- Education and Science
Wilson Snowflake Bentley
Wilson Snowflake Bentley
Wilson Bentley was born in 1865 in Jericho, Vermont. He always loved nature--everything about nature. He got a camera as a young man and photographed nature in all of its glory: butterflies, dew drops, wings of flying insects, spots on ladybugs...snowflakes. Yes, snowflakes. That is how Mr. Bentley got his nickname "Snowflake."
Wilson Bentley was raised on a farm in Jericho, Vermont in the 19th century. He was one of many children. By all indications, he was a happy young man who grew up in a happy and loving family. He and his brothers and sisters and cousins and nieces and nephews grew up loving and reveling in nature. They played and romped outdoors as much as they could, even in the cold Vermont winters.
Wilson Bentley's mother had taught school before she got married and homeschooled the Bentley children until they went to secondary school. Secondary school is what we call high school in the United States. The Bentley children learned at home until they were about fourteen or fifteen years old.
Wilson Bentley loved to learn. He was an avid student who read all of the books in the farmhouse and thirsted for more. He also loved nature and especially weather. He also loved to draw. He would sit for hours drawing pictures of the different animals, insects, and plants that he came across in the vicinity of his family farm.
When just a preteen, he asked his parents for a camera. Although they were expensive, his kind and hard-working bought him one, and so began his lifelong career of photography. Wilson spent hours outdoors snapping photos of everything that he could. He loved to capture insects and take close up photos of their wings or legs or heads. He loved other parts of nature also. He loved dew drops and condensation on windows. He would get up early to photograph dew on the grass.
Wilson loved to photograph nature close up. He wanted to see the drops of dew. He wanted to inspect those insects up close and personal. When he was a teenager, he asked for a microscope so that he could look at these bits and pieces of nature as closely as possible. He also loved to catch snowflakes. He wanted to collect them and draw them. He devised a way of catching the snowflakes on pieces of black velvet and taking them into the barn where he had his microscope set up. He would attempt to look at the snowflake under the microscope and draw what he saw. But, unfortunately, the snowflakes would melt before he got them recorded.
We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter's evening. Some of us let our dreams die, but others nourish and protect them, nurse them through bad days till they bring them to sunshine and light.— Woodrow Wilson
Wilson learned about a high powered camera that could take pictures more quickly than his regular camera. Although it was very expensive, Wilson saved his money and purchased one of these cameras. Then, he modified a type of hood and object mount where he could capture and photograph snowflakes. It was a success!
Wilson went on to capture and photograph thousands of snowflakes determining that no two snowflakes are alike. He also determined that the temperature would also determine the shape and size of the snowflake. Wilson went on to write articles for scientific magazines in which he published some of his photographs and his discoveries. People were so intrigued with his scientific discoveries that they began calling Wilson "the snowflake man" or simply nicknamed him "Snowflake" Bentley.
Snowflake Bentley would go to write dozens of scientific articles about snowflakes, snow, icicles, and winter weather in general. He, and a fellow scientist, collaborated to write the quintessential authoritative guide to snow crystals called Snow Crystals. Snowflake Bentley's photographs were so advanced for his generation that it would be over a hundred years before anyone else would try to duplicate his work.
Snowflake Bentley loved snow so much that he regularly went out in blizzards to do his scientific research. In 1931, Snowflake Bentley caught pnuemonia after walking ten miles in a blizzard near his family farm in Jericho, Vermont. But, all was not lost as Snowflake Bentley left behind a great and beautiful legacy of his photographs of snowflakes and ice crystals. If you want to see his wonderful collection, you can visit his museum in Jericho, Vermont. And anytime you catch a complete and perfect snowflake, think about the man who did so much to educate us about these beautiful natural perfections.