returned home, his wife had died and was already buried. Samuel turned his anger into a cause that led to improving the telegraph sytem which was starting to be used over short distances in Europe. Morse invented a single wire system that could carry messages across long distances. The US government was unwilling to finance his efforts, so Morse went to Europe seeking financing and to patent his invention in the European countries.
While in France, he met another portrait painter named Louis-Jacques-Mande' Daguerre who had just announced his invention of the Daguerreotype in January of 1839. Morse received hands on instruction in the complex process of creating a portrait on sterling silver plated copper from Daguerre - after agreeing to explain and demonstrate his telegraph invention. Daguerre experimented with preserving images of street scenes and buildings but confessed, "it would probably never work to take a human portrait due to the long exposure time of 10-15 minutes.
On his return to New York in April 1839, Morse inspired his two brothers Sidney and Richard with his own enthusiasm and according to his brother Sidney, they removed the central part of the roof of their six story building, covered it with a skylight, furnished the new chamber with cameras and the other apparatus of photography, and erected the first "tabernacle for the sun", on the Western hemisphere. Morse took the first photograph in the US from a back window of the University which was a view of the tower of the Church Of The Messiah, located on Broadway. Morse experimented and perfected his daguerreotype process in this studio and opened the first classroom in America to teach the art science of photography. A collegue of Morse, John William Draper would take the very first photo of a female face. Robert Cornelius would take his own portrait to be the first male face to be photographed.
In 1844 Morse's communication vision came true and he sent the successful telegraph message through a wire from Washington to Baltimore that echoed the world over "What hath God wrought?"
Among the earliest students of Samuel Morse are in my collection below. Jeremiah Gurney, brothers William, Myron and Jacob Shew, and Mathew Brady.
These men were among the US photographers who improved the photographic process allowing a portrait to be taken in a "short" 20-40 seconds. For the very first time, a person could view and hold their image in their hands. Prior to 1840, only the very rich could have an image of themselves preserved in a painting, or own a silvered mirror to view ones image. The early daguerreotype was very expensive and still reserved for the wealthiest clients, as the $5.00 cost was more than the average worker earned in over a week. By the end of the 1840's the cost came down quickly, allowing the average person to have their likeness preserved for a mere 25 cents. Millions of daguerreotype were produced between 1840 and 1860, but few have survived 160 years due to improper handling, storage and tarnish damage. Ambrotypes were a "wet chemical process" - where an image was preserved on glass. Ambrotypes first introduced in the early 1850's were very fragile like Daguerreotypes and were mounted under glass and housed in special cases. The Tin Type followed, although many of the first "masters of photography" would never offer this cheap and sub-standard photo process to their clients. Daguereotypes, Ambrotypes and Tin Types are all "one of a kind images". The Albumen and Salt Print "paper photograph" used a glass negative - allowing duplicate photos of the same pose. The glass negative was later replaced by George Eastman's invention of the portable camera filled with a roll of "film"-known as a Kodak in 1886. This flexible film process would remain relatively the same for 110 years, with only the camera changing shape and function.
How a Daguerreotype is produced - link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmm90yhhuJM
How an Ambrotype is produced - linkhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mzCCjlubQ2o
How a TinType is produced - linkhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fY5KQQLBbcs&feature=related