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Daguerreian Yachts and Floating Palaces: Early American Photography Boats


Photographers in America began to build floating studios and galleries within the first decade after the Daguerreotype was invented. Newspapers reported that photography boats were operating on the Ohio River by 1848. Within a few years after that, more than a dozen floating galleries were active on the Ohio, Mississippi, and other rivers.

One of the most active early operators was Anthony Jaquay, who claimed that during his seven years afloat he created more than 20,000 images. Initially, photography boats were simple flatboats designed to float down rivers, but as new boats were constructed, their designs became more elaborate, with parlors, libraries, and bedrooms for families.

The photography boat trade was very active from the early 1850s until the Civil War broke out in 1861, and its peak period was from the late 1870s to 1900. Life on America’s waterways was challenging, and boat operators had to contend with unpredictable water levels, log jams, and the dangers of large steamboats that occasionally would crash into the much smaller photography boats.

Some operators, such as John P. Doremus and David Roby Judkins, incorporated the business of capturing and selling scenic views on their travels, while others, including H.O. Schroeter and F. E. Webster, relied primarily on their portrait businesses.

Keywords: Daguerreotype, 19th-century, gallery, studio, boat, floating, river, itinerant, mobile

This essay was published in the Daguerreian Annual, 2022, a publication of the Daguerreian Society.

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