- In accordance with your verbal instructions, I have
to submit the following report of the performance of the photographic
apparatus for use with kites submitted for the inspection
of the Department by Mr. George R. Lawrence and associates
of the George R. Lawrence Company, Photographers, of
- The purpose for which this apparatus is designed is
the taking of photographs, from altitudes, the camera being
suspended by kites, (in case there is no wind a small captive
balloon can be used; no balloon was presented for test, however),
and the shutter being operated by electricity from the
ground. This device, if working properly, can take photographs
of forts, etc., showing locations of hidden guns, and
other similar features. If successfully used off Santiago,
it would probably have revealed at once the presence and
exact location of Spanish ships within the harbor.
- The problem to be solved appears to present itself
in two distinct phases, the first being purely mechanical
and relating to the means adopted to raise the camera to the
proper height, point it in the proper direction, and there
hold it with sufficient steadiness to enable a clear and distinct
photograph of the desired object to be taken. The
second phase, having raised the camera to the proper height
and hold it steadily, pointed in the right direction, is purely
photographic, and involves the actual taking of the picture.
- The kites used are of a familiar form, as shown in
Figure 1, attached hereto. The light silk cordage shown is
arranged in proper lengths, and comes together at a point,
which, for the upper kite, is attached to the end of a string
but light cord.
In Fig. 2, a is the first kite attached to the cord b.
c is the second kite attached to a short line d, which in
turn is attached to the main line b, at e. A light bamboo,
f, about six feet long, arranged as shown, keeps the second
kite clear of the main line. The third kite, g, is similarly
arranged. It is best to so arrange the kites that each
one flies at a less angle from the vertical than the one
above it, as they thus pull better and keep clear of the
main line more readily.
- Just below the point where the short line of the lowest
kite joins the main line, h, Fig.2, the camera is hung,
and from that point down an insulated wire kite line is used.
- Heretofore, in kite photography, the great problem
has been to hold the camera without swaying to and fro, and
in absolute steadiness, for long enough to take a photograph.
This is accomplished in this case by the apparatus shown in
Fig. 3. A tripod of very light wooden strips, as shown, is
hung to the kite line by a swivel clamp, a, so that it may
be turned freely in azimuth to point the camera in any desired
direction. A ring, b, is so fixed that it may be turned
about the tripod in azimuth as desired, and clamped in
position by the clamps, c, in the legs of the tripod. An
arm e, secured to the ring b, and held by a guide,d, is so
swung that, when the clamp, f, is secured to the kite line,
the camera will point in the desired direction, the tripod
being held by it at a proper angle in azimuth with the horizontal
direction of the kite line.
- The pointing of the camera in the proper direction
in the horizontal plane being thus assured, the next problem
is to hold the tripod, in spite of the swaying of the kites,
so that the floor of the camera shall remain steadily in the
horizontal plane, and in the same point in space for long
enough to enable a photograph to be taken. To do this three
bamboo poles are fitted, shipped in the floor of the tripod,
as shown, g. These are about fifteen feet long, and on the
end of each is a weight of a few ounces of lead, h. From
the outer end of each of these a fine silk cord about one
hundred and twenty feet long, i, runs down until the three
meet directly under the tripod, and in common support a
weight of about two or three pounds of lead, j. This arrangement
thus creates a pendulum of great length, by means of
very small weights, and because of it the inertia of the system
causes the camera to remain steady in space in spite of
any ordinary swaying of the kites.
- In Fig.3, k is the camera, which is a very light and
simple affair; and l is the lens, the shutter of which is
operated by the electro-magnets m, by current from a battery
on the ground, through the wire n.
- The camera lens is of fixed focus, and is so arranged
that, when the camera is horizontal, the image transmitted to
the film is of the area shown between lines b and c in Fig.
