Shortly after the invention of photography in 1839, the desire to show overviews of cities and landscapes prompted photographers to create panoramas. Early panoramas were made by placing two or more daguerreotype plates side-by-side. Daguerreotypes, the first commercially available photographic process, used silver- coated copper plates to produce highly detailed images.
This 1851 view of San Francisco was made with five daguerreotype plates. It is believed that the panorama initially had eleven plates, but the original daguerreotypes no longer exist. This image is a copy photograph submitted to the Library in 1910 for copyright protection.
The Library's earliest vintage panoramas were taken by George Barnard for the Union Army during the Civil War. Military engineers and generals valued his panoramic overviews of terrain and fortifications.
Barnard's panoramas were printed from two or more wet-plate glass negatives that were exposed in a conventional camera. The "wet-plates" had to be coated with an emulsion, sensitized, exposed, and developed in the field while the plates were still wet. After each exposure, the camera was rotated to the next section of the panorama to make a new negative.
Upon return to the studio, a print was made from each negative by placing a sensitized sheet of photographic paper on the emulsion side of the negative in a printing frame. The frame was placed in the sun until the prints achieved the desired density. The prints were then fixed, washed, trimmed, arranged, and mounted to form a panoramic photograph.
Gorgas & Mulvey exposed four plates when shooting this panorama of Madison, Indiana. The separately mounted prints, made from the four plates, are visible in the finished panorama. The perspective is similar to that of another popular bird's-eye view technique known as panoramic maps.