Mathew Brady

Mathew B. Brady (May 18, 1822 – January 15, 1896) was one of the earliest photographers in American history, best known for his scenes of the Civil War. He studied under inventor Samuel F. B. Morse, who pioneered the daguerreotype technique in America. Brady opened his own studio in New York in 1844, and photographed Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and Abraham Lincoln, among other public figures.

When the Civil War started, his use of a mobile studio and darkroom enabled vivid battlefield photographs that brought home the reality of war to the public. Thousands of war scenes were captured, as well as portraits of generals and politicians on both sides of the conflict, though most of these were taken by his assistants, rather than by Brady himself.

After the war, these pictures went out of fashion, and the government did not purchase the master-copies as he had anticipated. Brady's fortunes declined sharply, and he died in debt.

Mathew Brady
Mathew Brady 1875 cropped
Mathew Brady in 1875
BornMay 18, 1822
DiedJanuary 15, 1896 (aged 73)
OccupationPhotographer, photojournalist
Juliet Handy (m. 1850)
Parent(s)Andrew Brady
Julia Brady
Mathew Brady Signature

Early life

Mathew B. Brady 1851
Lithograph of Brady, c. 1845

Brady was born on May 18, 1822, in Warren County, New York, near Lake George, the youngest of three children of Irish immigrant parents, Andrew and Samantha Julia Brady.[1] He himself originally said that he was born in Ireland.[2]


At age 16, Brady moved to Saratoga, New York, where he met portrait painter William Page, and became Page's student. In 1839, the two traveled to Albany, New York, and then to New York City, where Brady continued to study painting with Page, and also with Page's former teacher, Samuel F. B. Morse.[3] Morse had met Louis Jacques Daguerre in France in 1839, and returned to the US to enthusiastically push the new daguerreotype invention of capturing images. At first, Brady's involvement was limited to manufacturing leather cases that held daguerreotypes.[4] But soon he became the center of the New York artistic colony that wished to study photography. Morse opened a studio and offered classes; Brady was one of the first students.[5]

In 1844, Brady opened his own photography studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Street in New York in 1844,[6][7] and by 1845, he began to exhibit his portraits of famous Americans, including the likes of Senator Daniel Webster and poet Edgar Allan Poe. In 1849, he opened a studio at 625 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. where he met Juliet (whom everybody called 'Julia') Handy, who he married in 1850 and lived with on Staten Island.[6][8][9] Brady's early images were daguerreotypes, and he won many awards for his work; in the 1850s ambrotype photography became popular, which gave way to the albumen print, a paper photograph produced from large glass negatives most commonly used in the American Civil War photography.

In 1850, Brady produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans, a portrait collection of prominent contemporary figures. The album, which featured noteworthy images including the elderly Andrew Jackson at the Hermitage, was not financially rewarding but invited increased attention to Brady's work and artistry.[3] In 1854, Parisian photographer André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri popularized the carte de visite and these small pictures (the size of a visiting card) rapidly became a popular novelty; thousands were created and sold in the United States and Europe.

In 1856, Brady placed an ad in the New York Herald offering to produce "photographs, ambrotypes and daguerreotypes."[10] This inventive ad pioneered, in the US, the use of typeface and fonts that were distinct from the text of the publication and from that of other advertisements.[11]

Civil War documentation

2US Arsenal Wash DC
Soldier guarding arsenal Washington, D.C., 1862

At first, the effect of the Civil War on Brady's business was a brisk increase in sales of cartes de visite to departing soldiers. Brady readily marketed to parents the idea of capturing their young soldiers' images before they might be lost to war by running an ad in The New York Daily Tribune that warned, "You cannot tell how soon it may be too late."[4] However, he was soon taken with the idea of documenting the war itself. He first applied to an old friend, General Winfield Scott, for permission to travel to the battle sites, and eventually he made his application to President Lincoln himself. Lincoln granted permission in 1861, with the proviso that Brady finance the project himself.[1]

His efforts to document the American Civil War on a grand scale by bringing his photographic studio onto the battlefields earned Brady his place in history. Despite the dangers, financial risk, and discouragement by his friends, Brady was later quoted as saying "I had to go. A spirit in my feet said 'Go,' and I went." His first popular photographs of the conflict were at the First Battle of Bull Run, in which he got so close to the action that he barely avoided capture. While most of the time the battle had ceased before pictures were taken, Brady came under direct fire at the First Battle of Bull Run, Petersburg, and Fredericksburg.