4. The angle of the lens is so wide in this particular that
the field includes everything from a few hundred yards in front
of the camera (depending of course upon its height above the
ground) to the visible horizon. With this great scope in
the vertical plane, the lens is also equally wide angle in
the horizontal plane. With the camera held at the northeast
corner of the top of the Washington Monument, Mr. Lawrence
on two plates only, included in a panoramic view of this city
everything from the Fort Myer end of the Georgetown Bridge,
around through the North, to include the east end of the Anacostia
Bridge over the Eastern Branch. This same photograph
also included most of the temporary buildings of the
Railway exhibit in the Monument grounds and thence to the
- The lens which does this work is used with an unusually
wide open stop, and in order to get a picture that
is clear around the edges, a film is used instead of a plate,
and is supported on a concave pad (a, Fig.5), carefully shaped
so that every point on its surface will be in focus with the
proper part of the lens. An extremely wide lens and stop may
thus be successfully used. All the work shown during these
tests was done with this style of lens.
- Mr. Lawrence showed photographs taken in this way
in which houses could be distinguished as such at a distance
stated to be twelve miles from the point of ascension. He
claims that, if desired, the details of these buildings could
be brought out by the use of a narrow angle, telescopic lens, of
less field but considerable magnifying power. He did not
have such a lens with during these tests. There seems
no reason to doubt that he could do what he promises in this
- While I did not weigh his apparatus, I consider it
extremely light, as I readily lifted tripod, outriggers,
camera, weights, etc., when ready for use, in my left hand.
I should say it did not exceed ten to fifteen pounds. When
not in use, kites, tripod, etc., may all be disassembled and
carried in a canvas roll, very light, not more than twelve
feet in length, and very easily handled. The outfit as thus
made up for transportation would then include:-
I should say that three or four men could easily carry the whole
- Canvas roll, containing kites, rods, tripod parts, etc.
- Case containing camera and films.
- Firing battery.
- Kite line reel and frame.
- Small box, with tools, etc.
- The first effort made by Mr. Lawrence to exhibit his
device was on shore, on the field south of the house of the
Inspector of Ordnance in Charge of the Naval Proving Ground
at Indian Head, and was conducted in the presence of General
Creely and Major Russell, of the Signal Corps of the U.S. Army;
Commander J.M. Robinson, Lieuts. C.F. Hughes and S.S. Robinson,
of the Bureau of Equipment; Captain Seaton Schroeder and
Lieutenant E.T. Constien, of the Office Naval Intelligence;
Lieutenant Commander F.L. Chapin, of the Bureau of Navigation;
and the writer.
- Mr. Lawrence there attempted to use some new kites,
which proved to be not properly balanced, and after he had gotten
the kites right, the wind form the southward, was very
light and full of flaws, so that it was barely able, with
three kites, to lift the camera.
- Fifteen or twenty minutes suffices to unpack and
prepare the apparatus. With a proper breeze and properly
adjusted kites, the apparatus is very quickly gotten aloft.
- Fig. 6 shows the general plan of operation on
shore, a being a tree, fence post, or other solid object to
which the reel can be attached. The kites are then sent up
quickly one after the other, all lines being properly cut to
length, and fitted with snap hooks. The kites being in air,
a small metal snatch block, d, is put on the wire at the reel,
and by running along with this wire is hauled down until the
cord (the point of attachment of the camera) is reached. The
tripod, with the camera mounted in place ready for use, is
then set on the ground under the point where it is to be
attached, its swivel is attached to the kite line, the tripod
is slued around until the lens points in the proper direction
and secured there by the outrigger to the kite line,
and then by running back with the snatch block towards the
reel, the tripod is allowed to rise in the air. Pendulum
lines and shutter operating wire are cleared as they rise.
When the camera is high enough, the shutter is snapped, and
by over-running the wire again, as shown described, the
camera may be brought down, the film changed and another
plate exposed. In this trial, time was taken, as about two
and one half minutes form one exposure to the next.
- Rain squalls and light winds full of flaws greatly
hampered this test.
- Three exposures were made, with the following results:-
First. Pendulum lines were fouled, and the camera was not
steady. Picture was badly blurred and of no value.
Second. Electric shutter did not operate; no exposure.
Third: Same as second.
