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Deutsches Technikmuseum - The Pigeon Photographer

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The Websites of the donation Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin at a glance:

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The donation contains six locations:

Photo: Snow-covered landscape from above, with individual trees standing out from the white area.

Kronberg/Taunus: Park in winter, date unknown

Photo: A large house in the middle of a green landscape. The streets and paths are clearly visible as bright lines.

Kronberg/Taunus: Villa Pronner and parkland, date unknown

Photo: A silver sculpture of a carrier pigeon wearing a winner's plaque around its neck.

Silver trophy from 1909 for the competition flight of carrier pigeons in Frankfurt am Main.

Photo: An iron bridge over a stream. Under the bridge, two barges, with houses in the distant background.

Spandau: Eiserne Brücke (Iron Bridge) 1908

The Pigeon Photographer

Winged pioneers of aerial photography

Gallery of the Photo Technology permanent exhibition, Beamtenhaus 2nd floor

14 March to 24 June 2018

The bird's eye view, i.e., the view from above, is probably the best way to get an overview of a landscape.

Photo: Standing pigeon wearing a large camera in front of its chest.

A winged pioneer of aerial photography © City archive Kronberg (Taunus)

The exhibition uses impressive black-and-white photographs to tell the little-known story of carrier pigeon photography at the beginning of the 20th century. It is considered an important historical model for today's aerial photography.

20 enlarged reproductions and around 20 original prints of aerial photographs, in which carrier pigeons were used as photographers, honour Julius Neubronner (1852-1932) as one of the first people to succeed in seeing the world literally from a bird's eye view.

The inventor Julius Neubronner

Julius Neubronner, a pharmacist in Kronberg, Hesse, had the brilliant idea of using carrier pigeons as carriers for cameras. The pigeon cameras he developed quickly attracted attention and were used in various fields, especially in war-related reconnaissance photography.

The Prussian Ministry of War was very interested in Neubronner's invention. However, the feathered soldiers did not meet all expectations. In the end, reconnaissance aircraft proved to be better and more effective. And so, before the end of the war in 1918, the intensive cooperation between Neubronner and the military ceased.

How does a pharmacist get into pigeon photography?

Like his father, Julius Neubronner at first used the birds as couriers for transporting medicine and prescriptions. Only after one of his pigeons had returned well fed weeks after being sent on a courier flight did he wonder where the missing animal might have been. He came up with the idea of developing a self-triggering miniature camera to monitor his pigeons.

Photo: View of an empty crossing with tram tracks. The side façades of the houses, as well as people, vehicles and lanterns are clearly visible.

In December 1908, the Patent "Method and Apparatus for Photographing Landing Sections from the Bird's Eye View" was accepted by the Imperial Patent Office. Right into the 1920s, and at quite some expense, Neubronner continued to develop about a dozen of these camera models, weighing 30 to 75 grams. The commercial success he hoped-for, however, did not arrive.

The Historical Archive of the Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin acquired the estate of Julius Neubronner in 1992. It contains numerous documents on experiments and inventions related to carrier pigeon photography, as well as an extensive photo collection with original photographs.

The Pigeon Photographer
The three-part catalogue for the exhibition
Nicolò Degiorgis, Audrey Solomon (ed.), The Pigeon Photographer, Rorhof 2017, Bolzano (South Tyrol).
Language: English, 35 Euro, available in the museum shop and in bookshops (ISBN: 978-88-94881 -07 -3)

Header photo: Julius Neubronner with his family releasing a pigeon from his hand in 1910.
Large photo centre: Frankfurt/Main, in front of the Eschenheim Gate, 1909

© For all photos, unless otherwise stated: SDTB/Historical Archive