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Louis Daguerre, photographic pioneer, celebrated by Google

Louis Daguerre, photographic pioneer and inventor of the Daguerrotype, is honoured by Google today.

Louis Daguerre, photographic pioneer and illusionist, is honoured by Google today. The inventor of the Daguerrotype would have celebrated his birthday today, so Google has created an old-timey version of its logo.

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre was born on this day in 1787 in northern France. A talented theatre designer specialising in illusions, he invented the Diorama, a special theatre that showed the audience a large painting that would appear to come to life. But he's best known for the Daguerreotype, perfected in 1839, which was the first commercially successful photographic process.

The French government bought the patent and made it available to the world -- making the Daguerrotype an open-source technology, if you will. The patent was enforced in Britain, however, where William Fox Talbot was working on a rival process.

The Daguerrotype works by capturing an image on a sheet of copper plated with silver. The plate is sensitised to light, then placed in the camera and exposed to light to capture the scene. Once the picture is taken -- which in the early days could take up to 15 minutes -- the image is fixed on the plate by immersing it in sodium thiosulfate and adding gold chloride.

These early photographs were hugely popular with celebrities and the public, who flocked to have their picture taken. The main drawback of Daguerreotypes was they couldn't be reproduced.

Daguerre died in 1851, the year the Fox Talbot process was able to start producing copies.

The modern age of photography began in 1975, when Kodak engineer Steven Sasson built a prototype digital camera the size of a toaster, which took 23 seconds to record a black and white 0.01-megapixel image. Check out our history of the digital camera to find out how that breakthrough machine grew into today's pocket-sized digital cameras and camera phones.

We love learning these little trivia facts of a morning, especially when celebrating British and European pioneers and innovators, like Richard Trevithick, Marie Curie, and Edmond Halley, of Halley's Comet fame.