Chicago photographer George Lawrence (1868-1938) was a renowned inventor of cameras and an innovator of photographic processes.
In 1896, Lawrence opened a photographic studio in Chicago with the motto: "The hitherto impossible in photography is our specialty."
One day while walking along Chicago's Michigan Avenue, Lawrence observed a kite trailing an advertising banner. This inspiration led him to develop cameras which could be taken aloft by kites. (As early as 1895, another American photographer, William Eddy, experimented with this idea).
Lawrence's new kite cameras were suspended below 5 to 17 kites. With his kite-flying cameras, he took aerial photos around the region including at Fort Sheridan, North Chicago, Zion, Waukegan and Rockefeller (Mundelein).
Fort Sheridan 1908 by George Lawrence, Library of Congress.
Rockefeller (later Mundelein) about 1906 by George Lawrence, Library of Congress.
Zion parade about 1906 by George Lawrence, Library of Congress.
In 1906, he traveled to San Francisco to photograph the aftermath of the earthquake and fire.
The panoramic, kite-flying camera created a photograph so stunning in detail, clarity and objectivity of the disaster, that it became famous and was reprinted many times. Sales of the photo earned Lawrence $15,000 (equivalent to $300,000 today). Library of Congress.
In 1909, Lawrence abandoned photography to design and build airplanes. After World War I, government contracts for airplanes declined and Lawrence turned to analyzing lenses.
Lawrence pioneered aerial photography before airplanes were able to fly high enough to capture the spectacular photographs he took with his "kite cameras." He is also known for building the world's largest camera in order to photograph the Chicago and Alton Railroad's new passenger train. To capture the entire train in one photo, Lawrence used a glass plate negative measuring 56 x 96 inches.