b. 16 February 1786; d. 2 October 1853
Arago was a French physicist and Director of the Paris Observatory, who invented a number of optical instruments. He was secretary of the Academy of Sciences, and was also an influential politician, and it was he who was instrumental in ensuring publicity and funding for Daguerre in 1839.
Pleading on Daguerre's behalf, he pointed out the advantages of photography overseas: "To copy the millions and millions of hieroglyhics which entirely cover the great monuments at Thebes, Memphis and Carnac, etc. would require scores of years and legions of artists; whereas with the daguerreotype a single man would suffice to bring this vast labour to a happy conclusion." The result was that ten thousand francs were awarded for the discovery, four thousand going to the son of Niépce.
However, in promoting Daguerre's work, he also unfairly persuaded Hippolyte Bayard, who had invented a process before Daguerre, to keep quiet about his discovery, and therefore robbed him of the accolade he so deserved.
© Robert Leggat, 1999.