ask the marshall trimble true west

What is the 19th-century version of a photographer’s flash powder?

Mike Colaizzi,
Gold Canyon, Arizona

Early photography didn’t use flash powder—photographers exposed a glass plate to the light, allowing the image to be produced on that plate.

In 1887, Germans Adolf Miethe and Johannes Gaedicke mixed fine magnesium powder with potassium chlorate to produce Blitzlicht (translated as “flashlight”). This was the first ever widely used flash powder. Blitzlicht gave photographers the ability to produce instant photographs at night at a high shutter

photographer true west magazine ask the marshall
This photographer uses flash powder, an invention not available until 1887.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association.His latest book is Arizona Outlaws and Lawmen;The History Press, 2015. If you have a question, e-mail him at

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