The Abel Fletcher Collection consists of one carte-de-visite, and a number of ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, Fletchotypes, negatives,
reprints, tintypes, books, clippings, letters, postcards and ephemera.
In 1843, four years after the invention of photography, Abel Fletcher set up his portrait studio on the west side of South
Erie Street, just south of Main Street in Massillon, Ohio. Skylights provided natural illumination. From the east and west
arched studio windows he recorded panoramic views of the 1840s-era bustling little town; from the riverbank looking east he
captured Massillon’s earliest downtown streetscape, about 1852.
As a young Universalist preacher in Virginia, Fletcher had been experimenting with optical lenses for seven years. In Massillon,
he left the ministry and concentrated on making daguerreotypes—small one-of-a-kind images on polished copper plates, a cumbersome
process. Continuing to experiment, Fletcher developed the first paper negative process in the United States, making it possible
for photographers to make multiple prints of the same image. Photographs became affordable for the general public. At his
first success, he penciled on an envelope of paper prints: “My first experiments made with paper negs before glass was used
about 1845.” That envelope and the enclosed images are preserved by the Smithsonian Institution. Although William Henry
Fox Talbot had created a similar system of picture making in England prior to Fletcher’s U.S. development, communication was
slow, so no one in this country was aware of Talbot’s “calotypes,” until after Fletcher’s invention was made public.
While he was testing chemicals in 1859, Abel Fletcher was blinded by a darkroom explosion, a tragic early end to a landmark
career. However, his wife, M.M. Fletcher, had worked along with him, so she was able to take over the studio, becoming one
of the first American women photographers.