Wilson Bentley, resident of Vermont, became the first known photographer of the snowflake. He perfected a way of catching the snowflakes perfectly on black velvet so he could capture photos of them before they actually melted. The discovery that “no two snowflakes are alike” come from the discoveries of Wilson Bentley.
Wilson Bentley, also known as Wilson Bentley was born in February of 1865. His first interests in snowflakes began as a teenager while living on a farm with his family. He first began trying to draw snowflakes by looking at them under an old microscope, but this proved to be unsuccessful. The snowflakes were melting too quickly so he tried attaching a bellows camera to a microscope. He found through much trial and error that this would work; thus in 1885 he became the first person to ever photograph a single snow crystal.
To many people that lived in Jericho Vermont, Bentley was considered odd because of his fascination with snowflakes. But they did not know that Bentley was sensitive and thoughtful and a gifted musician. He played an array of musical instruments such as the piano, organ, and violin. Most people however, remember him running down the street, camera and notebook in hand ready to capture the fresh falling snow.
Wilson Bentley, now more commonly known as Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley captured more than five thousand images of snow crystals during his life. He developed a way to catch them on some sort of blackboard velvet to which he transferred quickly to a microscope slide. Some have called his work with snowflakes somewhat of a scientific art. His snowflake pictures were wanted by many colleges and universities throughout the world. Harvard Mineralogical Museum and the University of Vermont were two of the places that acquired photomicrographs. He also published many articles in journals and magazines concluding that every snowflake he captured on film was different. Some believed this, and some did not. His articles were published in National Geographic, Popular Science, Nature, and Scientific American.
The Art of a Snowflake
Wilson Bentley described snowflakes as “tiny miracles of beauty” and snow crystals as “ice flowers.” His work attained attention from all over the world; especially during the nineteenth century.
In 1931 Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was published by McGraw-Hill publishing. It was called “Snow Crystals” and illustrated approximately 2500 photographs of snowflakes and snow crystals. He also had an entry under “snow” in the fourteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. His fascination for snow also led Bentley to record detailed weather conditions. He filled nine notebooks with forty seven years worth of observation and analysis. He photographed ice and water formations, became the first person to record the sizes of raindrops, and was among the first cloud physicists.
Much of Wilson Bentley’s snowflake collection is held by the Jericho Historical Society in his home town. However, he donated part of his collection of original photomicrographs to the Buffalo Museum of Science; some of which has been put into a digital library.
Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley died of pneumonia on December 23, 1931. As for the snowflake, he found them fascinating and is quoted as saying:
“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”