The first photograph is supposed to have been taken in the late 1820s. But what was the first major historical event to be photographed?

  • 4
    How do you define a "major event"?
    – Luke_0
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 20:34
  • 2
    A precise definition doesn't exist. To some the introduction of the first sewing machine was a major event while to others that would be an insignificant event. So a "major event" is a relative definition and up to those who reply.
    – Karlth
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 8:50
  • 10
    One could argue that the first photograph was a major event. Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 22:40
  • @KeithThompson True, but this major event (the photographer taking a photograph for the first time) was not photographed. On the other hand, the first selfie in History was photographed, but I personnaly won't count that as a major event.
    – Evargalo
    Commented Feb 8, 2019 at 14:39

5 Answers 5


It is difficult to give an answer, what is a major historical event?

According Wikipedia Carol Szathmari was the first combat photographer during the Crimean War (1853-1856). This was some years before the United States Civil War. Some technical information can be found at the Muzeul Naţional de Istorie a României

At Wikipedia they mention also a daguerreotypes of the U.S. troops in Satilo, Mexico, (1847).

Hermann Biow made photographs after a big fire in Hamburg (1842). At least it was a local major historical event.

Edit: I found some new information. The book Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien has some interesting informations on page 44ff. The book tells, there were no plans to make the pictures of the Hamburg Fire (Hermann Biow). The first planned pictures from historic events are done 1848 in France (abdication of King Louis-Phillippe) by Eugène Thibault.

The first war photographies are from the Mexican-American War (1848, see page 47).

  • Work fine for me (actually tested).
    – knut
    Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 17:15
  • Note that Eugène Thibault daguerrotypes are not representing Louis-Philippe's abdication itself, but republican barricades in a Parisian street, before and after there were attacked by royalist troops.
    – Evargalo
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 13:10


For an international event, this may well be the Mexcian - American War (1846-48). In particular, there is an April 1847 picture showing what is probably first amputation photographed.

For a regional or local event, the date can be pushed back to 1842 (see below).


Although the first photo dates back to 1826 or 1827 (see picture here), it took many years to solve the problem of the long exposure time needed (up to 8 hours for early photos). By 1841 this had been cut considerably (but was still at least one minute), and portraiture and photos of monuments started to become popular. By the late 1840s photographers started to 'get out and about'

villages and towns were served by traveling photographers who had fitted up wagons as studios

It would appear that it was from this time that the first major historical event (for all the problems of this definition) was recorded: the Mexcian - American war.

Mex Am Photograph of an amputation on April 18, 1847 during the Mexican-American War of Sergeant Antonio Bustos by Belgian surgeon Pedro Vander Linden (who is holding the leg) (via Wikimedia)

This photo may well also be the first one of an amputation. Other photographs of the Mexican American war can be found here, all using daguerreotype photography.

About a year later, a photo was taken of the crowd at the Great Chartist Meeting in London on the 10th of April, 1848. This may well be the first ever photo of a mass demonstration.

enter image description here

"The Great Chartist Meeting on Kennington Common, London". Source: History Today Volume 48 Issue 4 April 1998

Another early 'major historical event' to photographed was the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The picture below used a different photographic process (Calotype).

Great Ex Mounted Calotype depicting a scene from the Great Exhibition of 1851. William Henry Fox Talbot [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If we accept a local event, then this photograph of a water jousting event in 1842 predates the others.


On Pinterest A large crowd watching a water jousting event on the Saône River in Lyon, France, 1842. Possibly the earliest photograph taken of a sporting event.


The first capture of a photograph was the first major historical event photographed (though it was photographed by implication rather than directly: you can't see it in the photograph).

  • 4
    +1 - Snarky, but not implausible due to extreme vagueness of the question
    – DVK
    Commented Jul 23, 2012 at 22:55
  • See comment to original question. An adjective like Major or Important is always relative and subjective. It is though much clearer to use such an adjective instead of trying to define exactly what type event is "major": An event that more than 100 persons participated in, involved persons of royalty, etc. etc.
    – Karlth
    Commented Jul 24, 2012 at 8:54
  • 2
    On the other hand, it's rather difficult to pinpoint which is the first photograph
    – Semaphore
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 13:47

Notre-Dame church clad in black

Funeral of prince Ferdinand Philippe d'Orléans, Paris, 3rd of August 1842

The 31 years old son and heir of France's last king, Louis-Philippe the first, died in a horse-car accident in 1842. This daguerreotype documenting his national funeral belongs nowadays to Paris' Orsay Museum.

This photography, and many other pictures of Notre-Dame-de-Paris before its restauration in 1845 (though not linked to any particular historical event) can be found on this website provided by @MarkJohnson in a comment.



The United States Civil War is the first real use of photographs that I have seen for a historical event, or war. It began in 1861, so there is a gap, but I don't know of other photos that might have been taken.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.