First drone photos were in reality… pigeons!

Before the 20th century, the only two ways that existed to take aerial photos were thanks to balloons and kites. These two techniques allowed to take pictures without a pilot but were very restricted in their movement and speed. But did you know that a few years later, a man revolutionized aerial photography by mounting his cameras on… pigeons?

Everything begins in Germany in 1907 with the doctor, apothecary and photography enthusiast Julius Neubronner. At that time he used pigeons to make urgent deliveries of medicines to a sanatorium not far from his home in Kronberg (Germany). But one day, one of his pigeons got lost in the fog and returned to the nest 4 weeks later as if nothing had happened with the merchandise still attached to him. Neubronner wondered what his pigeon had been doing all this time and came up with a revolutionary idea mixing his two passions, pigeon racing and photography: to install an on-board camera on his pigeons to take pictures during the flights! Surprising, isn’t it?

Strapped to the animal’s belly, the little device weighing 75 grams (that’s like carrying 10 kilos for a human) underwent many tests and adjustments by the doctor before offering the first successful aerial shots. Thanks to this technique, it was possible to choose approximately the area to be photographed, by determining its route to return to its dovecote, an automatic trigger allowed to take aerial photos… and voila!

Neubronner presented his invention to an international audience in 1909, first at the International Photographic Exhibition in Dresden and then at the International Aeronautical Exhibition in Frankfurt. The public in Dresden was able to witness the return of the pigeons, and the aerial shots they brought were immediately developed and turned into postcards. At the same time, the photographs taken by Neubronner’s pigeons were presented at the two Paris Air Shows, where they received awards.

This new process did not take long to interest the army, which used photography with the help of pigeons during the World War I to carry out reconnaissance on the ground. However, the process was gradually abandoned in favor of aviation. 

So did you know it? Maybe you won’t see the pigeons in the same way anymore!

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