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Wilson Snowflake Bentley

Updated on April 12, 2015

Wilson Snowflake Bentley

Bentley with his own "hooded" camera on which he caught and photographed snowflakes.
Bentley with his own "hooded" camera on which he caught and photographed snowflakes. | Source

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.

A snow "crystal" captured by Snowflake Bentley in 1905.
A snow "crystal" captured by Snowflake Bentley in 1905. | Source

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.

Enlarged photo of a snow "cluster."
Enlarged photo of a snow "cluster." | Source

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.

A colorized version of one of Bentley's snowflakes.
A colorized version of one of Bentley's snowflakes. | Source

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.

NOAH collection of snowflake photos by Bentley.
NOAH collection of snowflake photos by Bentley. | Source

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.

The author's back deck covered in snow crystals...a rarity in Middle Tennessee.
The author's back deck covered in snow crystals...a rarity in Middle Tennessee. | Source


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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I've heard of this guy before, but didn't know anything about him. Great Hub - well researched, with amazing photos. Voted up.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 2 years ago

      They way he died was sad but it is good to have the knowledge that he discovered. That no two snowflakes are identical makes the macroscopic world so different from the subatomic world. It is not hard to find trillions of atoms which seem exactly alike.

      Voted up.

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 2 years ago from Chicago Area

      I knew the whole "no two snowflakes alike" thing, but didn't know how it originated. Voted up, interesting and sharing!

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 2 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      How interesting! I never knew this. I enjoyed all the pretty snowflake photos.

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

      A fascinating hub about someone I had never heard of - thank you for sharing, voted up

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I'm sure most people know that no two snowflakes are alike, but almost no one knows where that knowledge came from. Great story.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Well, now, that was very interesting. I have never heard of this gentleman....what a great legacy to leave...the study of beautiful snowflakes. I love it.

    • Rachel L Alba profile image

      Rachel L Alba 3 years ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

      This was very interesting. I love snowflakes too and through your hub you made them even more beautiful with the pictures. I knew no two were alike but I never realized just how different they were. I'm glad Wilson Bentley photographed them. Thank you for sharing this story. I voted up and beautiful.

      Blessings to you.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 3 years ago from LOS ANGELES

      I can certainly understand his passion for snow and nature in general. I l0ve the snow and always marvel at the beauty of seasons and how they change.