If a picture was worth a thousand words, then the camera was the tool that magically made the world more personal and immediate.
The popularity of photography grew steadily throughout the 19th century to include advances in the first mass-produced box camera (pioneered by George Eastman), that eventually brought cameras into the mainstream.
The modern photographer owes a great debt to these
pioneers who struggled to capture images and develop better techniques
and cameras for those who followed.
There are many good photographic history sites online. These
few will lead you to many more. Surf through them and prepare
to be amazed at the beauty captured by both primitive cameras
and more complicated processes.
American Museum of Photography - Loaded with photos and
informationm but resist the temptation to jump right into the exhibits
and see what else is offered first. Be sure to check the resources
section before you leave.
SFMOMA - The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Photography collection
began in 1935 with a photo collection that dates back to the 1840's.
History of Photography - Solid info and references from
R. Derek Woods articles on "The Early History of Photography,
the Daguerreotype and Diorama."
Alinari - An Italian archive founded in 1852 with
more than 3,500,000 photographs dating from the invention of photography
to the present. There's an annual fee to search - but looking is free.