Born: 1823 or 1824, in Warren County, New York
Died: January 15, 1896
In 1840, the famous inventor-artist Samuel F. B. Morse taught a young man named Mathew Brady how to take daguerreotypes, a new type of photograph. Although he suffered all his life from poor eyesight, Brady became one of the towering figures of American photography. He was a genius at posing his subjects—arranging their positions, clothes, and settings—to reveal their unique personalities. Between 1844 and 1860, the world's most famous people came to his studio to be immortalized in a Brady photo. Referring to an 1860 portrait taken by Brady and distributed during the presidential campaign, Abraham Lincoln said, "Brady and the Cooper Union speech made me president."
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Brady won Lincoln's permission to photograph the Union army in camp and in battle. He spent his whole fortune to equip a team of photographers, who traveled in horse-drawn wagons. Brady himself took photographs at several major battles. He and his associates took more than 3,500 photographs during the war, creating a powerful record of a tragic era.
Brady never recovered his prewar prosperity. In 1875, the United States belatedly bought 2,000 of his photographs for $25,000, far less than their cost. Bankrupt, Brady died in a charity ward in 1896.