The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, Who Was the First U.S President to Be Photographed While in Office

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There are many pictures of Lincoln; there is no portrait of him.” — John George Nicolay, Secretary to President Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was the first president to be photographed extensively. The following images are some of the iconic ones that help document his life, from his early years in politics to his rise to the presidency.

1846 or 1847 – Nicholas H. Shepherd

This daguerreotype is the earliest confirmed photographic image of Abraham Lincoln. It was reportedly made in 1846 by Nicholas H. Shepherd shortly after Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives. Shepherd’s Daguerreotype Miniature Gallery, which he advertised in the Sangamo Journal, was located in Springfield over the drug store of J. Brookie. Shepherd also studied law at the law office of Lincoln and Herndon.

October 27, 1854 – Johan Carl Frederic Polycarpus Von Schneidau

The second earliest known photograph of Lincoln. From a photograph owned originally by George Schneider, former editor of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung, the most influential anti-slavery German newspaper of the West. Mr. Schneider first met Mr. Lincoln in 1853, in Springfield. “He was already a man necessary to know,” says Mr. Schneider. In 1854 Mr. Lincoln was in Chicago, and Isaac N. Arnold invited Mr. Schneider to dine with Mr. Lincoln. After dinner, as the gentlemen were going down town, they stopped at an itinerant photograph gallery, and Mr. Lincoln had this picture taken for Mr. Schneider.

February 28, 1857 – Alexander Hessler

“I have a letter from Mr. Hesler stating that [Lincoln] came in and made arrangements for the sitting, so that the members of the bar could get prints. Lincoln said at the time that he did not know why the boys wanted such a homely face. Joseph Medill went with Mr. Lincoln to have the picture taken. He says that the photographer insisted on smoothing down Lincoln’s hair, but Lincoln did not like the result, and ran his fingers through it before sitting.” — H. W. Fay of DeKalb, Illinois, original owner of the photo.

Lincoln immediately prior to his Senate nomination. The original negative was burned in the Great Chicago Fire.

May 27, 1857 – Amon T. Joslin

Although some historians have dated this photograph during the court session of November 13, 1859, and others have placed it as early as 1853, most authorities now believe it was taken on May 27, 1857. The photographer Amon T. Joslin owned “Joslin’s Gallery” located on the second floor of a building adjoining the Woodbury Drug Store, in Danville, IL. This was one of Lincoln’s favorite stopping places in Vermilion County, Illinois, while he was a traveling lawyer. Joslin photographed Abraham Lincoln twice at this sitting. Lincoln kept one copy and gave the other to his friend, Thomas J. Hilyard, deputy sheriff of Vermilion County. Today, one original resides in the Illinois State Historical Library.

1858 – Roderick M. Cole

“…the Photo you have of Abraham Lincoln is a copy of a Daguerreotype, that I made in my gallery in this city [Peoria] during the Lincoln and Douglas campaign. I invited him to my gallery to give me a sitting…and when I had my plate ready, he said to me, ‘I cannot see why all you artists want a likeness of me unless it is because I am the homeliest man in the State of Illinois.’” — R.M. Cole, July 3, 1905 letter to David McCulloch.

Lincoln liked this image and often signed photographic prints for admirers. In fact, in 1861, he even gave a copy to his stepmother. The image was extensively employed on campaign ribbons in the 1860 Presidential campaign, and Lincoln “often signed photographic prints for visitors.”

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