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1849-James Knox Polk becomes first serving US President to have his picture taken (by Mathew Brady).

February 14, 2023

On February 14, 1849, the 11th president of the United States, James K. Polk, became the first sitting president to have his picture taken. The photographer responsible for this remarkable feat was none other than Mathew Brady, who captured an iconic image of President Polk that day.

Who Was Mathew Brady?

Mathew Brady was a pioneering photographer known for capturing incredible images despite the technological limitations of his time. Unbeknownst to many, he was instrumental in introducing camera photography into American politics and culture. He is most famously known for being one of the premier photographers during the Civil War and taking some of the most iconic photographs of prominent political figures such as Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis.

Capturing History

His work with the White House began when he was invited there by President Polk in 1849 on a special assignment—to take a photograph of him that would later be used for official documents and publications. This historic photograph marked a significant milestone as it became one of the earliest examples of using photography to record historical moments.

Since then, presidents have continued to embrace photography as a means to capture their terms in office—from archiving memorable events to providing an intimate look into private moments at home or abroad. As technology has advanced over time, so too has our ability to preserve these unique slices of life.

Lasting Legacy

In celebration of this momentous occasion, photographer Mathew Brady’s legacy endures through commemorative artwork featuring his original portrait of President Polk on display today at several venues across America, including The White House Visitor Center and Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Furthermore, President Polk's sitting portrait remains an inspirational example that we remember from our history books today – reminding us that even though times may change, certain milestones can never be forgotten.


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