This aerial photograph depicts downtown Brooklyn (foreground), the East River (middle), and Manhattan (background) in 1926. When this photo was taken, aerial photography had been in existence for nearly 70 years. In 1858, French portrait photographer Gaspard Felix Tournachon shot the earliest-known aerial photograph from a tethered balloon. Unfortunately, that image does not survive. The earliest known aerial photograph still in existence was taken of downtown Boston in 1860 by James W. Black and Samuel A. King. By 1903, photographers experimented with other methods to capture aerial images, including attaching breast-mounted cameras to carrier pigeons and mounting cameras to small rockets.
Airplanes radically changed the use of aerial photography as photographers soared higher to capture the perfect shot. During World War I, the military used aerial photography to create battle maps. Following the war, non-military uses of aerial photography—like this cityscape—grew in popularity. We don’t know much about this photograph from 1926, but it may have been created for surveying purposes.
Today, aerial photographs are used in technical and creative ways, from government and commercial purposes to artistic imagery. The technique has certainly come a long way from carrier pigeons and tethered balloons!
This photograph comes from the Early Brooklyn and Long Island photograph collection comprised of roughly 1,400 black-and white photographs taken by various photographers from 1860 to 1920. Some highlights include many views of Coney Island and Prospect Park. To view more photographs from this collection, check out this gallery.
Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. Interested in seeing even more historic Brooklyn images? Visit our Brooklyn Visual Heritage website here. To search BHS’s entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections visit BHS’s Othmer Library Wed-Sat, 1:00-5:00 p.m. firstname.lastname@example.org