Bring back some good or bad memories


June 17, 2018

The Photographs of Abraham Lincoln, Who Was the First U.S President to Be Photographed While in Office

There are many pictures of Lincoln; there is no portrait of him.” — John George Nicolay, Secretary to President Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was the first president to be photographed extensively. The following images are some of the iconic ones that help document his life, from his early years in politics to his rise to the presidency.

1846 or 1847 – Nicholas H. Shepherd

This daguerreotype is the earliest confirmed photographic image of Abraham Lincoln. It was reportedly made in 1846 by Nicholas H. Shepherd shortly after Lincoln was elected to the United States House of Representatives. Shepherd's Daguerreotype Miniature Gallery, which he advertised in the Sangamo Journal, was located in Springfield over the drug store of J. Brookie. Shepherd also studied law at the law office of Lincoln and Herndon.

October 27, 1854 – Johan Carl Frederic Polycarpus Von Schneidau

The second earliest known photograph of Lincoln. From a photograph owned originally by George Schneider, former editor of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung, the most influential anti-slavery German newspaper of the West. Mr. Schneider first met Mr. Lincoln in 1853, in Springfield. “He was already a man necessary to know,” says Mr. Schneider. In 1854 Mr. Lincoln was in Chicago, and Isaac N. Arnold invited Mr. Schneider to dine with Mr. Lincoln. After dinner, as the gentlemen were going down town, they stopped at an itinerant photograph gallery, and Mr. Lincoln had this picture taken for Mr. Schneider.

February 28, 1857 – Alexander Hessler

“I have a letter from Mr. Hesler stating that [Lincoln] came in and made arrangements for the sitting, so that the members of the bar could get prints. Lincoln said at the time that he did not know why the boys wanted such a homely face. Joseph Medill went with Mr. Lincoln to have the picture taken. He says that the photographer insisted on smoothing down Lincoln's hair, but Lincoln did not like the result, and ran his fingers through it before sitting.” — H. W. Fay of DeKalb, Illinois, original owner of the photo.

Lincoln immediately prior to his Senate nomination. The original negative was burned in the Great Chicago Fire.

May 27, 1857 – Amon T. Joslin

Although some historians have dated this photograph during the court session of November 13, 1859, and others have placed it as early as 1853, most authorities now believe it was taken on May 27, 1857. The photographer Amon T. Joslin owned “Joslin's Gallery” located on the second floor of a building adjoining the Woodbury Drug Store, in Danville, IL. This was one of Lincoln's favorite stopping places in Vermilion County, Illinois, while he was a traveling lawyer. Joslin photographed Abraham Lincoln twice at this sitting. Lincoln kept one copy and gave the other to his friend, Thomas J. Hilyard, deputy sheriff of Vermilion County. Today, one original resides in the Illinois State Historical Library.

1858 – Roderick M. Cole

“...the Photo you have of Abraham Lincoln is a copy of a Daguerreotype, that I made in my gallery in this city [Peoria] during the Lincoln and Douglas campaign. I invited him to my gallery to give me a sitting...and when I had my plate ready, he said to me, 'I cannot see why all you artists want a likeness of me unless it is because I am the homeliest man in the State of Illinois.'” — R.M. Cole, July 3, 1905 letter to David McCulloch.

Lincoln liked this image and often signed photographic prints for admirers. In fact, in 1861, he even gave a copy to his stepmother. The image was extensively employed on campaign ribbons in the 1860 Presidential campaign, and Lincoln “often signed photographic prints for visitors.”

1858 (?) – (unknown)

This is the only extant original tintype of Lincoln.

1858 (?) – (unknown)

A Civil War soldier from Parma, Ohio, was the original owner of this portrait, published in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on February 12, 1942, from a print in the Anthony L. Maresh collection. Possibly it is a photographic copy of one of two daguerreotypes, both now lost, taken in Ohio.

