John Dallmeyer continued at the elementary school of his native village until the age of fourteen, attracting so much attention by his intelligence and assiduity that it was decided to send him to a higher school, and in 1845 he proceeded to Osnabrück, where he was kindly received by a distant relative named Westmann Meyer, who, being himself childless, took him into his home and sent him to a school conducted by a Mr. Schuren, who had attained a great name as a teacher. He remained here for two years, working specially at geometry and mathematics.
His bent for scientific work was now so evident that on leaving school he was at once apprenticed for three years to an optician at Osnabrück named Aklund, and here he quickly took the first place as a workman, so that at the end of his apprenticeship he had gone far beyond his master.
Dallmeyer came to England about the middle of 1851. For a few weeks he suffered great straits, but was helped by an old Osnabrück schoolfellow. After five weeks he found employment in the workshop of an optician named W. Hewitt, who had learned his trade under Andrew Ross, and who with his various employees shortly afterwards re-entered Ross's service.
Dallmeyer's position in Ross's workshop appears at first to have been an unpleasant one. From his quiet and retiring ways he was dubbed “the gentleman”, while his still very imperfect knowledge of the English language placed him at a great disadvantage. Disgusted with his position he sought other employment, and acted for a year as French and German correspondent to a firm of coffee importers. But the firm failed. Ross's foreman fortunately met him and begged him to return to his master's workshop.
John Dallmeyer was appointed scientific adviser to the firm, and entrusted with the testing and finishing of the highest class of optical apparatus. He so fully secured the confidence and approval of his employer that Mr. Ross gave his full consent to a marriage between Dallmeyer and his second daughter, Hannah Ross. In 1859 Andrew Ross died; he left to his son-in-law and co-worker a third of his large fortune, and that portion of his business which was concerned in the manufacture of telescopes.
About this time, Dallmeyer's name was first brought before the public by Sir John Herschel in the article on "Telescopes" in the eighth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, where he gives a list of the most important refracting telescopes then known. The largest object-glass for a telescope made by Dallmeyer did not exceed eight inches in diameter, but all observers who have used his instruments concur as to their exquisite definition and perfection. This was due, in part, to his system of polishing the glass. Several of Dallmeyer's telescopes have been used in the government expeditions sent to observe eclipses of the sun and the transits of Venus.
At the exhibition of 1862 ohn Dallmeyer came to the front as a manufacturer of photographic lenses. Dallmeyer's portrait lenses were constructed on the principle of Professor Petzval, but in one modification, the relative positions of the flint and crown glass in the posterior combination are reversed, so as to render it possible, by slightly unscrewing them, to introduce spherical aberration at will and thus secure that "diffusion of focus" preferred by many artists.
In 1864 John Dallmeyer patented a single wide-angle lens, which has since been largely used for photographing landscapes. To aid celestial photography he constructed a photo-heliograph for the Wilna observatory of the Russian government in 1863, for taking four-inch pictures of the sun. This instrument was a complete success, and the Harvard College observatory was supplied with a similar one in the following year. In 1873 orders for five photo-heliographs for the transit of Venus expeditions were executed for the English government. These gave four-inch pictures of the sun. They have since been fitted with new magnifiers so as to give pictures eight inches in diameter, and are now constantly employed in solar photography.
At the various exhibitions at Dublin and Berlin (1865), Paris (1867 and 1878), and Philadelphia (1876), Dallmeyer's lenses received the highest awards. The French government bestowed on him the cross of the Legion of Honour, while Russia gave him the order of St. Stanislaus. The topographical departments of (the United Kingdom) and other governments left the optical work of the instruments they ordered entirely in Dallmeyer's hands. Every instrument was tested by him personally before it left his establishment.
John Dallmeyer contributed several papers - chiefly on photographic optics - to various periodicals. He wrote a practical pamphlet "On the Choice and Use of Photographic Lenses", which has passed through six editions.
About 1880 John Dallmeyer was forced to relinquish active work, and during the next few years he undertook several long journeys in search of health. He resided in a large mansion built by himself on an elevated spot at Hampstead. He died on board ship off the coast of New Zealand, on 30 December, 1883.
An advertisement for Dallmeyer’s photographic lenses, from the 1874 U.S. edition of Dallmeyer’s "On the Choice and Use of Photographic Lenses."1866
An 1878 advertisement, from "The Photographic Journal". Although photographic lenses were a major focus of Dallmeyer’s business, microscopes and other optical instruments continued to be produced.1878
In 1861 John Dallmeyer was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and he served for several years upon the council of the society. He was for many years a prominent member of the Royal Microscopical Society, and his work in the construction of object-glasses for the microscope is well known and appreciated. For many years he served on the council of the Photographic Society of Great Britain.
John Dallmeyer was twice married, his second wife being Elizabeth Mary, eldest daughter of Mr. T.R. Williams of Seller's Hall, Finchley. He left five children; and his eldest son, Thomas R. Dallmeyer, continued the business.