What is the Oldest Photograph of a Cat?

Caitlin Dempsey


A daguerreotype photo of a tabby with white feet drinking water from a white bowl, 1840 - 1860.

Cats have been a preferred subject of photographers for a very long time. Around the late 19th and early 20th century, cats appeared in thousands of photographs. Some creative photographers would dress up kittens and cats in costumes and pose them in order to see the pictures on postcards and in books.

So what’s the oldest cat photograph?

The short answer is that no one actually knows when the domestic cat was first photographed.

The very first permanent photograph was taken by a French scientist and inventor named Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. Niépce took the world’s first photograph in 1826 or 1827 with a photo of the view from his studio in La Gras France by exposing a bitumen-covered zinc plate for eight hours.

Oldest photographs of a cat

The oldest photographs showing a cat currently in existence dates to sometime between 1840 to 1860.

Harvard University has a daguerreotype photograph of a tabby cat with white mittens drinking water from a white bowl that is believed to be one of the oldest photo of a cat.

The photograph is estimated to have been taken sometime between 1840 and 1860 by an unknown photographer.

A daguerreotype photo of a tabby with white feet drinking water from a white bowl, 1840 - 1860.
A daguerreotype photo of a tabby with white feet drinking water from a white bowl, 1840 – 1860. Photo: Harrison D. Horblit Collection of Early Photography, Harvard Library, public domain.

This daguerreotype also dates from between 1840 and 1860 and shows an unidentified man sitting with a tabby cat in his lap.

Daguerreotype photography required subjects to sit still for at least a few seconds in order to capture a focused picture. The man is focused and clear in this photograph but the face of the cat is blurry as it would not have kept still for long enough.

This daguerreotype is the oldest photograph of a cat from the Library of Congress photograph collections.

A black and white Daguerreotype  of an unidentified man with cat, three-quarter length portrait, full face, seated.
An unidentified man with cat were photographed sometime between 1840 and 1860. Photo: loc.gov.

The George Eastman Museum has a daguerreotype dated from 1850 of a blind man wearing dark glasses holding a cat.

These are the earliest known photographs taken of cats.

Web story: The oldest cat photography

What’s the oldest photograph of a cat?

Read next: This Man Wanted Oats, Instead He Got Cats


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of Geographyrealm.com and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.