In the late 19th century, an enterprising photographer named George R. Lawrence developed a keen interest in aerial photography. He first began taking pictures with the help of high ladders, towers, and airborne balloons. Later he switched to using unmanned kites, which did the trick. Deploying 17 Conyne kites strung together by piano wire, Lawrence hoisted a hulking, 50 pound camera some 400 to 2,000 feet above the ground and then began capturing views of American cities. Most of these urban centers were growing at a steady clip. But, in his most famous photograph, Lawrence captured San Francisco reeling after the devastation of the 1906 earthquake. (Click the image above to see the leveled city in a larger format.)
A collection of Lawrence’s panoramic photographs can be viewed over at the Library of Congress web site. The collection includes bird’s-eye views of Manhattan (above) and a more sleepy Brooklyn, not to mention some great Midwestern cities and towns. Below you can see a vintage shot of The University of Chicago campus circa 1904. Or here Evanston’s Northwestern campus in 1907. And let’s not forget this 1908 photo of Madison, WI, where I spent my most formative years some eight decades later….