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The world's first drone

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  • The world's first drone

    The world's first drone: How incredible aerial photographs - including images of earthquake-devastated San Francisco in 1906 - were created by rigging a camera to KITES

    Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a pioneering photographer who had created his own panoramic lens put together what could be described as the world's first drone.

    With this innovative creation he captured incredible images of American cities from thousands of feet in the air.

    George R. Lawrence used a system of kites outfitted with a 49-pound camera to show a bird's-eye view of San Francisco, Chicago and New York City - among other cities and towns - in a way that they had never been seen before.

    He called his invention the Lawrence Captive Airship.

    However, during Lawrence's first attempt at aerial photography his balloon snapped free from the platform carrying him. He fell more than 200 feet to the ground but was miraculously unhurt as the fall was interrupted by some wire. This near miss with death prompted him to find a new method to take photos from the skies.

    Ruins: San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. The earthquake is the greatest natural disaster to strike California, 3,000 people were killed and 85 per cent of the city was destroyed but Lawrence's photos of the aftermath made him a rich man

    Destruction: His iconic photograph of San Francisco ravaged by the 1906 earthquake earned him $15,000 - more than $380,000 in today's dollars

    Meandered: A 1906 panoramic view of Santa Cruz, on central California's coast.' Nobody really expects to see that level of detail from that time period,' says Phil Michel, who has worked extensively with Lawrence's photographs at the Library of Congress. 'Nobody else was able to do what he did at the time'

    Education: An early aerial view of the University of Chicago. The picture shows the twelve-year-old school taking shape in Hyde Park. The photograph was taken looking east from just beyond Ellis Avenue, with vacant spots visible where new buildings were planned

    Space: Another view of the University of Chicago. The college was established in 1856 and is considered one of the country's most prestigious institutions

    Tranquil: El Pizmo Beach in California. The Library of Congress houses dozens of Lawrence's cutting-edge photos that show urban and industrial America in stark relief

    Sea: Pacific Grove is a coastal city in Monterey County, California, this photo was taken at the beginning of the century

    First: Perhaps the first aerial photo of Atlantic City in New Jersey, 800 feet above boardwalk, 1909. The boardwalk is still a place of interest for locals and visitors alike

    Emerging: Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, can be seen on the shores of Lake Michigan in this 1907 picture. The first aerial photographs were taken from a hot air balloon in 1858 - nearly 50 years before the first powered flight

    Past: Lawrence was often hired to photograph conventions and banquet halls with a specialized panoramic camera he had built himself. However it was his aerial photographer where his legacy lies. This above photo shows Madison, Wisconsin

    New: This is Reno, Nevada, near the turn of the 20th Century, seen from from 1,000 feet. The camera is looking northeast. Lawrence invented the Captive Airship after a hot air balloon basket he was trying to take photos from detached from the balloon and sent him plummeting to the ground 200ft below

    Vast: As Lawrence descended from the balloon a mess of telephone and telegraphy wires luckily broke his fall, but he soon decided he needed another method to make pictures to avoid such accidents in the future. The leafy Fort Sheridan, Illinois in 1908

    Future: His near miss with death led him to invent the Lawrence Captive Airship. The device used 17 Conyne kites, strung together by piano wire, to hoist the massive camera into the air. The device was floated between 400 and 2,000 feet in the air before pictures were taken. The photographer was then able to remotely take a picture by shooting an electrical current up to the camera. Photo shows Kansas City

    Settlement: Bird's-eye view of La Grange, Illinois. Shot from Lawrence's Captive Airship at an elevation of 1000 ft. 'The hitherto impossible in photography is our specialty,' was the motto of Lawrence's Chicago studio and these photos show his photos were before their time

    View: Waukegan is a city and the county seat of Lake County, Illinois and part of the Chicago Metropolitan Area. Lawrence gave up his career in commercial and aerial photography by 1910, moving onto aviation design

    Unique: Lawrence's 49 pound camera was a behemoth. However its size allowed him to expose large negatives, some as big as 20-by-48 inches wide, in remarkable detail, unrivaled at the time

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