Celebrating Snowflake Bentley In Pictures

Feb 11, 2015

Wilson ‘Snowflake’ Bentley was born just over 150 years ago. Raised in a modest farm family, Bentley lived in the village of Nashville in the town of Jericho. His mother was a teacher and his father ran their small dairy farm.

In January of 1885, at the age of 19, Bentley became the first person ever to photograph a single snowflake. He was obsessed with snowflakes, and with meteorology in general, spending years perfecting his techniques so he could accurately capture the ephemeral snowflakes before they melted.

For the next 46 years, he used a bellows camera to capture over 5,000 images of the beautiful snow crystals.

Wayne Howe, archivist at the Jericho Historical Society, where the camera is on display, says that the camera is large – almost two feet long, and somewhat unusual.

Bentley removing slide for making an exposure in his camera-microscope to photograph a snowflake, circa 1929.
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

“At one end of it, there is a microscope, all kind of sitting on a home-made fashioned platform, if you will, which is kind of on a rickety table. One of the fascinating things that Bentley found out is that the flakes themselves tell a story of the atmosphere they travel through. You can appreciate that living in an area where there’s so much snow, that the snow tells a story in of itself,” Howe says.  

Bentley and his mother in an early snow, around 1890.
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

Although his father wasn't on board with Bentley's passion from the start, Bentley's mother fully supported his interest in photography and helped convince his father to purchase a camera for him.

Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

Bentley was a farmer for his entire life. As an adult, he shared a farm with his brother and family, although Bentley never married himself.

Bentley's farmhouse on Nashville Road in Jericho.
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

A photograph Bentley took of two snowflakes.
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

A photograph of frost on glass.
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections
Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

 

Credit Wilson A. Bentley / UVM Special Collections

Learn more about Snowflake Bentley on the Jericho's Historical Society website.