May 7, 1858 – Abraham M. Byers

Formerly in the Lincoln Monument collection at Springfield, Illinois. Mr. Lincoln wore a linen coat on the occasion. The picture is regarded as a good likeness of him as he appeared during the Lincoln Douglas campaign.

May 25, 1858 – Samuel G. Alschuler

“At the time I was [a young] clerk of the circuit court, and was about as well acquainted with Mr. Lincoln as with most of the forty-odd lawyers who practiced law in the circuit... On the opening day of court, which was always an interesting occasion, largely because we were curious to see what attorneys from a distance were in attendance...I observed that Mr. Lincoln was among them; and as I looked in his direction, he arose from his seat, and came forward and gave me a cordial hand-shake, accompanying the action with words of congratulation on my election. I mention this fact because the conduct of Mr. Lincoln was so in contrast with that of the other members of the bar that it touched me deeply, and made me, ever afterwards, his steadfast friend.” — C. F. Gunther of Chicago, circa 1896 Letter.

“One morning I was in the gallery of Mr. Alschuler, when Mr. Lincoln came into the room and said he had been informed that he (Alschuler) wished him to sit for a picture. Alschuler said he had sent such a message to Mr. Lincoln, but he could not take the picture in that coat (referring to a linen duster in which Mr. Lincoln was clad), and asked if he had not a dark coat in which he could sit. Mr. Lincoln said he had not; that this was the only coat he had brought with him from his home. Alschuler said he could wear his coat, and gave it to Mr. Lincoln, who pulled off the duster and put on the artist's coat. Alschuler was a very short man, with short arms, but with a body nearly as large as the body of Mr. Lincoln. The arms of the latter extended through the sleeves of the coat of Alschuler a quarter of a yard, making him quite ludicrous, at which he (Lincoln) laughed immoderately, and sat down for the picture to be taken with an effort at being sober enough for the occasion. The lips in the picture show this.” — Mr. J. O. Cunningham, present when the picture was take.

July 18, 1858 – Preston Butler

This image was presumably taken by Preston Butler the day after Lincoln delivered a speech in Springfield in which Lincoln urges that slavery be placed on the course of “ultimate extinction.” He attacks Stephen Douglas and defends himself by stating that he supports the principles of equality put forth in the Declaration of Independence. This speech preceded his debates with Douglas.

August 26, 1858 – T. P. Pearson

“Mr. Magie happened to remain over night at Macomb, at the same hotel with Mr. Lincoln, and the next morning took a walk about town, and upon Mr. Magie's invitation they stepped into Mr. Pierson's establishment, and the ambrotype of which this is a copy was the result. Mr. Lincoln, upon entering, looked at the camera as though he was unfamiliar with such an instrument, and then remarked: 'Well, do you want to take a shot at me with this thing?' He was shown to a glass, where he was told to 'fix up,' but declined, saying it would not be much of a likeness if he fixed up any. The old neighbors and acquaintances of Mr. Lincoln in Illinois, upon seeing this picture, are apt to exclaim: 'There! that's the best likeness of Mr. Lincoln that I ever saw!' The dress he wore in this picture is the same in which he made his famous canvass with Senator Douglas.” — J. C. Power, custodian of the Lincoln monument in Springfield.

September 26, 1858 – (attributed to Christopher S. German)

“In 1858 Lincoln and Douglas had a series of joint debates in this State, and this city was one place of meeting. Mr. Lincoln's step-mother was making her home with my father and mother at that time. Mr. Lincoln stopped at our house, and as he was going away my mother said to him: “Uncle Abe, I want a picture of you.” He replied, “Well, Harriet, when I get home I will have one taken for you and send it to you.” Soon after, mother received the photograph, which she still has, already framed, from Springfield, Illinois, with a letter from Mr. Lincoln, in which he said, “This is not a very good-looking picture, but it's the best that could be produced from the poor subject.” He also said that he had it taken solely for my mother.” — Mr. K. N. Chapman of Charleston, Illinois, great-grandson of Sarah Bush Lincoln.

