The First Photo of a US Presidential Inauguration


When the US Capitol was still under construction, John Wood shot the first known photograph of a Presidential inauguration. The photo depicts the moment where John Buchanan was sworn in as the 15th president of the United States, on 4 March 1857. Wood was working for the Architect of the Capitol under Montgomery C Meigs, an engineer and an army general. While working as a photographic draftsman, Wood’s primary job was to photograph the architectural drawings so that they could be easily reproduced.

To create this photograph, Meigs especially built an east wing facing platform for Wood to setup his camera and expose the frame for four seconds. He later used the wet collodion process, which had just been introduced in 1851. It required him to setup a mobile darkroom where he could develop the image onsite and create a final albumen print. After shooting the designs for six years, Wood later moved on to reproducing maps for General George McClellan during the Civil War.

Photograph/ John Wood Image Source: US Library of Congress

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