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Alex Hesler

Montreal, Quebec, Canada 1823

Evanston, Illinois 1895

Active in:

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Galena, Illinois


Hesler's most famous image was made while he was employed by Harpers's Traveller's Guide to daguerreotype views of the Mississippi River from St. Paul to Galena, Illinois. On a single day in August 1851, Hesler and his assistant, Joel E. Whitney, reportedly made eighty-five daguerreotype views in Minnesota, including a view of Minnehaha Falls. While on display in Hesler's Chicago studio, one of these views was purchased in 1854 by George Sumner as a gift for his brother, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. The senator in turn presented it to his friend Henry Wadsworh Longfellow, who reportedly used the image to draw inspiration for his narrative poem "The Song of Hiawatha." Both poem and view were wildly popular, attracting other photographers to the Falls (see Whitney and Zimmerman) and leading Hesler to make copies of his original.

In the mid-1850's the introduction in America of collodion-on-glass negatives, or wet plates provided a way to reproduce daguerreotypes. Hesler made many salted paper print copies of his daguerreotypes, notably a portrait of Abraham Lincoln for his 1860 presidential campaign, which was printed in the thousands.

Merry A. Foresta American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)