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ome people complain about this new technology called drones, however, this isn’t a new technology. Drones, as we know them now have been around for over 100 years. The invention of the first drone was driven by the passion George R. Lawrence had for photography. At this period of time within the 20th century, photography was trending, and it wasn’t just about capturing people anymore, like in the 19th century. Now, the goal was to capture our beautiful world from above.

Modern artist

George R. Lawrence (Source Wikimedia Commons)

Lawrence was a very famous commercial photographer from Illinois, United States. He was also known at the time for coming up with the largest 19th-century camera used to take very wide pictures. Lawrence always saw the bigger picture, he wanted to take everything he could see from the top of a mountain and cast it into a photo. However, taking such good pictures from a biplane wasn’t going to work. It wasn’t until the First World War that taking photos from a biplane for reconnaissance became more common practice.

He knew that he wasn’t an engineer to innovate or create new technology that would help him solve this issue. However, he was clever enough to try to solve his problem by using the technology available at the time. He wanted a stable frame that could fly above 100 meters, sort of like a hot air balloon, but one that would not require anyone taking the risk of falling down to their death.

World’s first drone

Lawrence Captive Airship (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

So, he came up with a more-or-less aerodynamic frame in which he could fit a camera and attach eighteen kites to it. The camera’s trigger would have a rope attached to it that would allow the pilot/photographer to capture photos when he thought that the drone, (sorry, I have to use its actual name) the “Lawrence captive airship” was in a good position for a shot.

The “drone” was able to go at an incredible height of 650 meters due to the camera that weighed only around twenty-two kilograms. However, we must give credit where it is due, and this is not only because of the spectacular photos that were captured at the time, but also for the simple, yet innovative invention George R. Lawrence created. It was named the Lawrence captive airship due to it being seen at the time as a mini-airship with the ability to capture photographs.

Have a look at these absolutely stunning photos which I think that even for today are absolutely amazing.

Ruins of San Francisco, 2,000 feet above San Francisco Bay overlooking the waterfront in 1906 (Source: Library of Congres)
1906 Aerial Panoramas of San Jose (Source: Library of Congres)

The amazing invention was even able to capture a photo of the devastating earthquake that took place in San Fransico in 1906. What can be seen in the photo is pretty much a big part of San Fransico in ruins.

Ruins of San Francisco after the Great Earthquake. Nob Hill in the foreground, from Lawrence Captive Airship, 1500 feet elevation, May 29, 1906 (Source: Library of Congres)

From these photos, we can truly see that this piece of what we would call “ancient technology” can be seen as even of a higher standard than some of the commercial drones sold today (not necessarily focusing on the photo quality aspect, nor the lack of color). It is said that these portraits became very famous and were very valuable as Lawrence was selling them for an incredible $15,000.

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