No Two Alike: The First Photos of Snowflakes

Published in 1923, these vintage images highlight the beauty and mystery of snow crystals.

In the late 1800s, a self-educated Vermont farmer by the name of Wilson Bentley made the first successful image, or “photomicrograph,” of a single snowflake. He used a bellows camera attached to a microscope.

Some of Bentley’s striking work was published in National Geographic magazine in 1904. Another series of his images ran in 1923, highlighting the delicate beauty and unique geometry of snow crystals.

Today, we still marvel at the way the tiny flakes reflect and refract light, and how no two seem to be exactly alike. Although a scientist found two in a Wisconsin snowstorm that looked identical in 1988, they were most likely different at the molecular and atomic level, argued Caltech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht.

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others,” Bentley said of his work in 1925. He passed away in 1931 at his farmhouse in Jericho, Vermont, after having photographed more than 5,000 snowflakes.

In this gallery, we revisit some of our favorites from Bentley’s work.