October 1, 1858 – Calvin Jackson

On the afternoon of Friday, October 1, 1858, Lincoln had a luncheon at the home of his attorney friend, Daniel H. Gilmer in Pittsfield, Illinois. Lincoln then headed across the street to the town square, where he spoke for two hours. Following the address, Lincoln, at the request of Gilmer, went to the portable canvas photo gallery of Calvin Jackson on the northeast corner of the square and sat for two ambrotype poses. The photos were soon processed, but one was not finished, probably because it had been overexposed. Lincoln requested that copies of the other be delivered to two Pittsfield friends the following day.

October 11, 1858 – William Judkins Thomson

This ambrotype was taken two days before the next to last debate with Douglas in Quincy, Illinois.

1859 (?) – (unknown)

Photograph, of unknown origin, shows Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, probably in 1859.

October 4, 1859 – Samuel M. Fassett

Lincoln sat for this portrait at the gallery of Cooke and Fassett in Chicago. Cooke wrote in 1865 “Mrs. Lincoln pronounced [it] the best likeness she had ever seen of her husband.”

February 27, 1860 – Mathew Brady

Mathew Brady's first photograph of Lincoln, on the day of the Cooper Union speech. Over the following weeks, newspapers and magazines gave full accounts of the event, noting the high spirits of the crowd and the stirring rhetoric of the speaker. Artists for Harper's Weekly converted Brady's photograph to a full-page woodcut portrait to illustrate their story of Lincoln's triumph, and in October 1860, Leslie's Weekly used the same image to illustrate a story about the election. Brady himself sold many carte-de-visite photographs of the Illinois politician who had captured the eye of the nation. Brady remembered that he drew Lincoln's collar up high to improve his appearance; subsequent versions of this famous portrait also show that artists smoothed Lincoln's hair, smoothed facial lines and straightened his subject's "roving" left eye. After Lincoln secured the Republican nomination and the presidency, he gave credit to his Cooper Union speech and this portrait, saying, “Brady and the Cooper Institute made me President.”

1860 (Spring or Summer) – (unknown)

Contemporary albumen print believed to be the only surviving likeness printed from the lost original negative made by an unknown photographer, probably in Springfield or Chicago, during the spring or summer of 1860.

May 9, 1860 – Edward A. Barnwell

Abraham Lincoln was in Decatur to attend the Illinois State Republican Convention. Local photographer Edward A. Barnwell wanted to take a picture of “the biggest man” at the convention and invited Lincoln to his People's Ambrotype Gallery at 24 North Water Street to pose for this portrait. The next day, after Richard Oglesby introduced the “Rail Splitter,” convention delegates unanimously endorsed Lincoln for President. On May 18 the National Republican Convention meeting in Chicago nominated him as the party's candidate.

May 20, 1860 – William Marsh

Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, two days after he won his party's nomination.

May 20, 1860 – William Marsh

One of five photographs taken by William Marsh for Marcus Lawrence Ward. Although many in the East had read Lincoln's impassioned speeches, few had actually seen the Representative from Illinois.

June 3, 1860 – Alexander Hesler

Hesler took a total of four portraits at this sitting. Lincoln's law partner William Herndon wrote of this picture: “There is the peculiar curve of the lower lip, the lone mole on the right cheek, and a pose of the head so essentially Lincolnian; no other artist has ever caught it.”

June 3, 1860 – Alexander Hesler

When Lincoln saw this photograph, along with his side view portrait from the same sitting, he remarked “That looks better and expresses me better than any I have ever seen; if it pleases the people I am satisfied.”

June 3, 1860 – Alexander Hesler

Lincoln and a Chicago reporter were looking at what is believed to this photo at Lincoln's home shortly after his nomination for President, when he observed “That picture gives a very fair representation of my homely face.”

