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May 25, 2024

The First Digital Image Ever Made in 1957

The first digital photo came in 1957 when Russell Kirsch made a 176×176 pixel digital image by scanning a photograph of his three-month-old son. The low resolution was due to the fact that the computer they used wasn’t capable of storing more information. The digital scanner was created by Steve Sasson, an engineer at Kodak.

The first digital image, created in 1957 with a rotating-drum scanner, first invented by NIST.

It was a grainy image of a baby—just 5 centimeters by 5 centimeters—but it turned out to be the well from which satellite imaging, CAT scans, bar codes on packaging, desktop publishing, digital photography and a host of other imaging technologies sprang.

In 1957 NIST computer pioneer Russell Kirsch asked, “What would happen if computers could look at pictures?” and helped start a revolution in information technology. Kirsch and his colleagues at NBS, who had developed the nation's first programmable computer, the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC), created a rotating drum scanner and programming that allowed images to be fed into it. The first image scanned was a head-and-shoulders shot of Kirsch’s three-month-old son Walden.

The ghostlike black-and-white photo only measured 176 pixels on a side—a far cry from today’s megapixel digital snapshots—but it would become the Adam and Eve for all computer imaging to follow. In 2003, the editors of Life magazine honored Kirsch’s image by naming it one of “the 100 photographs that changed the world.”

The room-sized Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC) was used to create the first scanned image.

National Bureau of Standards (NBS) researcher R.B. Thomas shown operating the SEAC scanner (the control console is in the background).

Kirsch’s son Walden—whose face helped launch the era of computerized photography—works in communications for Intel following a successful career as a television news reporter.


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