Photographic pioneer Hamilton Lanphere Smith was born to Anson and Amy Beckwith Smith in New London, Connecticut on November 5, 1818. His scientific expertise was revealed when he constructed his first telescope while a college student at Yale University. After graduation, he moved to Cleveland where he became a merchant, but science remained his first love, often at the expense of his flour business. In 1841, Mr. Smith married the former Susan Beecher, but sadly, she died within a year after giving birth to the couple's daughter. Five years' later, he married Julia Buttles, with whom he had two sons.
By the 1840s, Mr. Smith abandoned his business and immersed himself in scientific research, publishing "A Natural Philosophy for Schools" in 1842 and "The World; First Lessons in Science and Astronomy" in 1845. He also served as editor of the Annals of Science semimonthly periodical from 1842 to 1844 and became a frequent contributor to the American Journal of Science. While Mr. Smith was writing about marine algae, he was experimenting with the collodion positive photographic process. His interest in photography dated back to his college days, and as early as 1840, he was experimenting with the new daguerreotype method, and shared his research with the American Journal of Arts and sciences the following year.
In 1854, Mr. Smith became a Professor of Astronomy and Natural History at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. With the assistance of seminary student Peter Neff, Professor Smith conducted experiments based upon Dr. Adolphe-Alexandre Martin's tintype process that produced collodion negatives onto metal plates that were coated with a black protective varnish. He made two notable changes to Dr. Martin's process. First, he used the heavier and less costly sheet iron instead of the finer copper for his plates that engravers and daguerreotypists preferred. He also japanned his plates by placing them in a heated oven to slowly dry, which created a hard surface. Dr. Smith's varnish, which consisted of raw linseed oil, asphaltum, and lampblack, was then brushed onto the plate and dried until the brushstrokes disappeared. The plates were dried in an oven and polished.
Professor Smith received his patent for "Photographic Pictures on Japanned Surfaces" on February 19, 1856. The patent was described in complete detail in Humphrey's Journal two years' later, and generated an enthusiastic response within the photographic community. However, this patent - which was marketed as the 'melainotype', was not without controversy because Victor Griswold had been issued a patent for his similar 'ferrotype' invention at the same time. The patent disagreement was eventually resolved, and both patents were subsequently referred to in the United States as tintype plates because of their shared characteristics with Dr. Martin's tintypes.
After the dispute with Victor Griswold, Professor Smith assigned the patent to his student Peter Neff, and unlike Mr. Neff, never profited from plate manufacturing or the sale of its licenses. He resumed his professorship and scientific research at Kenyon College, and later served as Hobart College's Professor of Astronomy and Natural History for thirty-two years. After Professor Smith's retirement in 1900, he became Hobart College's Professor Emeritus. Throughout his illustrious career, he served as President of the American Microscopical Society, was an honorary member of the Edinburgh and Belgian Microscopical Societies, and a Fellow of London's Royal Microscopical Society. In 1871, he earned a Doctor of Laws degree from Trinity College and a Doctor of Science degree in 1900 from Hobart College. Hamilton Lanphere Smith died in New London, Connecticut on August 1, 1903 at the age of 85, ironically the same year as his protege, Peter Neff.
2007 The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press), p. 591.
1910 Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University (New Haven, CT: Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Co.), pp. 296-297.
2007 Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. XCVII, No. II (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society), p. 29.
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