Archive reveals early 1900s aerial photography of U.S. cities

The Sideshow
Ruins of San Francisco, Nob Hill in foreground, from Lawrence Captive Airship, 1500 feet elevation, May 29, 1906. (George R. Lawrence/Library of Congress)

A number of panoramic photographs from more than 100 years ago shows how one man’s creative thinking helped influence photography—especially aerial photography.

In 1893, photographer George R. Lawrence inherited a camera studio and launched his new company with the motto, “The Hitherto Impossible in Photography is Our Specialty."

Lawrence was particularly interested in aerial photography, according to the Library of Congress, and in 1901 he began using a series of creative approaches that eventually led to capturing images from thousands of feet above Earth.

Lawrence first turned to wooden ladders, but he wanted to go higher, so he started using balloons to get his unique photographs. Airplanes were not an option, because it was still more than two years before the Wright Brothers' maiden flight in 1903.

The high-flying innovator would travel the skies above communities across the United States to capture images of developing cities.

A near-death experience inspired Lawrence to move away from balloons. During one flight, the cage Lawrence was riding in tore free from the balloon, sending him falling to the ground hundreds of feet below. His life was saved when the cage’s fall was broken by telephone lines. Amazingly, Lawrence walked away from the incident unharmed.

That incident also pushed Lawrence's photography to new heights. He began experimenting with using kites, even stringing 17 of them together to lift a 50-pound camera an estimated 2,000 feet into the air.

In 1906, Lawrence famously used his kite method to capture a panoramic view chronicling the devastating aftermath of fires that had leveled much of San Francisco after a major earthquake.

View the full collection of Lawrence’s aerial photographs at the Library of Congress.

[Via Gizmodo]