Mathew B. Brady (1857)
Portrait of Brady by Charles Loring Elliott, 1857

He also employed Alexander Gardner,[12] James Gardner, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, William Pywell, George N. Barnard, Thomas C. Roche, and seventeen other men, each of whom was given a traveling darkroom, to go out and photograph scenes from the Civil War. Brady generally stayed in Washington, D.C., organizing his assistants and rarely visited battlefields personally. However, as author Roy Meredith points out, "He [Brady] was essentially the director. The actual operation of the camera though mechanical is important, but the selection of the scene to be photographed is as important, if not more so than just 'snapping the shutter.'"[13]

This may have been due, at least in part, to the fact that Brady's eyesight had begun to deteriorate in the 1850s. Many of the images in Brady's collection are, in reality, thought to be the work of his assistants. Brady was criticized for failing to document the work, though it is unclear whether it was intentional or due simply to a lack of inclination to document the photographer of a specific image. Because so much of Brady's photography is missing information, it is difficult to know not only who took the picture, but also exactly when or where it was taken.

In October 1862 Brady opened an exhibition of photographs from the Battle of Antietam in his New York gallery, titled The Dead of Antietam. Many images in this presentation were graphic photographs of corpses, a presentation new to America. This was the first time that many Americans saw the realities of war in photographs, as distinct from previous "artists' impressions".

Mathew Brady, through his many paid assistants, took thousands of photos of American Civil War scenes. Much of the popular understanding of the Civil War comes from these photos. There are thousands of photos in the US National Archives and the Library of Congress taken by Brady and his associates, Alexander Gardner, George Barnard and Timothy O'Sullivan.[12] The photographs include Lincoln, Grant, and soldiers in camps and battlefields. The images provide a pictorial cross reference of American Civil War history. Brady was not able to photograph actual battle scenes, as the photographic equipment in those days was still in the infancy of its technical development and required that a subject be still in order for a clear photo to be produced.[14]

Following the conflict, a war-weary public lost interest in seeing photos of the war, and Brady's popularity and practice declined drastically.

Later years and death

Mathew-brady (cropped)
Photograph of Brady, c. 1889

During the war, Brady spent over $100,000 to create over 10,000 plates. He expected the US government to buy the photographs when the war ended. When the government refused to do so he was forced to sell his New York City studio and go into bankruptcy. Congress granted Brady $25,000 in 1875, but he remained deeply in debt. The public was unwilling to dwell on the gruesomeness of the war after it had ended, and so private collectors were scarce. Depressed by his financial situation and loss of eyesight, and devastated by the death of his wife in 1887, he died penniless in the charity ward of Presbyterian Hospital in New York City on January 15, 1896, from complications following a streetcar accident.

Brady's funeral was financed by veterans of the 7th New York Infantry. He was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Levin Corbin Handy, Brady's nephew by marriage, took over Brady's photography business after his death.


Lincoln O-17 by Brady, 1860
Photograph of Abraham Lincoln taken by Brady on the day of Lincoln's Cooper Union speech

Brady photographed 18 of the 19 American Presidents from John Quincy Adams to William McKinley. The exception was the 9th President, William Henry Harrison, who died in office three years before Brady started his photographic collection. Brady photographed Abraham Lincoln on many occasions. His Lincoln photographs have been used for the $5 bill and the Lincoln penny. One of his Lincoln photos was used by the National Bank Note Company as a model for the engraving on the 90c Lincoln Postage issue of 1869.[15]

The thousands of photographs which Mathew Brady's photographers (such as Alexander Gardner and Timothy O'Sullivan) took have become the most important visual documentation of the Civil War, and have helped historians and the public better understand the era.

