200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 37: “Edgar Allan Poe at the Academy ”

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photo daguerrotype showing the inside of a museum
Daguerreotype showing the interior of the Academy of Natural Sciences, ca. 1840 Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives, Coll. 9

Edgar Allan Poe at the Academy

This image may be the earliest interior photograph taken in the United States and is almost certainly the first taken inside a museum. It’s a daguerreotype, a form of early photography developed by Louis Daguerre. Philadelphia inventor Paul Beck Goddard had dramatically enhanced this process a year after the French announced it in 1839. Exposure times were reduced from one hour to minutes.

This daguerreotype, taken by Academy member Goddard himself, features a teenage Joseph Leidy (center), who would later become one of the leading American scientists of his time. The young man seated on the right—known for his keen interest in natural history, chemistry, and phrenology (not to mention his writing talent)—is Edgar Allan Poe.

The Academy still is a haven for successful writers. To see some of our scientists’ work, visit We Wrote the Book, an exhibit located outside our Ewell Sale Stewart Library & Archives. The exhibit features a sample of the hundreds of books written by men and women with ties to the Academy of Natural Sciences.  

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