Encouraged by the success of his airbrush portraiture, F.E. Stanley set out to perfect the dry plate photography process, developing his own dry plate formulation and eventually selling plates to other photographers. The venture proved so successful that he needed help and turned to his brother, who agreed to join him after his once-successful manufacturing business was destroyed by fire. The two became full partners in the Stanley Dry Plate Company in 1884. Their coating machine, patented in 1886, accelerated the dry plate process, coating plates at a speed of one plate per second.

1886 Plate Coating Patent

F.E. and F.O. Stanley’s 1886 patent for their dry-plate machine. (U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)

The brothers opened their first dry plate factory in western Maine but moved to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1888 to be closer to buyers, supplies and transportation centers. Two years later, they moved again, to Newton, Massachusetts. Reportedly, it was at this time that the twins began dressing alike and relished in confusing those with whom they did business. Perhaps it was the novelty or humor of it, but they likely also recognized the promotional value of their “deception.” The brothers seldom identified themselves, leading reporters and others to simply state, “Mr. Stanley said…” because they did not know with which twin they had been speaking.

The twins ultimately sold the Stanley Dry Plate Company to George Eastman of Eastman Kodak, which used the Stanley innovation to build his photography empire.

Edgar B. Dolbier at the Stanley Dry Plate Company

Edgar B. Dolbier at the Stanley Dry Plate Company in Watertown, Mass., ca. 1895. (Stanley Museum Archives)