Wednesday, Sept. 4, 1901: Lofty camera

Posted on October 5th, 2005 – 10:09 PM
By Ben Welter
George Lawrence

In 1901, the Tribune hired “aeronaut photographer” George R. Lawrence to shoot panoramic photos of the city as a circulation stunt. Lawrence arrived from Chicago on Sept. 3 with a camera constructed specifically for the Minneapolis job and a huge, custom-made silk balloon.

It’s not clear whether Lawrence ever got the big camera off the ground in Minneapolis. No panoramic photos — or any mention of his efforts — are to be found in the Tribune in the ensuing weeks. What happened? A 2002 article in an Illinois historical journal provides the answer: Lawrence “was caught in a harrowing windstorm above a lake near Stillwater … the experience [temporarily] cured him of further use of balloons to get spectacular views.”

Drat it all! Still, the description of his astounding contraption is worth a look:


Prof. Lawrence Will Arrive To-
Day, Prepared to Snap This
City From Mid Air

Daring Photographer Will Com-
municate With the Earth by
Means of Telephone

Prof. George R. Lawrence, the aeronaut photographer, who is to take photographs of Minneapolis this week for The Tribune, will arrive here from Chicago this morning with his giant airship Mars.

The pictures of this city will be made Thursday morning in all probability, but they will certainly be made this week. Varying conditions of weather and atmosphere render the announcement of an exact date somewhat difficult.

For the last week Prof. Lawrence has had a force of experts at work on a new camera to be used in taking the Minneapolis pictures. The new camera is of the panoramic plan, and it is anticipated that the pictures resulting from its use will be far superior to those which might have been made on one of the ordinary plates eight feet by five feet.

The operator will be enabled to give a much closer view of the objects to be photographed, and the necessity for working at so great a height as 2,500 feet will be obviated.

MARS COST $3,700.

The new balloon Mars, to be used here for the first time, has been also constructed especially for taking The Tribune’s pictures. The silk bag alone cost $3,700, and it is one of the finest pieces of construction conceivable. The nets, cage, trapping of all descriptions, are new and calculated to stand any strain that may be put upon them.

The cable that will hold the balloon captive has interwoven with its strands one of copper wire which will furnish telephonic communication with the ground below. It is difficult to distinguish flag signals when the balloon, as often happens, is half a mile high, and the telephone has been recognized as a necessity.

The wire in the cable will be connected with a local exchange, and Prof. Lawrence, by a preconcerted arrangement, will endeavor to carry on conversations with New York and Chicago newspapers while poised in mid air. There are no serious obstacles to such a course of procedure, and the experiment will no doubt be successful.

It is probable also that a night ascension will be made for experimental purposes in testing the capacity of the new balloon. The cage will be festooned with incandescent lights, and an electric searchlight with a range of 10 miles will be added to the equipment. Thus the big machine, 41 feet in diameter, will be visible for 20 or 50 miles round when it goes aloft with its illuminating paraphernalia.


The big camera to be used here is now complete, and it will arrive here with Prof. Lawrence this morning. According to a telegram received by The Tribune last night it seems certain that everything will be ready for the picture-making ascension here on Thursday morning.

Harry Lewis, manager for Lawrence, has been on the ground for two days past. He has arranged all preliminaries for the work here.

The inflation of the big balloon is a work that few people appreciate. To make the 40,000 feet of hydrogen gas necessary to its ascent there will be required five tons of iron filings, 5,000 pounds of sulphuric acid, and 15,000 gallons of water. The balloon will be inflated on Wednesday night ready for work on Thursday morning, providing, of course, that the weather does not preclude aeronautic activity.

aerial photo of Hutchinson, Minn.
This aerial photograph of Hutchinson, Minn., was taken by George Lawrence during his September 1901 visit to Minnesota. The copyright holder, according the Library of Congress website, is the “Minnesota Tribune.” Close enough.

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