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The Man Who Loved Snowflakes

During his life, Wilson Bentley took more than 5,000 photos of snowflakes.

Black and white photo of an older man outdoors in a coat and hat standing behind a camera

Courtesy of the Jericho Historical Society/

Snowflake Bentley at work behind his camera

Are snowflakes really as beautiful as everyone thinks? The answer is yes! We know this thanks to a man named Snowflake Bentley, who spent his life studying and taking photos of snowflakes. Now, these photos can be seen online!

Bentley, whose real first name was Wilson, was born in 1865 in Vermont, where winters are very snowy. Luckily for Bentley, he loved snow. 

When he was a teenager, Bentley started looking at snowflakes under a microscope, which is an instrument that makes small objects look bigger. Bentley was amazed when he noticed that each snowflake seemed to have its own special design. He felt as if snowflakes were beautiful art. There was just one problem—snowflakes melt, and the art is lost forever. So Bentley decided he needed to capture pictures of snowflakes before it was too late. He started by trying to draw snowflakes, but that took too long. So, instead, he began to photograph the flakes.

Over the course of his life, Bentley took more than 5,000 photos of snowflakes. He never found any two that were the same. In 1899, the Natural History Museum in London, England, bought 355 of Bentley’s photos. The photos are now online so that anyone can look at them. 

Bentley and his hobby were also celebrated in a 1998 picture book called Snowflake Bentley.

If you live in a place where it snows, see if you can catch a few snowflakes. You’ll never see the same design twice!


Black History Month

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Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (LC-DIG-ppmsca-08978, LC-USW3-001546-D, LC-USZ62-127236, LC-USZ62-27663); Addison N. Scurlock—Michael Ochs Archives, Kean Collection—Archive Photos, © Michael Ochs Archives, Evan Agostini/Getty Images; Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Washington, D.C. (object no. 2009.50.2); PRNewsFoto/XM Satellite Radio/AP Images; AP Images;  NASA; National Archives, Washington, D.C. (2803441); Pete Souza—Official White House Photo; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

February is Black History Month in the United States. Want to read more? Check out the January 31 edition of In the News!

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Fun Fact

From the Library and Archives, Natural History Museum, London; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

A snowflake’s shape depends on the temperature and amount of moisture in the cloud where it forms. Some snowflakes might be very similar, but no two snowflakes are exactly the same.

Snapping Snowflakes

Photo of Snowflake Bentley transferring a snowflake to a slide next to different snowflake photos taken by Bentley

Courtesy of the Jericho Historical Society/; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The photo on the left shows Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley moving snowflakes to a slide. The photos on the right were taken by Bentley.

How did Wilson Bentley take photos of snowflakes? Very carefully! Here’s what he did.

Bentley caught falling snowflakes on a board that was painted black. Then he used a magnifying glass to look closely at each flake and pick his favorites. 

Next, it was time to move a few snowflakes onto a glass slide. Bentley did this with a long, thin splinter of wood. He had to be careful not to breathe on the snowflakes, or they would melt! Then he used the edge of a feather to press the flakes flat on the slide.

Bentley attached a camera to his microscope. Then he placed the glass slide with the snowflakes under the microscope and took a photo!

All About Snow

Charlie Brown and Linus watch as snow falls.

© Lee Mendelson and Bill Melendez Productions/United Feature Syndicate/CBS; Animation Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

What makes every snowflake different? Learn more at Britannica School!

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Word of the Day


Part of speech:



: used to say that something or someone is unlike anything or anyone else

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