Nicéphore Niépce (born Joseph Niépce) March 7, 1765 – July 5, 1833) was a French inventor, most noted as one of the inventors of photography and a pioneer in the field. He developed heliography, a technique used to produce the world's oldest surviving photograph in 1825. Among Niépce's other inventions was the Pyréolophore, the world's first 'internal combustion engine', which he conceived, created, and developed with his older brother Claude.
Niépce took what is believed to be the world’s first photogravure etching, in 1822, of an engraving of Pope Pius VII, but the original was later destroyed when he attempted to duplicate it. The earliest surviving photogravure etchings by Niépce are of a 17th-century engraving of a man with a horse and of an engraving of a woman with a spinning wheel. Niépce did not have a steady enough hand to trace the inverted images created by the camera obscura, as was popular in his day, so he looked for a way to capture an image permanently. He experimented with lithography, which led him in his attempt to take a photograph using a camera obscura. Niépce also experimented with silver chloride, which darkens when exposed to light, but eventually looked to bitumen, which he used in his first successful attempt at capturing nature photographically. He dissolved bitumen in lavender oil, a solvent often used in varnishes, and coated the sheet of pewter with this light capturing mixture. He placed the sheet inside a camera obscura to capture the picture, and eight hours later removed it and washed it with lavender oil to remove the unexposed bitumen.
He began experimenting to set optical images in 1793. Some of his early experiments made images, but they faded very fast. Letters to his sister-in-law around 1816 indicate that he found a way to fix images on paper, but not prevent them from deterioration in light. The earliest known, surviving example of a Niépce photograph (or any other photograph) was created in 1825. Niépce called his process heliography, which literally means "sun writing".
Enhanced version of Niépce's View from the Window at Le Gras (1826 or 1827), the earliest surviving photograph of a real-world scene, made using a camera obscura.
Starting in 1829 he began collaborating on improved photographic processes with Louis Daguerre, and together they developed the physautotype, a process that used lavender oil. The partnership lasted until Niépce’s death in 1833. Daguerre continued with experimentation, eventually developing a process that little resembled that of Niépce. He named this the "Daguerréotype", after himself. He managed in 1839 to get the government of France to purchase his invention on behalf of the people of France. The French government agreed to award Daguerre a yearly stipend of 6,000 Francs for the rest of his life, and to give the estate of Niépce 4,000 Francs yearly. This arrangement rankled Niépce's son, who claimed Daguerre was reaping all the benefits of his father's work. In some ways, he was right—for a good many years, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce received little credit for his significant contribution to the development of photography. Later historians have reclaimed Niépce from relative obscurity, and it is now generally recognized that his "heliographic" process was the first successful example of what we now call photography: an image created on a light-sensitive surface, by the action of light.
The Pyréolophore, probably the world's first internal combustion engine to be built, was invented and patented by the Niépce brothers in 1807. This engine ran on controlled dust explosions of Lycopodium powder and was installed on a boat that ran on the river Saône. Ten years later, they were the first in the world to make an engine work with a fuel injection system.
In 1807 the imperial government opened a competition for a hydraulic machine to replace the original Marly machine (located in Marly-le-Roi) that delivered water to the Palace of Versailles from the Seine river. The machine was built in Bougival in 1684, from where it pumped water a distance of one kilometer and raised it 150 meters. The Niépce brothers conceived a new hydrostatic principle for the machine and improved it once more in 1809. The machine had undergone changes in many of its parts, including more precise pistons, creating far less resistance. They tested it many times, and the result was that with a stream drop of 4 feet 4 inches, it lifted water 11 feet. But in December 1809 they got a message that they had waited too long and the Emperor had taken on himself the decision to ask the engineer Perier (1742–1818) to build a steam engine to operate the pumps at Marly.
In 1818 Niépce became interested in the ancestor of the bicycle, a Laufmaschine invented by Karl von Drais in 1817. He built himself a model and called it the vélocipède (fast foot) and caused quite a sensation on the local country roads. Niépce improved his machine with an adjustable saddle and it is now exhibited at the Niépce Museum. In a letter to his brother Nicéphore contemplated motorizing his machine.