This President Had The First-Ever Photographed Inauguration

Today, the Chief Official White House Photographer is a senior position in the White House, one that is appointed by the president himself. While the job is currently held by Adam Schultz, who assumed the role upon the inauguration of President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021, a surprisingly small number of people have held that title. 

The job, whose official duties include documenting the day-to-day life of the president, has only been held by thirteen people in the history of the United States, according to the New Yorker. And in fact, the first person to ever photograph a presidential inauguration in 1857 was a far cry from a high-ranking presidential-appointed photographer. His name was John Wood, and he was hired by Montgomery C. Meigs to be the Capitol's first "photographic draftsman." Meigs, who was overseeing the construction of the Capitol building, tasked Wood with the job of photographing "the drawings of the construction so they could be easily duplicated," according to Time.

Wood photographed the inauguration while working as a photographic draftsman

The first iteration of the camera was invented in 1816, when Nicéphore Niépce used light exposure and a plate coated with chemicals like bitumen and pewter to capture a temporary photographic image, according to History Things. By the 1850s, photography technology had improved with the invention of the first gelatin dry plate, which meant photographers no longer had to lug heavy tripods and bulky cameras around with them, While they were still far from the small, convenient devices we know and love today, this did allow photographers to take instantaneous pictures with new, hand-held cameras.

As Wood continued his work as a photographic draftsman, his duties began to expand to include taking other official photographs around the Capitol. So when James Buchanan was being sworn into office on March 4, 1857, Wood set up a platform, raised his camera, and snapped the world's first photograph of a Presidential Inauguration, according to Time. Wood went on to have a career taking photographs in the Civil War, but as far as we know, he never went on to photograph another president again. The very first Chief Official White House Photographer, Cecil W. Stoughton, was appointed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, and the rest is well-documented American history.