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The Turn-of-the-Century Pigeons That Photographed Earth from Above | The New Yorker The New Yorker The New Yorker

In 1907, just a few years after the Wright brothers lifted off in Kitty Hawk, and while human flight was still being measured in metres and minutes, Dr. Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, submitted a patent application for a new invention: the pigeon camera. The device was precisely what it sounds likea small camera fitted with straps and equipped with a timer so that pigeons could carry it and take photos in flight. Neubronner first used the device on his own flock of homing pigeons, which he sometimes employed to deliver prescriptions. In the following years, he showed his camera at international expositions, where he also sold postcards taken by the birds. Additionally, he developed a portable, horse-drawn dovecote, with a darkroom attached to it, which could be moved into proximity of whatever object or area the photographer hoped to capture from on high. These inventions represented a breakthrough at the time, allowing for surveillance with speed and range that was previously impossible. (Whether the cameras would actually capture the desired object, however, depended on luck and the whims of the pigeons.) The technology would soon be adapted for use in wartimethe cameras served as very early precursors to dronesalthough by the time of the First World War, just a few years later, airplanes were allowing people to do things that only pigeons could have done before.