Century-Old “Proto-Drone” Shot Gorgeous Aerial Panoramas of Brooklyn and San Francisco

July 1, 2013 | Julia Dawidowicz

A hundred years before our military began regularly employing drones for the surveillance and murder of people around the world, George R. Lawrence, an oddball photographer from Chicago, was building early drone prototypes to conduct surveillance on his own turf. Only his version, which in 1905 he dubbed the “captive airship,” wasn’t meant to harm or gather military intelligence. Its purpose was to take aerial panorama shots — a photography technique which many credit him for fathering — of cities.

Part artist, part zany aviation inventor, Lawrence’s “captive airship” was a 49-lb cellulite film camera attached to seventeen kites. From as high as 2,000 feet in the air, it captured these stunning shots of a post- earthquake San Fransisco and a Pleasantville-esque Prospect Park South. Sorry, MQ-1 Predator, you’re old news.