Photographic pioneer John Adams Whipple was born to Jonathan and Melinda (Grout) Whipple in Grafton, Massachusetts on September 10, 1822. He became fascinated with chemistry at an early age, and unlike most boys his age, he played with chemicals rather than toys. While still in his teens, his love of chemicals segued into an interest in daguerreotype, for which he became the first manufacturer of the chemicals required for the process. While profitable, Mr. Whipple began suffering from serious health problems due to inhalation of the toxic chemical fumes.
Turning his attentions to photography, John Adams Whipple soon became the most successful portrait photographer in Boston, with buildings and historical monuments his specialty. His personal life was also thriving with his marriage to Elizabeth Mann on May 12, 1847. Within a few years, he combined his fascination for astronomy with his photographic vocation. Working closely with Harvard College Observatory astronomer William Cranch Bond, Mr. Whipple used a Harvard refracting telescope (at the time the largest of its kind in the world) to produce daguerreotypes of the moon, the constellation Vega, and of Jupiter. Their magnificent detail generated considerable attention at London's Great Exhibition in 1851. These daguerreotypes inspired greater scientific exploration, and also created renewed enthusiasm for astronomical photography.
Despite their great international success and producing seventy daguerreotypes, Mr. Whipple and Mr. Bond suspended their collaboration, and Mr. Whipple began working with William B. Jones and James Wallace Black, who were also producing daguerreotypes at the Harvard College Observatory during the same period. With Mr. Black, he began experimenting with producing paper prints from glass albumen negatives known as crystallotypes. He was awarded several patents for his work with crystallotypes including the "Crayon Daguerreotype." Whipple & Black became a professional partnership, and their studio soon became the most successful in Boston, rivaling only the popular company Southworth & Hawes.
During his partnership with Mr. Black, Mr. Whipple experimented with photographic composition, which resulted in some breathtaking landscapes of New Hampshire. The crystallotype technique proved to be an invaluable comopostional tool. For reasons unclear, Whipple & Black dissolved their business relationship in 1859. However, John Adams Whipple continued his experimentation with various photographic processes, while continuing to produce impressive portraits of individuals and current events. He was commissioned to photograph Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois. The portrait of Mr. Lincoln and his young son Willie was featured in his presidential campaign of 1860. Daniel Webster was another famous daguerreotype subject. Among the natural disasters captured within Mr. Whipple's lenses was "The Great Boston Fire" of 1872. After an illustrious career as an extraordinary inventor and photographer, John Adams Whipple died in his beloved Boston on April 10, 1891 at the age of sixty-eight.
1851 Photographic Art Journal, Vol. II, No. 2 (New York: W.B. Smith ), pp. 94.95.
1991 The Daguerreotype: Nineteenth-Century Technology and Modern Science (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press), pp. 88-89.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), pp. 88-89, 164-165.
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