Category Archives: microscope

No Two Are Alike

Standard

A Vermont “farmer’s kid,” Wilson Bentley, did extensive

research in his lifetime into the unique qualities of

snowflakes. Bentley was born in 1865 and raised in Jericho,

Vermont. He is known as the “Snowflake Man.”

Wilson Bentley became interested in snowflakes and their

individual characteristics while only 14 years old. He was

a self-educated scientist and a pioneer photographer.

Bentley documented the beauty and structure of snowflakes,

along with the weather and climate conditions that would

foretell the arrival of snow. His body of work is shown

through a collection of over 5000 photo micrographs.

Bentley’s book, “Snow Crystals,” was published shortly

before his death. This features outstanding and wondrous

photographs of snowflakes.

As a teenager, he started in the woodshed, in cold conditions

with little money available. He used a microscope to view the

fragile, quickly melting snowflakes. He would try to copy,

closely, their intricate patterns and geometric structures.

He had to rush to do this, of course, before they melted.

There was an abundance of snow up in the Green Mountains of

Vermont. This had initiated his curiosity in snow and their

potential to be drawn and magnified.

In the mid-1880’s, Bentley started to use a microscope attached

to a large bellows camera, to capture the images of snowflakes.

Through his arduous and consuming passion in this subject, and

multiple trials and errors, he could eventually illuminate

the crystals and darken the background. This enabled the final

product to create the translucent quality of snowflakes. The

distinct and individual patterns were more easily seen, once

he had finished the different ways to produce the light against

the dark contrast. Bentley had limited technology at hand to

create the conducive, environmental conditions for photographing.

He was such a dedicated pioneer in his field! He had no formal

training; “just” interest and patience to do this experimentation.

His shed became a darkroom and the stream nearby, the water to

wash his prints off. He was able to produce clear negatives and

prints in wintry, freezing conditions. Imagine those obstacles

that he overcame.

In his 33rd year, Bentley had his first real recognition, by his

article being published in “Appleton’s Popular Scientific Monthly.”

This magazine article brought him opportunities to lecture and

to be asked about his research. To offset his materials’ costs,

he had to find educational and research institutes to purchase

his photographs of snowflakes. His speaking tours allowed him

to present his findings before learned audiences.

In 1931, Wilson Bentley died at age 66, sadly from pneumonia,

that he contracted from trudging home through a snowstorm.

Wayne Howe, an archivist for the Jericho Historical Society

gave this lovely tribute in a quotation about Bentley:

“Wilson Bentley regarded snowflakes as manifestations of the

power and majesty of nature.”

Bentley, himself, said this inspiring quote that I copied in

calligraphy and attached to my refrigerator with a few little

pen and ink drawings of snowflakes, surrounding the words:

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of

beauty; and it seemed a shame that beauty should not be seen

and appreciated by others.”

Wow!

Wilson Bentley’s perseverance and his talent of photographing

snowflakes to share with us was a priceless gift to us all!