Mathew Brady was born in Warren County, New York in 1823. He moved to New York, New York when he was sixteen and took interest in the art of photography. On the side, he began to study photography and learned the daguerreotype process from Samuel F. B. Morse, one of the best. In 1844 he opened up his own photography studio in New York. He began to take portraits of some of the most famous and powerful people of the time. He expanded his business by opening up a second studio in Washington DC where he began his Americans Project. Some of his portraits included; Abraham Lincoln, Thaddeus Stevens, John Calhoun, Horace Greeley, Edwin Stanton, Charles Sumner, and Stephen Douglas. He sent some of these daguerreotypes to London to be featured in the Great Exhibition where he was awarded medals for his artwork.

His studio was lined with portraits and pictures he had taken and he quickly became known as one of the greatest American photographers.

Click HERE for a virtual tour of Brady's New York Studio.

In 1851, Brady spent time in Europe, but upon his return he realized that his failing eyesight made it increasingly difficult to take pictures. He began to rely more on his assistants, especially Alexander Gardner, who was an expert in the new-collodion process (wet-plate) which was quickly replacing the daguerreotype. Gardner also specialized in making what was called imperial photographs, which Brady credited to himself and was able to sell for up to 750 dollars. In 1858, Gardner was put in charge of Brady’s Washington studio, where he taught Timothy O’Sullivan and became well-known for his portraits.

Brady, being a supporter of the Republican Party, took many pictures of Lincoln during his 1860 presidential campaign. Following Lincoln’s victory he stated; "Brady and the Copper Union speech made me President."
George Custer
Ambrose Burnside
Irvin McDowell

George Custer and Ambrose Burnside and Irvin McDowell were only a few of the many portraits Brady took during the Civil War.

With the start of the Civil War, the demand for Brady’s portraits increased rapidly as many soldiers wanted their pictures taken before they fought on the front lines. Portraits of Union soldiers included: George Custer, Benjamin Butler, Don Carlos Buell, Ambrose Burnside, Irvin McDowell, George McClelland, Lew Wallace, George Meade, and Joseph Hooker.

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Some of the damage following the first battle of Bull Run.

In 1861, Brady and Alfred Waud (an artist working for Harper’s Weekly) traveled to the front lines to witness the first battle of Bull Run where Brady was almost captured by the Confederate Army. After he returned to Washington, he became more of a manager of his business and sent Alexander Gardner, James Gardner, Timothy O’Sullivan, George Barnard, William Pywell and 18 other men to document the Civil War.

In 1862, Brady opened an exhibition of battle in his studio, calling it “The Dead of Antietam.” This was the first time that people were shown the destruction of the war. The New York Times commented that “Brady had brought ‘home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war.”

Following the Civil War, Brady was hit with a harsh reality when no one was interested in purchasing his war photographs. Brady had spent 100,000 dollars on creating 10,000 photographs of the war. He was forced to sell his studio in New York and file for bankruptcy. Most of his work was neglected, until 1875 when the government bought his entire archive for 25,000 dollars.

Brady died in 1896, broke and ill-credited. In his last years he stated: “
No one will ever know what I went through to secure those negatives. The world can never appreciate it. It changed the whole course of my life.”