Brady photographed and made portraits of many senior Union officers in the war, including:

On the Confederate side, Brady photographed: Jefferson Davis, P. G. T. Beauregard, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Pike, James Longstreet, James Henry Hammond, and Robert E. Lee.[16] Brady also photographed Lord Lyons, the British ambassador to Washington during the Civil War.

In 2013, Brady Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma was officially renamed "Mathew Brady Street." The original namesake Brady was W. Tate Brady, a prominent Tulsa businessman in the city's early history who had connections to the Klan and other racist organizations. Mathew Brady never visited Tulsa in his lifetime.

Photojournalism and honors

Brady is credited with being the father of photojournalism.[17] He can also be considered a pioneer in the orchestration of a "corporate credit line." In this practice, every image produced in his gallery was labeled "Photo by Brady"; however, Brady dealt directly with only the most distinguished subjects and most portrait sessions were carried out by others.[18]

As perhaps the best-known US photographer in the 19th century, it was Brady's name that came to be attached to the era's heavy specialized end tables which were factory-made specifically for use by portrait photographers. Such a "Brady stand" of the mid-19th century typically had a weighty cast iron base for stability, plus an adjustable-height single-column pipe leg for dual use as either a portrait model's armrest or (when fully extended and fitted with a brace attachment rather than the usual tabletop) as a neck rest. The latter was often needed to keep models steady during the longer exposure times of early photography. While Brady stand is a convenient term for these trade-specific articles of studio equipment, there is no proven connection between Brady himself and the Brady stand's invention circa 1855.[19]

Following considerable controversy around the racist history of city founder W. Tate Brady, for whom a major street and neighborhood was named, the City Council of Tulsa, OK on August 15, 2013, voted to retain the name Brady Street, but that it would now honor Mathew B. Brady instead.

Books and documentaries

Brady and his Studio produced over 7,000 pictures (mostly two negatives of each). One set "after undergoing extraordinary vicissitudes," came into U.S. government possession. His own negatives passed in the 1870s to E. & H. T. Anthony & Company of New York, in default of payment for photographic supplies. They "were kicked about from pillar to post" for 10 years, until John C. Taylor found them in an attic and bought them; from this they became "the backbone of the Ordway–Rand collection; and in 1895 Brady himself had no idea of what had become of them. Many were broken, lost, or destroyed by fire. After passing to various other owners, they were discovered and appreciated by Edward Bailey Eaton," who set in motion "events that led to their importance as the nucleus of a collection of Civil War photos published in 1912 as The Photographic History of the Civil War.[20]

Some of the lost images are mentioned in the last episode of Ken Burns' 1990 documentary on the Civil War. Burns claims that glass plate negatives were often sold to gardeners, not for their images, but for the glass itself to be used in greenhouses and cold frames. In the years that followed the end of the war, the sun slowly burned away their filmy images and they were lost.[21]


On September 19, 1862, two days after the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day of combat on U.S. soil with more than 23,000 killed, wounded or missing, Mathew Brady sent photographer Alexander Gardner and his assistant James Gibson to photograph the carnage. In October 1862, Brady displayed the photos by Gardner at Brady's New York gallery under the title "The Dead of Antietam."[22] The New York Times published a review.[23]

In October 2012, the National Museum of Civil War Medicine displayed 21 original Mathew Brady photographs from 1862 documenting the Civil War's Battle of Antietam.[22]

Gallery and related images

Mathew Brady with Juliette Handy Brady and Mrs Haggerty

Brady with his wife Juliet Handy Brady (front left) and sister Ellen Brady Haggerty (front right).

Mathew Brady & Ambrose Burnside, 1863

Brady (center, wearing straw hat), with General Ambrose Burnside (reading newspaper), taken in May 1864 {See Frassanito "Grant and Lee The Virginia Campaigns" {reference only}.

