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Pigeon photographers took aerial pictures of Europe's cities

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Pigeons already spread disease and poop through their urban homes, but what if we had to worry about flocks of pigeons armed with miniature cameras, watching our every move from overhead? In the early 20th century, one hobbyist photographer equipped the rats of the sky with just such cameras.

Julius Neubronner, a German apothecary, used carrier pigeons in his work, taking prescription orders from the nearby sanatorium by pigeon post. He was also a bit of an amateur photographer, and got the idea to combine the two. Neubronner developed an ultra-light camera and harness, and trained his birds to carry the extra load. The cameras operated on a timer, allowing the pigeons to snap shots mid-air.


Neubronner received a patent on his pigeon camera in 1908, and exhibited his aerial photographers at photography exhibitions around Europe. Folks would gather to watch Neubronner's pigeons fly back to him, and then they could purchase the resulting photographs (some of which are shown below) as postcards.

Because there wasn't much commercial or military interest in Neubronner's technology, he ended up abandoning the project after the First World War. But the German and French armies and the CIA would later take their own cracks at pigeon photography. Perhaps pigeons could serve as a low-cost alternative to spy drones?


Dr Julius Neubronner's Miniature Pigeon Camera [Public Domain Review via Presurfer]