- It was pointed out to Mr. Lawrence that his method
of operating, while practicable ashore, could not be employed
on the deck of a ship. He therefore spent several
days, both at Indian Head, and on the tugs between Washington
and Indian Head, experimenting with new methods.
- When he stated he was ready, I proceeded with
him in a tug to the river below the city, intending to make
an ascension while running the tug on the comparatively
straight reach from just below the city to Fort Washington
and return. I could only secure the use of the tug for two
hours, so haste had to be made, which was rendered more imperative
by the fact that the wind was blowing down the river.
It was therefore rendered so light by the motion of the tugs
that their entire work had to be done on the way back, in
something less than an hour.
- The worked was therefore hampered by the following
- Only a little over three quarters of an hour was
- Wind was not very strong even when steaming into it.
- Winding of Channel and passing vessels, by rendering
maneuvering of tug necessary, made successful work
- The operating platform, on the stern of the tug, being
only about three or four feet above the water, allowed
very little drift in which to start kites, clear tripod
and weight of water, etc. The slightest dip of
the kites, due to a shift of helm of tug, change of
speed, or flaw in the wind, endangered camera in landing,
or dipped pendulum weight in river.
- Mr. Lawrence, for this work, has done away with the
separate wire for operating the shutter, using the wire (double)
by which the kites were held, with connections to the
shutter at the upper end, and through the reel to the battery
at the lower. Also, to keep the pendulum bob out of the water,
he had rigged the apparatus shown in Fig. 7. He had the three
cords, d, reeled on an ordinary fisherman's reel, and as the
camera rose, he unreeled them. They were all foul on the reel
though, and caused great delay. When he has paid out their
full length, he hooked on the weight, a, and to it the fine
line b, and also bent the block c to the kite wire, with b
rove through it. With the line b still on the reel, he paid
out as the camera continued to rise, thus keeping the weight
a clear of the water.
- By the time all this had been done, we had neared
the mouth of the Eastern Branch, and extreme haste was necessary.
The shutter was accordingly snapped. The wind was so
light however, that the weight was constantly dipping in the
water, and little hope of a good picture was entertained.
- It was then necessary to hurriedly get the gear in
to prevent its loss. Everything went foul, and the weight
dragged in the water so heavily that the back of the camera
was broken and light admitted to the interior. This ended
- There are appended photographs taken by Mr. Lawrence,
at various times other than the official tests described in
- Mr. Lawrence proposes to make the following modifications
in his apparatus:-
- Fit an automatic reel in the tripod that, when the
camera is sent up, will slowly unreel the pendulum
lines, thus keeping the weight clear of the water.
- Fit an attachment to the above by which snapping the
shutter will cause it to reel the weight up close to
the tripod, thus doing away with all trouble about
fouling these lines in hauling down.
- Get power reel for handling kite line aboard ship.
- It is my opinion that:-
- Mr. Lawrence has a device which if working properly,
would be of great value under certain circumstances,
as at Santiago, for instance.
- He has worked out the photographic details, lens, etc.,
with great skill, and it is efficient, under the restrictions
as to light, etc., inherent in all photographic
- He has devised a means whereby the camera can be steadily
held in the air, and the desired object, if not too
small, held in the field.
- He had not experimented from aboard ship, and
his gear was not the best possible for that work.
- His minor details had not been sufficiently well cared
for to enable him to pass a successful test.
- He met with many unfavorable circumstances which he
could hardly be expected to foresee, but which I am
confident he could overcome by time and experience.
- He has made considerable progress towards a desirable
object, but not enough to justify the Department in
any expenditures in regard to the matter.
- I therefore recommend as follows:-
- That the matter be turned over to the Bureau having
cognizance of the matter for further investigation.
- That Mr. Lawrence be invited to perfect the details
of this apparatus.
- That, should he so desire, he then be permitted to
report to the Commander-in-Chief of the North Atlantic
Fleet for further experiment, from a ship where
he will be reasonable distance from the water where he can
secure steadiness of course, freedom of maneuvering
and enough wind. This test should include, as far
as possible, the photographing of such objects as
would be desired in time of war.
The Chief of Bureau of Ordnance.