Gen. David E. Twiggs - NARA - 528178

General David Emanuel Twiggs; a related picture also by Brady can be found on the George Eastman House Collection website.[24]


Brady, upon his return from the First Battle of Bull Run[25]

Agnew - NARA - 527434

Scan of a photo-plate titled Agnew by Brady. {Apparently Dr Cornelius R. Agnew of the United States Sanitary Commission[26]

Abraham Lincoln 1869 Issue-90c

U.S. postage stamp of Abraham Lincoln (90 cents, issue of 1869) based on a Brady portrait photo.

Daguerreotype tintype photographer model studio table brady stand cast iron portrait photos

Mid-19th century "Brady stand" photo model's armrest table.

Brady Mathew grave

Brady's grave at the Congressional Cemetery

Mathew Brady's grave

Brady's original grave marker (notice incorrect death year)

See also


  1. ^ a b Pritzker, Barry (1992). Mathew Brady. East Bridgewater: JG Press. ISBN 1-57215-342-3.
  2. ^ "An Irishman's Diary: Parallels between Seán Keating's wild west and the real thing".
  3. ^ a b Smith, Zoe C. (February 2000). "Brady, Mathew B." American National Biography Online. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  4. ^ a b Crain, Caleb (4 August 2013). "How Soon It May Be Too Late". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  5. ^ The tuition was fifty dollars, which Brady earned by working as a clerk for department store tycoon Alexander Turney Stewart.
  6. ^ a b "14 Facts About Mathew Brady". 2018-07-13. Retrieved 2018-07-23.
  7. ^ "Photograph of President Abraham Lincoln". World Digital Library. Retrieved 10 February 2013.
  8. ^ The couple had no children, but lavished their attention on Julia's nephew, Levin Handy, who would continue to run Brady's studio until after Brady's death.
  9. ^ Wilson, Robert. Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation Bloomsbury, 2014, pages 27, 117, 241
  10. ^ Volo, James M. (2004). The Antebellum Period. Greenwood Press. p. 106. ISBN 0-313-32518-9.
  11. ^ Emergence of Advertising in America, 1850–1920 – Duke Libraries. (2010-03-16). Retrieved 2 September 2011
  12. ^ a b "Antietam, Maryland. Allan Pinkerton, President Lincoln, and Major General John A. McClernand: Another View". World Digital Library. 1862-10-03. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
  13. ^ Meredith, Roy (1974). Mr. Lincoln's Camera Man, Mathew B. Brady (Second Revised ed.). New York: Dover Publications. pp. vii. ISBN 048623021X.
  14. ^ The National Archives. "Ingersoll, Jared, (1749–1822)". US Government: National Archives. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  15. ^ Smithsonian National Postal Museum. (2006-05-16). Retrieved 2 September 2011
  16. ^ Lee's first session with Brady was in 1845 as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, his final after the war in Richmond, Virginia.
  17. ^ Horan, James D. (1988-12-12). Mathew Brady: Historian With a Camera. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-517-00104-7.
  18. ^ Smith, Zoe C. (February 2000). "Brady, Mathew B". American National Biography Online. Retrieved January 25, 2009.
  19. ^ Macy, et al., "Macy Photographic Studio's Dispatch, The", Northampton MA, Spring–Summer 1913, pp. 2–3
  20. ^ The Photographic History of the Civil War, in Ten Volumes, Francis Trevelyan Miller, editor-in-chief, and Robert S. Lanier, Managing Editor, The Review of Reviews Co., New York, 1912, p. 52
  21. ^ Kinship of the soul – 1993 Commencement address by filmmaker Ken Burns, University of Delaware Messenger — Vol. 2, No. 3, p. 6, Summer 1993. Accessed June 2011
  22. ^ a b "Matthew Brady Antietam Photography Exhibit From 1862 Recreated At National Museum of Civil War Medicine (PHOTOS)". Keedysville, Maryland. 5 October 2012.
  23. ^ "Brady's Photographs: Pictures of the Dead at Antietam". The New York Times. New York. 20 October 1862.
  24. ^ Museum, George Eastman (10 June 2015). "Page Not Found". Archived from the original on 1 January 2003.
  25. ^ Under the long coat, he is wearing a saber awarded to him by the New York Fire Zouaves. Although Brady was photographed wearing a sword under his linen duster and claimed to have received the weapon at First Bull Run from the 11th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment—see Miller's Photographic History of the Civil War Vol 1 p. 31—there is doubt as to whether he took pictures at the battle. See Frassantito's Antietam (reference only).
  26. ^ The irregular black edge would not have appeared in the official final portrait prints.

