“The Grand Old Man of American Photography”

President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan photographed by Mathew Brady on October 3, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam and the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Via Ohio Memory.
President Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan photographed by Mathew Brady on October 3, 1862, after the Battle of Antietam and the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation. Via Ohio Memory.

The name Mathew Brady is a familiar one to historical photography buffs, and his contributions to our understanding of the visual past (with the help of an army of assistants) cannot be forgotten. It was an historic day on February 27, 1860, when Brady photographed a presidential hopeful named Abraham Lincoln just prior to a speech he gave at New York’s Cooper Union, creating an iconic image that would go on to be reproduced in print countless times, and would inspire portraits of the president for years to come. Lincoln himself said of Brady and his portrait, “[He] and the Cooper Institute made me President.”

Carte de visite of Lincoln, from Brady's photograph of February 27, 1830, via Ohio Memory.
Carte de visite of Lincoln, from Brady’s photograph of February 27, 1830, via Ohio Memory.

Included in Ohio Memory, we have a copy of the original cabinet card portrait, seen at right, as well as a number of additional Lincoln images inspired by Brady’s work. But this is not the only image Brady captured of Lincoln, nor was he limited to presidential portraiture as subject matter. Brady is perhaps best-known for his remarkable images of the Civil War, including graphic battlefield photographs, photographs of soldiers taken as mementos, and individual portraits of other important figures like General Ulysses S. Grant.

With the help of over twenty traveling photographers under his direction, Brady created a comprehensive representation of what the Civil War looked like, and in so doing, helped to create the field we now think of as photojournalism. In addition to the photographs taken by Brady and his assistants, he collected images from other photographers working in the field, eventually amassing many thousands of pictures. The archive of his work was purchased by the Library of Congress in 1875 for a substantial sum, but in spite of his contributions to history, Brady was bankrupted by his photography efforts, and died penniless in 1896.

We invite you explore the Brady and Brady-inspired items on Ohio Memory, and take a moment to appreciate the enduring images of Ohio and American history that we have thanks to Mathew Brady and his associates.


Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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