Andrew Jackson by Mathew Brady

The great Mathew Brady studied photography under Samuel Morse, and opened his own photography studio in New York in 1844. Starting next year, he started taking photos of famous Americans, and produced The Gallery of Illustrious Americans in 1850. For Brady, neither his itinerant photoadventures nor the album was lucrative, but it brought increased attention to Brady’s work. The most famous images in the album was an elderly Andrew Jackson, the former president of the United States, whose photo he took at the president’s plantation, the Hermitage in 1845.

He would be the first U.S. president to have his picture taken. At the age of 78, just months before his death, the sickly president sat for Mathew Brady, whom he denounced for making him “look like a monkey.” Jackson was sickly throughout his term too, prompting concerns that he might die prematurely. Despite suffering from chronic headaches, abdominal pains, and a severe hacking cough, caused by a musket ball in his lung from a duel (his coughs would often brought up blood and sometimes even made his whole body shake), he served two full terms, and retired far more popular than he was when he entered. A formidable politician, ‘Old Hickory’ was by then an elder statesman–politicians sought his approval for their bills, an imprimatur that guaranteed widespread support. Cantankerously he supported two successful presidential campaigns, and worked tirelessly on the annexation of Texas, encouraging his friend Sam Houston to endorse annexation.