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Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film
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Timeline: Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film

1839 - 1919 | 1920 - 1938 | 1940 - 1985  


Giroux Daguerreotype cameraA new method of photography is invented in France by Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre. The French government purchases the rights to the invention and makes it available to the public. Within months, clients are paying photographers to make daguerreotype portraits. Photographers are also sent on expeditions to make daguerreotypes in Russia, Egypt, and the Middle East.


A daguerreotype camera is taken along on an expedition led by John Fremont to chart the Western territories. Fremont is inexperienced with the process and obtains poor results.


Allegorical female figure of America leading pioneers and railroads westward.John L. O'Sullivan coins the phrase, "Manifest Destiny," to justify America's Western expansion.


Ansel Adams's grandfather, William James Adams, establishes a profitable grocery business in Sacramento and San Francisco, selling goods to Gold Rush migrants.


Robert Vance holds an exhibit in New York called "Views of California." With more than 300 daguerreotypes, the exhibit receives rave reviews.

March 25: The Mariposa Battalion enters Yosemite Valley under the leadership of Lafayette Bunnell. Supported by prospectors, their mission is to remove the the Native American population in Yosemite to reservations.


Solomon CarvalhoJohn Fremont leads an expedition to California, and brings along professional photographer Solomon N. Carvalho, who successfully makes many good photographs.


James Cutting's ambrotype, a thin collodion negative on a glass plate, is developed. The wet plate process soon improves to make it possible to make paper positive prints from wet collodion glass plate negatives.


William James Adams (Ansel's grandfather) opens a lumber business, Adams & Blinn, which will become the Washington Mill Company.


Charles Weed photographs Yosemite and displays his work in Sacramento at the Fifth Annual Fair of the State Agricultural Society.


Carleton Watkins travels to Yosemite for the first time, and makes many photographs that receive critical acclaim at an exhibit in New York. These photographs inspire President Abraham Lincoln to deed Yosemite as park land to the state of California.


Olive Bray, Ansel Adams's mother, is born in Iowa while her family is going west in a wagon train.


The Bray family settles in Carson City, Nevada, where they become prominent figures in the city's social scene.

Yosemite becomes the first state park after Congress grants it to California for "public use, resort, and entertainment."


Washington legislators initiate what will become four "Great Surveys," exploring and mapping America's Western lands. Survey work will continue until 1879, and lead to the formation of the U.S. Geological Survey.


Charles Hitchcock Adams, Ansel Adams's father, is born in California.


William Henry Jackson takes photographs of Yellowstone, which are used by Senator Samuel C. Pomeroy of Kansas to convince the Senate of Yellowstone's value.


Yellowstone becomes the nation's first national park.


Timothy O'Sullivan photographs the ancient ruins at Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. Ansel Adams will later call O'Sullivan's work "one of the most extraordinary photographs ever made in America."


John K. Hillers becomes the first person to photograph the Grand Canyon.

Seasonal climbing cables are erected on the back of Half Dome, Yosemite's awe-inspiring granite formation, for the first time. The cables allow adventurous souls to make a hair-raising ascent to the top.


George Eastman gets a patent for a process of manufacturing gelatine dry plates, making photographic wet plates obsolete.


Avid hunter and future president Theodore Roosevelt joins with Forest and Stream editor George Bird Grinnell to found the Boone and Crockett Club. Roosevelt begins his public career as an advocate for wilderness by mobilizing club members to defend Yellowstone park from the threats of mining and railroad interests.


George Eastman invents lightweight photographic film that does not have to be developed immediately after exposure. Photography is now more accessible to amateurs.


Due to lobbying by John Muir, Yosemite becomes a national park.

Sequoia National Park is created.


Olive Bray and Charles Adams get married and settle in San Francisco.


February 20: Ansel Adams is born in San Francisco.


San Francisco earthquakeApril 18: A powerful earthquake strikes San Francisco, followed by a fire that burns uncontrolled for three days. An area of 4.7 square miles is completely destroyed. The Adams family's home survives with little damage, because it is located on the city's outskirts. Four-year-old Ansel suffers a broken nose in an aftershock.


The Adams family loses a substantial amount of its fortune in the financial panic.


Adams's father takes Ansel out of school and tutors him at home. He also makes arrangements for his son to study ancient Greek and take piano lessons. Over the next fifteen years, music will come to dominate his studies, and Adams will decide to become a concert pianist.


The Panama Pacific Exposition is held for ten months in the present-day Marina District. Adams's father buys him a year-long pass so he can attend the exposition daily.


Ansel AdamsAdams convinces his parents to go to Yosemite for a vacation. They give their son his first camera, a Kodak Box Brownie. Adams will become a regular summer visitor to the majestic park.


Winter: Adams is infected with the Spanish influenza, at the tail end of the worst epidemic in American history. Though he will recover, over half a million Americans die; the worldwide death toll is upwards of 30 million. He determines to return as soon as possible to Yosemite, a place that seems pure and healing to him.

Summer: After several summers of avid hiking, exploration, and photography in Yosemite, Adams joins the Sierra Club and applies for a job as summertime custodian of the club's Yosemite headquarters. In this role for several years, he will lead tours, answer questions, and maintain a library. He also places and removes the seasonal cable system on the back of Half Dome that enables adventurous park visitors to summit it. He will ascend and descend Half Dome for six days every spring and every fall, carrying the heavy clamps in a backpack.

1839 - 1919 | 1920 - 1938 | 1940 - 1985  

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