By Karrie Etzler
For many people around the world, Feb. 9 is just another ordinary day. But for Vermonters, it’s a day etched in immense state pride. Thanks to the innovative Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, whose discoveries in photomicrography, gave the world its first view of snowflakes in all their intricate beauty.
Bentley was born in Jericho, Vt., in 1865. He grew up on a farm with his parents. His father was a farmer and his mother, a school teacher. From a very early age, Bentley discovered his love for snow, where as his neighbors dreaded the harsh winters that prevailed in those days.Bentley welcomed them, for it was during winter storms that he got to view the beautiful works of arts, that were snowflakes.
In fact, Bentley spent many of these storms, alone in his family’s barn. His goal was to catch as many snowflakes as he could and, using his mother’s old microscope, would view them in more detail. Bentley later famously stated that “no two snowflakes were the same.”
Seeing this beauty ignited another desire in Bentley, he longed desperately to share the wondrous symmetry of snowflakes with his mother and community members. To achieve this, Bentley tried drawing the snowflakes, but they frequently melted away before he could finish capturing their symmetric profiles. Additionally, Bentley felt his attempts at drawing the snowflakes were rather inadequate, compared to their true beauty.
One day, while reading an encyclopedia given to him by his mother, Bentley learned about a new innovation in photography, called a bellows camera. At first, when Bentley asked his parents to get him this camera, his father refused, thinking the idea of capturing snowflakes was all nonsense and encouraged his son to focus on farming. But Bentley persuaded his mother, and she subsequently persuaded his father.
Bentley began using the camera along with his mother’s microscope to capture the imagery of snowflakes. For two long years, his efforts were all unsuccessful. But failure only ignited his desire to succeed and finally, he did. Today, the world is able to bask in the intricacies of snowflakes and other microscopic things, thanks to his perseverance.
The techniques used by Bentley to photograph snowflakes are essentially the same as used today, and that whilst the quality of his photographs reflect the technical limitations of the equipment of the era, “he did it so well that hardly anybody bothered to photograph snowflakes for almost 100 years” noted the BBC.
So, it is with pride that on his birthday, we remember Snowflake Bentley and the gift he gave to the world.