June 1860 – (unknown)

In the summer of 1860 Mr. M. C. Tuttle, a photographer of St. Paul, wrote to Mr. Lincoln, requesting that he have a negative taken and sent to him for local use in the campaign. The request was granted, but the negative was broken in transit. On learning of the accident, Mr. Lincoln sat again, and with the second negative he sent a jocular note wherein he referred to the fact, disclosed by the picture, that in the interval he had “got a new coat.” A few copies of the picture were made by Mr. Tuttle, and distributed among the Republican editors of the State.

1860 (summer) – William Seavey

After this single print was made, the negative was lost when a fire destroyed the photographer's gallery.

1860 (spring or summer) – (unknown)

A study of Lincoln's powerful physique, this full-length photograph as taken for use by sculptor Henry Kirke Brown, and was found among his effects in 1931.

1860 (spring or summer) – William Shaw

This image has been heavily retouched at some point. Lincoln's neck, skin and cheek lines are smoothed out, and the bag under the right eye has been diminished.

1860 (summer) – (unknown)

A copy of this image turned up with the effects of artist John Henry Brown, whose watercolor miniature of Lincoln hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

August 13, 1860 – Preston Butler

The last beardless photograph of Lincoln. John M. Read commissioned Philadelphia artist John Henry Brown to paint a good-looking miniature of Lincoln “whether or not the subject justified it.” This ambrotype is one of six taken on Monday, August 13, 1860 in Butler's daguerreotype studio (of which only two survive), made for the portrait painter.

November 25, 1860 – Samuel G. Altschuler

An 11-year-old girl named Grace Bedell wrote to Lincoln, asking “let your whiskers grow... you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President.” and the president-elect responded “As to the whiskers have never worn any do you not think people would call it a silly affection if I were to begin it now?” Regardless, the next time he visited his barber William Florville, he announced “Billy, let's give them a chance to grow.” By the time he began his inaugural journey by train from Illinois to Washington, D.C., he had a full beard.

February 9, 1861 – Christopher S. German

This photograph was taken two days before he left Springfield en route to Washington, DC, for his inauguration.

February 9, 1861 – Christopher S. German

Taken during the same sitting, this profile reveals the back of Lincoln's head more than perhaps any other portrait.

February 24, 1861 – Alexander Gardner

Taken during President-elect Lincoln's first sitting in Washington, D.C., the day after his arrival by train.

March 1, 1861 and June 30, 1861 (between) – (unknown)

The first photographic image of the new president. Remarkably, it is not known where or by whom this portrait was taken; the few known examples carry imprints of several different photographers: C.D Fredericks & Co. of New York; W.L. Germon and James E. McLees, both of Philadelphia. This example has been termed “the most valuable Lincoln photo in existence” and sold at auction in 2009 for $206,500.

April 6, 1861 – Mathew Brady

Lincoln's drooping left eyelid is clearly visible in this image.

April 6, 1861 – Mathew Brady

Abraham Lincoln, half-length portrait, seated

April 6, 1861 – Mathew Brady

President Abraham Lincoln, seated next to small table, in a reflective pose, May 16, 1861, with his hat visible on the table.

February 1862 – Mathew Brady

Taken soon after the death of Lincoln's son Willie. Governor Joseph W. Fifer of Illinois, after seeing this image, commented “The melancholy seemed to roll from his shoulders and drip from the ends of his fingers.”

April 17, 1863 – Thomas Le Mere

Mathew Brady Studios' photograph operator, Thomas Le Mere, thought it would be a “considerable call” to capture a full-length portrait of the President. He did so in this instance with a multiple lens camera in Brady's Gallery.

1863 – Lewis Emory Walker

Lincoln, seated, with an unbuttoned coat and wearing his standard gold watch chain, presented to him in 1863 by a California delegation.

