Photomicroscopy, circa 1876

Schematic drawing depicting Dr. J.J. Woodward's mechanism for taking photographs through a microscope. Inset: Histological preparations photographed by J.J. Woodward, circa 1876 Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com" />Schematic drawing depicting Dr. J.J. Woodward's mechanism for taking photographs through a microscope. Inset: Histological preparations photographed by J.J. Woodward, circa 1876 Credit: Otis His

Michael Rhode
Dec 1, 2007
<figcaption>Schematic drawing depicting Dr. J.J. Woodward's mechanism for taking photographs through a microscope. Inset: Histological preparations photographed by J.J. Woodward, circa 1876 Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com</figcaption>
Schematic drawing depicting Dr. J.J. Woodward's mechanism for taking photographs through a microscope. Inset: Histological preparations photographed by J.J. Woodward, circa 1876 Credit: Otis Historical Archives, National Museum of Health and Medicine, AFIP, Photo: © Jason Varney | Varneyphoto.com

Photographs taken through microscopes are among the most basic tools of scientific research, but the techniques for doing so required the invention of appropriate cameras, and so are not even 150 years old. In the US, one of the people who developed the technique early on was J.J. Woodward, one of the Army Medical Museum's curators assigned to writing the medical part of The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion.

Woodward took thousands of photographs in which he experimented with photomicrographs using sunlight, artificial lights and specialized stains. Woodward created masterful photomicrographs while using an entire darkened room as his camera. The schematic on this page...

About the difficulty of taking such photographs, he wrote (underlines are Woodward's): "[T]he only way to get the results I desired was to take the photographs myself. ... My mode of work is to employ a dark-room man (of course) but I handle the microscope, get the image on the screen, regulate the exposure, and in short, take the picture. But ... no dark-room man can take my place, unless he understands the use of the microscope and the structure of the tissues as well as I do." The photomicrography work, he said in an 1876 lecture "has been simply my amusement."

His wide dissemination of his work and techniques dramatically advanced the use of the microscope and the study of pathology.