Further reading

  • Panzer, Mary (1997). Mathew Brady and the Image of History. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books. ISBN 1-58834-143-7. LCC TR140.B7 P36 1997
  • Wilson, Robert (2013). Mathew Brady: Portraits of a Nation. London: Bloomsbury, 2013, ISBN 978-1-62040-203-0.

External links

359 Broadway

The building at 359 Broadway between Leonard and Franklin Streets in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City was built in 1852 and was designed by the firm of Field & Correja in the Italianate style.The top three floors of the building were used by pioneering photographer Mathew Brady as a portrait studio from 1853 to 1859, where he photographed many famous Americans. On the south side of the building a faded painted sign for Mathew Brady's Studio could once be seen by pedestrians on Broadway, but this was painted over before the building was landmarked.

The building was purchased by brothers Mark Tennenbaum and Emil Tanner and their brother-in-law Leo Beller in 1943. The partners operated a textile wholesale business from which they retired in the early 1970s, and the building was subsequently sold.

The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1990, an action which was confirmed in 1992 after a long battle between the city and its owner. Justice Karla Moskowitz of the New York State Supreme Court decided in April that it was "clear that the building was considered from the first on architectural as well as historical grounds." The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission had argued for the building's preservation, both because of its famous tenant – Brady – and the fact that each of the building's five floors had received a distinctive window treatment, thus indicating that it was an architecturally significant structure and not merely a utilitarian structure.

Annie Jones (bearded woman)

Annie Jones Elliot (July 14, 1865 – October 22, 1902) was an American bearded woman, born in Virginia. She toured with showman P. T. Barnum as a circus attraction. Whether the cause of her condition was hirsutism or an unrelated genetic condition that affects children of both sexes and continues into adult years is unknown. Many photographers, including Mathew Brady, took her portraits during her lifetime, which were widely distributed. As an adult, Jones became the country's top "bearded lady" and acted as a spokesperson for Barnum's "Freaks", a word she tried to abolish from the business. Jones married Richard Elliot in 1881, but divorced him in 1895 for her childhood sweetheart William Donovan, who died, leaving Jones a widow. In 1902, Jones died in Brooklyn of tuberculosis.

Carte de visite

The carte de visite (French: [kaʁt də vizit], visiting card), abbreviated CdV, was a type of small photograph which was patented in Paris by photographer André Adolphe Eugène Disdéri in 1854, although first used by Louis Dodero. It was usually made of an albumen print, which was a thin paper photograph mounted on a thicker paper card. The size of a carte de visite is 54.0 mm (2.125 in) × 89 mm (3.5 in) mounted on a card sized 64 mm (2.5 in) × 100 mm (4 in). In 1854, Disdéri had also patented a method of taking eight separate negatives on a single plate, which reduced production costs. The carte de visite was slow to gain widespread use until 1859, when Disdéri published Emperor Napoleon III's photos in this format. This made the format an overnight success. The new invention was so popular it was known as "cardomania" and it spread throughout Europe and then quickly to America and the rest of the world.

Each photograph was the size of a visiting card, and such photograph cards were traded among friends and visitors. Albums for the collection and display of cards became a common fixture in Victorian parlors. The immense popularity of these card photographs led to the publication and collection of photographs of prominent persons.

By the early 1870s, cartes de visite were supplanted by "cabinet cards", which were also usually albumen prints, but larger, mounted on cardboard backs measuring 110 mm (4.5 in) by 170 mm (6.5 in). Cabinet cards remained popular into the early 20th century, when Kodak introduced the Brownie camera and home snapshot photography became a mass phenomenon.

