Nicéphore Niépce

The Niépce brothers were hell-bent on creating earth-shattering technology and they did so, twice. First, they created the internal combustion engine. Their native France was still adjusting its socioeconomic climate after the revolution so Claude went to England trying to commercialize the engine. During that time, Nicéphore invented photography.

This brings us to a definitional moment, the difference between inventing and innovating. Inventing something typically means creating something new, that might or might not have value. Innovating refers to the process of creating a new product or service that has enough value that somebody will pay.

The Niépce brothers were world-class inventors. But, due partly to circumstances partly beyond their control — their timing sucked; their native France was a basket case during this time — they failed to build their work into substantive businesses.

While Claude was trying to sell the engine, Nicéphore decided to experiment if there was some way to capture the image on the back of a camera obscura. Eventually, he focused on silver-based chemistry, inventing photography.

Photography vastly reduced the price of creating images. Before photography, creating a realistic image required sitting for days with an artist. Even then, the final image might or might not look like the actual image. Nature painting was constrained due to limitations on paint chemistry.

All the sudden humanity was able to photographically preserve images without the use of a portrait painter. This vastly reduced the cost and increased the accuracy of preserving images.

Despite that Niépce invented photography Louis Daguerre eventually stole most of the credit and money. However, historians, in time, corrected the record.

Henry Fox Talbot allegedly invented a similar type of photographic process and patented it. He claimed his experiments were performed in 1834, trying to gain a priority date to the Niépce brothers and also Daguerre. There’s a fine argument his work was little more than patent trolling though he did, later, invent a better type of photo paper.