What on Earth Is a Daguerreotype?

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Here’s an interest-catching activity your students will love: display the image of the black box on the left, and lead them in a Jeopardy! lightning round with the simple question, “What is this?”

 First, quiz yourself:

a. A telescope
b. A telephone
c. A camera
d. A music box

The correct answer is B – a telephone. As bizarre as it looks to the modern viewer, this “box telephone” was operated by speaking into and listening through the hole in the front.

It’s hard to believe that this dull black box is the distant ancestor of modern smartphones. But in fact, many of the technologies we use to communicate every day are rooted in ingenious and unusual 19th century innovations—from the telegraph to the daguerreotype!

To learn about these inventions and more, tour the early history of communications technology with this reference article on Communication Revolutions of the 19th Century:

This article is part of ABC-CLIO’s World History: The Modern Era database, a comprehensive study of the emergence of the modern world covering world history from 1500 to the present. Click here to activate your free preview of this database and gain access to thousands of primary sources, course essential video modules, and curated reference libraries on more than 70 historical eras, from the Spread of Protestantism to the End of Apartheid.