Photographic Firsts # 1 – The first presidential portrait

Figure 1 – Daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams, 1841

All this talk about antique images got me thinking along the lines of what was the first photograph of x, y, or z.  So I thought that for fun we might periodically ask and explore one of these questions.  So today we ask, who was the first American President to be photographed?

This would be sixth American president John Quincy Adams (1767 – 1848). Adams was president from 1825 – 1829 and this wonderful daguerreotype was taken in 1841; so twelve years after he left office.  The distinction of being the first American president photographed while in office goes to eleventh president James Polk (1795 – 1849).  Polk was president from 1845 – 1849and this photograph was taken shortly before his death in 1849

Figure 2 – Photograph of President James K. Polk, 1841-1849, and this photograph was taken shortly before his death in 1849

There are several photographic images of seventh president Andrew Jackson (1767 – 1845).  Jackson was president from (1829 – 1837), and my favorite is a daguerreotype taken in 1844/1845, when the president was 78.  It is very expressive, although Jackson certainly looks a lot better on the twenty dollar bill.

These may not be people that you ever expected to see in photographs.  Their lives just extended into the photographic age, and here they are recorded for posterity by Talbott’s “pencil of nature.”

Figure 3 – Daguerreotype of President Andrew Jackson, 1844/45

Finally, it may be worth noting, that presidential photographic firsts continue into the present.  The first president whose official portrait was taken with a digital camera was forty-fourth president Barak Obama.  This was a mere 167 years after John Quincy Adams posed for his portrait.

This entry was posted in History of Photography.


  1. Paul Rubinstein November 21, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Behind these is Daguerre, who is credited with inventing photography, the image mentioned below can be seen on Wikopedia. His invention clearly spread quickly and widely.

    “Boulevard du Temple”, taken by Daguerre in 1838 in Paris, includes the earliest known
    photograph of a person. The image shows a street, but because of the over ten minute exposure time the moving traffic does not appear. At the lower left, however, a man apparently having his boots polished, and the bootblack polishing them, were motionless enough for their images to be captured.

  2. Mary Jane August 31, 2013 at 6:36 am #

    Although the picture is lost, the first presidential picture was actually Harrison in 1841. Taken on the day of his inauguration, it also makes him the first sitting president to have his picture taken. And the picture of Adams was taken in 1843

  3. bob ziering December 9, 2013 at 12:27 am #

    Wonderful images that i have long treasured.

  4. David Sandberg April 12, 2016 at 6:37 am #