William Lewis senior along with his son William H. Lewis, claimed to have made the first cameras, coating boxes, mercury baths and head rests for business in America. They were first used, in 1840, by Walcot and Johnson in the first daguerreotype room in the city of New York on the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. A daguerreotype image from Walcot and Johnson sold for five dollars and were in great demand.
In 1843, William and William H. Lewis continued to make photographic apparatus on the corner of Elizabeth and Hester Streets and served daguerreotypists throughout the country.
Note that William Lewis Sr. had two other sons in addition to William H. Lewis. Richard A. Lewis was a prominent daguerrotypist and another son, H. J. Lewis also worked for the firm. A daughter, Jennie, married Alonzo J. Drummond, another Daguerrian photographer. Other family members of William Lewis also participated in the business. Grandsons William H. Lewis, II and Frank S. Lewis, and indent-in-law, Bradford Johnson continued various parts of the business beyond 1900.
In 1846 W & W.H. Lewis expanded and moved to 142 Chathman street.
In 1851, The Lewis' introduced what is believed to be the first commercial camera to incorporate a folding bellows (US patent no. 8513, 11 Nov. 1851), which was reputed to have been made from Mrs. Lewis' black taffeta dress. It was the first commercially produced bellows camera in the United States. On June 16, 1851 the daguerrian Journal described the camera improvement as :
Messrs. Lewis are never behind the times; no sooner has a new fashion come out, than they are out as well with something new to keep pace. these camera boxes are, when closed, less than half the usual length, in bellows form, and are decidedly neat and practicable. We like then much, and our Daguerreotypists are demonstrating their opinions by their orders. We shall illustrate this box by a cut into a future number.
In 1851 W and W.H. Lewis opened a factory on the west bank of the Hudson river located on the Quassaick Creek, to accommodate the demand for the new camera. It was approximately one mile south of the center village of newburgh, in New Windsor, New York and referred to as Daguerreville. In the November 1851 Daguerrean Journal, it stated that the Lewis factory was the largest manufacturer of Daguerrian equipment, in the world at that time and recorded the building to be the size of 50 feet by 100 feet with a large 16 foot water wheel providing 30 horsepower for all machinery in the building.
In 1852, shortly after the factory opening, it failed and was sold to the firm of Gardner, Harrison & Co. From what can be found it appears that there was a legal issue with property ownership and mortgage payments. Then in 1853 the factory was sold to and run by Joseph Longking and Aaron F. Palmer. They still produced the original Lewis design with no improvements, but bearing their name. It shortly went out of business also.
In 1853-1854 W. & W.H. Lewis continued manufacturing operations of daguerreian apparatus at 63 Elizabeth Street, New York City and also maintained a daguerreian gallery on Hester Street at the corner of Elizabeth Street.
In approximately 1876 William Lewis Sr. died and the firm was carried on by W.H. Lewis.
Patents: The Lewis' had the most US patents for photographic equipment, in the 1850s era.
the first bellows camera, (US 8513),
the adjustable (Lewis) lens (US 8590),
the first lantern slide projector and photographic enlarger (US 371,252),
numerous improvements in plate holders, camera tripods (US 336,815; 629,379),,
posing chairs (US 119,090),
stereo viewers (US 165,241; 168, 652; 170,749; 201,804),
specialized cameras (US 307,965; 342,211; 342,212; 349,133; 360,314; 372,856; 386,996),
camera shutters (US 359,797; 367,986; 372,857; 437,655),
Others improvements documented in articles but the patent number not readily available include the detachable extension bed, the tripod mount with a keyhole and cam bolt eliminating the cumbersome screw mount , and an improved swing back, solid glass corner holder, the nitrate of silver bath holder, and many more.
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