Dr. Julius Gustav Neubronner, date unknown.Library of Congress
Dr. Neubronner posing with a pigeon and camera, 1914.Wikimedia Commons
Pigeon sporting a camera on a breastplate, 1914.Wikimedia Commons
Pigeons wearing cameras at a German exhibition, 1909.Wikimedia Commons
Aerial images from a pigeon camera, including wing tips visible on the edges, 1908.Wikimedia Commons
1903 photograph on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Neubronner's patented pigeon camera with two lenses, with cuirass and harness, 1909.Wikimedia Commons
Residential aerial shot, 1908.Wikimedia Commons
Stuffed pigeon displaying camera, 1903.Flickr/Javier Peláez
Sectional view and pneumatic system of Dr. Neubronner's patented pigeon camera with two lenses, 1909.Wikimedia Commons
Detailed sketches of breast-mounted carrier pigeon camera with two lenses, 1906.Wikimedia Commons
Illustration of a pigeon photographer, Popular Science Monthly, 1916Wikimedia Commons
Pigeon photography demonstration, Popular Science Monthly, 1916Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Neubronner's mobile dovecote and darkroom, Deutschen Technikmuseum, Berlin.Wikimedia Commons/1971markus
Pigeon camera used by the CIA, inspired by Dr. Neubronner's invention.Flickr/Central Intelligence Agency
Article in Modern Mechanix, February 1932Modern Mechanix
Pigeon photography display, Stadtmuseum, Kronberg, Germany.Wikimedia Commons/Dontworry
Pigeon photography display, Swiss Museum of Photography, Vevey, Switzerland.Wikimedia Commons/Fanny Schertzer
Dr. Neubronner's Doppel-Sport Panorama Camera, Fotomuseum Antwerp. Wikimedia Commons/Vincent Ho
Pigeon photographer with Doppel-Sport camera, Swiss Museum of Photography, Vevey, Switzerland.Wikimedia Commons/Rama
Pigeon photographer on display, International Spy Museum, Washington, D.C.Flickr/Jared Eberhardt
In 1902, German apothecary and inventor Dr. Julius Neubronner read a news report about pigeons and got angry. The news came out of Boston, where an American pharmacist was using carrier pigeons to deliver prescriptions. What so upset Dr. Neubronner was how the report entirely omitted the true pioneer behind the practice: his father, Dr. Wilhelm Neubronner.
So Dr. Julius Neubronner, inspired by the slight, purchased some pigeons and began training them to deliver vials of medicine to a nearby sanatorium. He took a liking to the birds, evidently, because he soon integrated them not only into his family business, but into his personal passion: photography.
Using a miniature, time-released camera and an aluminum breast harness, in 1907 Dr. Neubronner began experimenting with a novel way to capture aerial photographs: deploying a squad of pigeon photographers.
Neubronner sought a patent for his pigeon camera, and the German patent office initially rejected his application. Things changed when patent office officials saw the pictures themselves. Sure, they could have been taken by a hot-air balloonist, but the wings, visible on the periphery of the snapshot, gave up the true identity of the photographers.
Dr. Neubronner's innovation earned him great acclaim at exhibitions across Europe, and even sparked the interest of the German military, which conducted reconnaissance tests using the technology during World War I. Advancement in aviation techniques during the war cooled their inquiry, however, and Dr. Neubronner soon ceased development.
But his ideas didn't vanish altogether: In the 1930s, the German and French militaries reportedly dabbled in recruiting pigeon shutterbugs for reconnaissance missions. Later, the CIA even developed their own pigeon-powered camera, the details of which remain classified to this day.
See how Neubronner did it and the results his avian photographers achieved in the gallery above.
Enjoy photographers who use cameras in innovative and exciting ways? Try 20 underwater photos that will blow your mind or the 33 best GoPro photos ever taken.