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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Social Studies


Modern photography did not exist during the U.S.-Mexican War. Instead, soldiers kept photos of loved ones on daguerreotypes (də-ˈge-rē-ō-ˌtīp), an early form of photography made on a silver-coated plate. Daguerreotypes were often kept in highly decorated cases. In this activity, students engage in an interactive activity about daguerreotypes. First, they discuss the difference between modern photography and daguerreotypes and then create their own daguerreotype case. 

You will need the following materials to make the daguerreotype cases: Ruler, Scissors, Construction paper, Glue or tape, Crayons, markers, or colored pencils.


Part 1:

  • Tell students that there are many different times to take pictures. Ask them when they take pictures (e.g., birthdays, something funny happened, see something beautiful). List responses on the board.
  • Ask students when they have had their picture taken by a photographer (e.g., class pictures, team pictures). List responses on the board.
  • Ask students what the difference is when your friends or family takes a picture of you versus when a photographer takes your picture. List responses on the board.

Be sure to include:

  • Have to pose for a photographer vs. snapping a spontaneous picture
  • Takes longer to have a picture taken by a photographer
  • Often wear certain clothes (e.g., team uniform, dress clothes, dance outfits)

Part 2: 

  • Define daguerreotype (an early photograph produced on a metal plate; named for the French inventor L. J. M. Daguerre) or have students look up the definition.
  • Tell students that after the Battle of Palo Alto US troops occupied the Mexican City of Matamoros. Many U.S. and Mexican entrepreneurs set up shop and sold goods and services to the soldiers. One man, Joseph R. Palmer, was a daguerreian who traveled with Taylor's Army and set up a shop in Matamoros.
  • Tell students that taking a daguerreotype often took over five minutes. Challenge your students to sit still for one minute. After one minute, tell students them to imagine having to sit still for four more minutes while their picture is being taken.
  • Ask students why the soldiers had their photos taken. List responses.
  • Ask students ways we take and share photos today. List responses.

Part 3:

  • Have students 1) Bring in a photo or 2) Draw a picture to put in the daguerreotype case.
  • Hand out and review the student worksheet Make Your Own Daguerreotype Case.
  • Have students make a daguerreotype case. Have students present their daguerreotype cases to the class and tell the class if s/he were a soldier what daguerreotype s/he would carry.



  1. Write a paragraph that compares/contrasts the differences between daguerreotypes and modern photography.
  2. Create an ad for a daguerreotype saloon.
  3. Create a bulletin board display of the daguerreotype cases.

Additional Resources

The accompanying video clip to this lesson plan can be downloaded from our For Kids page. Click on "Daguerreotypes."

Information on the history of daguerreotypes is available from The Daguerreian Society.


Digital images of U.S.-Mexican War daguerreotypes can be found on the PBS-KERA "The Mexican War" website.


daguerreotype: early photography method using a metal plate; named for the French inventor L. J. M. Daguerre


Download Make Your Own Daguerreotype Case instructions

Last updated: August 25, 2015