James T. Elliott

James Thomas Elliott (April 22, 1823 – July 28, 1875) was a United States Representative for the state of Arkansas. He held the position for forty-nine days in 1869.

Levin Corbin Handy

Levin Corbin Handy (August 10, 1855 – March 26, 1932) was an American photographer who worked during the 19th and early 20th century.

Civil War photographer Mathew Brady was Handy's uncle by marriage, and Handy was apprenticed to him at age twelve. After a few years of working in Brady's studio, he was a skilled camera operator. Later, Handy became an independent photographer in Washington, D.C. In the 1880s, he formed a partnership with Samuel C. Chester; following that, he and Chester worked as partners with Brady. Handy shot individual portraits, and provided photographic and photoduplication services for United States Federal agencies. Between 1880 and 1896, he documented the construction of the Library of Congress's Thomas Jefferson Building.

Following his uncle's death in 1896, Handy acquired Mathew Brady's remaining files of photographs. When Handy died, he left his and Brady's work to his daughters, Alice H. Cox and Mary H. Evans; in 1954, the Library of Congress purchased approximately 10,000 of these negatives from Handy's daughters.

List of photographs of Abraham Lincoln

There are 130 known photographs of Lincoln.

Lincoln's features were the despair of every artist who undertook his portrait. The writer saw nearly a dozen, one after another, soon after the first nomination to the presidency, attempt the task. They put into their pictures the large, rugged features, and strong, prominent lines; they made measurements to obtain exact proportions; they "petrified" some single look, but the picture remained hard and cold. Even before these paintings were finished it was plain to see that they were unsatisfactory to the artists themselves, and much more so to the intimate friends of the man this was not he who smiled, spoke, laughed, charmed. The picture was to the man as the grain of sand to the mountain, as the dead to the living. Graphic art was powerless before a face that moved through a thousand delicate gradations of line and contour, light and shade, sparkle of the eye and curve of the lip, in the long gamut of expression from grave to gay, and back again from the rollicking jollity of laughter to that serious, far away look that with prophetic intuitions beheld the awful panorama of war, and heard the cry of oppression and suffering. There are many pictures of Lincoln; there is no portrait of him.

See also Wikipedia article on Tad Lincoln for the famous 1864 photograph of Abraham Lincoln with his son Tad, by Anthony Berger.

Martin M. Lawrence

Martin M. Lawrence (1808–1859) was an American daguerreotypist active in New York City. A contemporary of Mathew Brady and Jeremiah Gurney, Lawrence was known for his large daguerreotypes known as "mammoths" and allegorical subjects. He was one of the few American photographers who exhibited at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London, winning a prize for his work. He was elected president of the American Daguerre Association in 1852.

Photographers of the American Civil War

The American Civil War was the most widely covered conflict of the 19th century. The images would provide posterity with a comprehensive visual record of the war and its leading figures, and make a powerful impression on the populace.

Something not generally known by the public is the fact that roughly 70% of the war's documentary photography was captured by the twin lenses of a stereo camera. The American Civil War was the first war in history, whose intimate reality would be brought home to the public, not only in newspaper depictions, album cards and cartes-de-visite, but in a popular new 3D format called a "stereograph", "stereocard" or "stereoview." Millions of these cards were produced and purchased by a public eager to experience the nature of warfare in a whole new way.

Royston Brady

Royston Mathew Brady (born 24 August 1972) is an Irish businessman and former politician, who served as Lord Mayor of Dublin between 2003–2004.

William Pywell

William Redish Pywell (June 9, 1843 – 1887) was a 19th-century American photographer. He first worked for Mathew Brady and Alexander Gardner making a photographic record of the American Civil War, this work was published by Gardner in 1866 as "Photographic Sketch Book of the War" Vols. 1 & 2. (Washington, DC. Philp & Solomons). After the war, he traveled with George Custer as the official photographer of the 1873 Yellowstone Expedition. He also accompanied Alexander Gardner on the Kansas Expedition.

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