Explore Inventors Biography Alphabetically


Home A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Techsciencenews Home   

Art | Business Studies | Citizenship | Countries | Design and Technology | Everyday life | Geography | History | Information Technology | Language and Literature | Mathematics | Music | People | Portals | Religion | Science | African Inventors | Invention Timeline | Nobel Laureates | General Index Menu


Nicéphore Niépce

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce

Nicéphore Niépce, circa 1795.
Born March 7, 1765(1765-03-07)
Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire
Died July 5, 1833 (aged 68)
Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, Saône-et-Loire
Nationality French
Occupation Inventor
Known for Photography

Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (sometimes spelled Niepce; French pronunciation: [njɛps]) (March 7, 1765July 5, 1833)[1] was a French inventor, most noted as one of the inventors of photography[2] and a pioneer in the field. He is well-known for taking some of the earliest photographs, dating to the 1820s. As revolutionary as his invention was, Niépce is little known even today.



One of the two earliest known evidences of photographic activity, taken by Nicéphore Niépce in 1825 by the heliograph process. This illustration is of an etching printed from a metal plate that was etched following alteration of the ground by sunlight; the image is of a 17th Century Flemish engraving showing a man leading a horse.
Nicéphore Niépce's earliest surviving photograph of a scene from nature,
View from the Window at Le Gras (1826)

Joseph Niépce was born on 7 March 1765 in Chalon-sur-Saône, Saône-et-Loire. He took what is believed to be the world's first photographs, in 1825, of a 17th century engraving of a man with a horse and of an engraving of a woman with a spinning wheel. Niépce did not have a steady enough hand to trace the inverted images created by the camera obscura, as was popular in his day, so he looked for a way to capture an image permanently. He experimented with lithography[3], which led him in his attempt to take a photograph using a camera obscura. Niépce also experimented with silver chloride, which darkens when exposed to light, but eventually looked to bitumen, which he used in his first successful attempt at capturing nature photographically. He dissolved bitumen in lavender oil, a solvent often used in varnishes, and coated the sheet of pewter with this light capturing mixture.[4] He placed the sheet inside a camera obscura to capture the picture, and eight hours later removed it and washed it with lavender oil to remove the unexposed bitumen.

He began experimenting to set optical images in 1793. Some of his early experiments made images, but they faded very fast. It was said that he made the first long lasting images in 1824. The earliest known example of a Niépce photograph (or any other photograph) was created in June or July, 1827, according to some information. Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means "sun writing".[5] Nevertheless, semiologist Roland Barthes, in a Spanish edition of his book "La chambre claire", "La cámara lúcida" (Paidós, Barcelona,1989) shows a picture from 1822, "Table ready", a foggy photo of a table set to be used for a meal.

Starting in 1829[6] he began collaborating on improved photographic processes with Louis Daguerre, and together they developed the physautotype, a process that used lavender oil. The partnership lasted until Niépce’s death in 1833. Daguerre continued with experimentation, eventually developing a process that little resembled that of Niepce.[7] He named this the "Daguerreotype", after himself. He managed in 1839 to get the government of France to purchase his invention on behalf of the people of France. The French government agreed to award Daguerre a yearly stipend of 6,000 Francs for the rest of his life, and to give the estate of Niépce 4,000 Francs yearly. This arrangement rankled with Niépce's son, who claimed Daguerre was reaping all the benefits of his father's work. In some ways, he was right—for a good many years, Joseph Nicephore Niépce received little credit for his significant contribution to the development of photography. Later historians have reclaimed Niépce from relative obscurity, and it is now generally recognized that his "heliographic" process was the first successful example of what we now call photography[4]: an image created on a light-sensitive surface, by the action of light.

In 2002, an earlier remaining photograph which had been taken by Niépce was found in a French photograph collection. The photograph was found to have been taken in 1825, and it was an image of an engraving of a young boy leading a horse into a stable. The photograph itself later sold for 450,000 euros at an auction.[8]

Other inventions

None of Niépce's inventions have been officially acknowledged; those accredited to him are:

In 1818 he developed a very strong interest for this ancestor of the bicycle without pedals and transmission and cousin of the dandy horse from Karl von Drais. He built himself a model and called it the vélocipède. Nicephore made quite a sensation running his contraption on the local country roads but he could not resist improving it by different means: the adjustable saddle among them. This velocipede with the saddle is exhibited at the Niépce Museum. In a letter to his brother, Nicephore thought of motorizing his machine, thus imagining the moped.
This was the first internal combustion engine built, which was invented and patented by the Niépce brothers in 1807. This engine ran on controlled dust explosions of Lycopodium. Ten years later, they were the first in the world to make an engine work with a fuel injection system.
Marly Machine[11]
It was in 1807 that the imperial government opened a competition to receive projects of hydraulic machines to replace the one that in Marly was used to deliver water to the Palace of Versailles from the Seine river. Built in 1684, the original machine located in Bougival, on the Seine river, was pumping up water on a one kilometer distance and an upslope of 150 meters. The Niépce brothers imagined a new principle for the machine and improved it once more in 1809. The machine had undergone a lot of changes in many of its parts. The mechanism in the system was more elaborated: its pistons joined to the advantage of being more precise, another one that is to create far less resistance. They tested it many times, and the result was that with a drop of 4 feet 4 inches, it lifted to 11 feet the 7 /24 of the water it loses. But in December 1809 they got a message that they had waited too long and the Emperor took himself the decision to ask the engineer Perier (1742–1818) to build a fire machine, also known as a steam engine, to operate the pumps at Marly.


The lunar crater Niepce is named after him.

As of 2008 Niépce's photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras, is on display in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The image was rediscovered in 1952 by historians Alison and Helmut Gernsheim.


  1. ^ Robert Leggat (1999). "Niepce, Joseph Nicephore". http://www.rleggat.com/photohistory/history/niepce.htm. 
  2. ^ Baatz, Willfried (1997). Photography: An Illustrated Historical Overview. New York: Barron’s. p. 16. ISBN 0764102435. 
  3. ^ "Around the World in 1896 : A Brief History of Photography." The Library of Congresss. 2002. 18 Sep 2008 <http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/lessons/97/world/history.html>.
  4. ^ a b Gorman, Jessica (2007). "Photography at a Crossroads". Science News 162 (21): 331. 
  5. ^ Baatz, Willfried (1997). Photography: An Illustrated Historical Overview. New York: Barron’s. p. 16. ISBN 0764102435. 
  6. ^ "Joseph Nicéphore Niépce," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008 http://encarta.msn.com © 1997–2008 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.
  7. ^ Crowford, William (1979). The Keepers of Light. New York: Morgan & Morgan. p. 23-27. ISBN 0871001586. 
  8. ^ BBC
  9. ^ "Other Inventions: the Velocipede". http://www.nicephore-niepce.com/pagus/pagus-other.html. 
  10. ^ "Other Inventions: the Pyreolophore". http://www.nicephore-niepce.com/pagus/pagus-other.html. 
  11. ^ "Other Inventions: the Marly Machine". http://www.nicephore-niepce.com/pagus/pagus-other.html. 

External links

Useful Links