August 9, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

Lincoln's “Photographer's Face”. Per Dr. James Miner, “His large bony face when in repose was unspeakably sad and as unreadable as that of a sphinx, his eyes were as expressionless as those of a dead fish; but when he smiled or laughed at one of his own stories or that of another then everything about him changed; his figure became alert, a lightning change came over his countenance, his eyes scintillated and I thought he had the most expressive features I had ever seen on the face of a man.”

August 9, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

This is one of a series of six pictures of the President taken by Alexander Gardner on the day before the official opening of his gallery. Lincoln had promised to be Gardner's first sitter and chose Sunday for his visit to avoid “curiosity seekers and other seekers” while on his way to the gallery.

August 9, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

Lincoln holds a newspaper in one hand and his eyeglasses in the other in this autographed Carte de Visite.

August 9, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

Lincoln seated with hands in lap.

August 9, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

This image from Lincoln's August 1863 sitting with Alexander Gardner in his new studio at 7th and D Street remained in the family of Lincoln's Secretary John Hay until being sold at auction in 2013.

November 8, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

This famous image of Lincoln was photographed by Alexander Gardner on November 8, 1863, just weeks before he would deliver the Gettysburg Address. It is sometimes referred to as the “Gettysburg portrait,” although it was actually taken in Washington. As Lincoln had previously done in August 1863, he visited Gardner's studio on a Sunday afternoon. He posed for several additional portraits during this session.

November 8, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

Profile image

November 8, 1863 – Alexander Gardner

This image emphasizes Lincoln's large, lanky legs.

January 8, 1864 – Mathew Brady

Lincoln visited Mathew Brady's studio in Washington, D.C. on at least three occasions in 1864. Several portraits survive from each session.

February 9, 1864 – Anthony Berger

“The Penny Profile”. Berger was the manager of Mathew Brady's Gallery when he took multiple photographs at this Tuesday sitting. In 1909 Victor David Brenner used this image and one other similar image from this sitting to model the Lincoln cent.

February 9, 1864 – Anthony Berger

A rare collodion plate of this image in full is housed in the National Archives.

February 9, 1864 – Anthony Berger

In 1895 Robert Todd Lincoln wrote “I have always thought the Brady photograph of my father, of which I attach a copy, to be the most satisfactory likeness of him.”

February 9, 1864 – Anthony Berger

An original cracked plate, just under the size known as “imperial”. The Lincoln portrait on the current United States five-dollar bill is based on this photograph.

February 1865 – Lewis Emory Walker

The short haircut was perhaps suggested by Lincoln's barber to facilitate the taking of his life mask by Clark Mills. Lincoln knew from experience how long hair could cling to plaster. From an 1865 stereograph long attributed to Mathew Brady, was actually taken by Lewis Emory Walker, a government photographer, about February 1865 and published for him by the E. & H. T. Anthony Co., of New York.

February 5, 1865 – Alexander Gardner

This photograph of Lincoln was made when the burden of the presidency had taken its toll. President Lincoln visited Gardner's studio one Sunday in February 1865, the final year of the Civil War, accompanied by the American portraitist Matthew Wilson. Wilson had been commissioned to paint the president's portrait, but because Lincoln could spare so little time to pose, the artist needed recent photographs to work from.

February 5, 1865 – Alexander Gardner

The pictures served their purpose, but the resulting painting- a traditional, formal, bust-length portrait in an oval format—is not particularly distinguished and hardly remembered today. Gardner's surprisingly candid photographs have proven more enduring, even though they were not originally intended to stand alone as works of art.

February 5, 1865 – Alexander Gardner

According to Frank Goodyear, the National Portrait Gallery's photo curator, “This is the last formal portrait of Abraham Lincoln before his assassination. I really like it because Lincoln has a hint of a smile. The inauguration is a couple of weeks away; he can understand that the war is coming to an end; and here he permits, for one of the first times during his presidency, a hint of better days tomorrow.”



Browse by Decades

Popular Posts


09 10