February 14, 2015

February 14, 1849: James Polk Has His Photograph Taken

Daguerrotype of President Polk by Matthew B. Brady, 1845-1849.
Today it's no big deal for a President to be photographed, but that wasn't always the case. It's generally believed that Polk was the first sitting President to be photographed.

This Presidential daguerreotype was taken by the famous photographer Matthew Brady sometime during the years 1845-1849, during a period when he was photographing and displaying many well-known Americans.

Brady actually photographed 18 of the 19 Presidents in the range starting with John Quincy Adams and ending with William McKinley. (He didn't get Harrison, who died 3 years before he started his project.) His photos of Van Buren and Jackson were both taken in 1845, probably earlier than Polk, but they were no longer in office. He also photographed Lincoln in 1846 or '47, but that was long before he was elected.

James K. Polk has another historic first, too. He was the President who installed gas lights in the White House.

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