- In accordance with the order of the Commander in Chief No.
1838-F of August 27,1905 to witness and report upon the kite photographic
experiments conducted on board this vessel by Professor G.R.
Lawrence, of Chicago, Ill., we have the honor to report as follows,
- Professor Lawrence came on board this vessel on August 25,1905
at Newport, Rhode Island, bringing with him Mr. Chamberlain, his representative
and two assistants, together with all his apparatus for taking
photographs from altitudes by means of kites and photographic cameras.
In accordance with previous instructions, there was made on board a
small winch controlled by an electric motor for hauling in and paying
out the kite line. All material for this winch was furnished by the
ship with the exception of the drum and gearing which Professor
Lawrence brought with him.
- The purpose for which the apparatus is designed is to take
photographs from high altitudes, the camera being suspended from a kite
string supported by kites, by a device such as to render it stationary
long enough to enable a photograph to be taken at any desired time,
the shutter of the camera being operated by an electric current whose
source is on the ship or ground. What the special advantages of the
apparatus may be as claimed by the inventor are not known. Professor
Lawrence promised to furnish this board with a written statement setting
forth the claims made by him relative to the special features of his
device, but that statement has not been received.
- The apparatus used was practically the same as described very
fully by Lieut. Comd'r Chandler in his report of May 25, 1905 to the
Chief of Bureau of Ordnance with the following exceptions, the fitting
and using the electric winch to control the kite line, this being done
by hand in the earlier experiments. The following brief description of
the apparatus is given. It consists essentially of the following,
- A sufficient number of kites to lift the camera and its
appurtenances, the number depending on the size of the camera and on
the strength or relative strength of the wind.
- The camera and levelling and steadying device to hold the
- The kite line.
- The electric power to operate the camera shutter.
- The motor and reel for paying out and winding in the kite line.
- The kites used were of regular hexagonal type made of light
pine frame covered with muslin and known as the "Conyne" type, after
the inventor. This is a superior kite protected by patents by the
inventor and sold by him. A string of these kites flying is shown in
photograph marked A accompanying this report. The first kite sent
up is attached directly to the kite line by means of a span or bridle
secured to the frame work of the kite. The remainder of the kites are
each secured by similar spans to one end of light bamboo rods about
6' long and 1/2" in diameter, the other end of the rod secured to the
kite line. The end of the rod to which the kite is attached is supported
by a light cord secured to the kite line below the rod and acting
to keep the rods perpendicular to the line. This arrangement enables
all the kites below the highest one to be kept clear of the kite line.
- The special difficulty in taking photographs with a camera
suspended in the air by kites which may and do sway back and forth
under the varying influence of the wind (although the line will not
much vary) is in maintaining the camera in one direction long enough
to take a well defined picture. The device invented by Professor
Lawrence and used in these tests for pointing and steadying the camera
in any given direction is constructed as follows, For pointing, A tripod
of light wooden strips with a spread at the base of about 2-1/2' and
with a wooden bass is hung to the main kite line by a swivel clamp
allowing the tripod turned freely in azimuth in any direction.
A metal ring around the legs of the tripod, parallel to its base and
about one third the distance from the point of suspension is so
secured to the legs of the tripod that it can be turned in any
direction in azimuth, the ring clamped at any desired point.
Arms are secured at opposite extremities of a diameter of the ring
the other ends joined and secured to the main kite line, by the line
reeving through a ring on the ends of the arms. It will be seen that
the direction of the arms is always constant in reference to the kite
line, but by revolving the tripod inside the ring and clamping it to
the ring any direction can be given to the tripod in reference to the
kite line, and this latter direction is controlled by the direction of
the wind. The camera is secured on the base of the tripod and pointed
in its proper direction by clamping the ring before it is sent aloft.
For steadying, In order to maintain the tripod and camera steady in
the air while the kites may be swaying to and fro, three bamboo poles,
each about 15 ft long are secured to the floor of the tripod, in a
horizontal plane making an angle of 120 degrees with one another.
On the outer end of each of these poles is placed a small leaden
weight of about one quarter of a pound. The inertia of these weights
checks the tendency of the system to swing in azimuth. From the outer
ends of these poles a light silk cord about 120 ft long is dropped and
the three cords are brought together directly under the center of
support of the tripod, at which point is secured a lead weight of about
three pounds. This produces a pendulum effect which tends to counteract
any tendency of the system to tilt and experiment seemed to show
it had the desired effect, the camera rising steadily and evenly with
no swinging or swaying motion.
Exhibit B of this report gives a general idea of the supporting tripod
with its steadying gear, showing the camera ascending in the controlling
- The kite line, A light but strong cord is the main line for
the first three or four kites and continuous with this and secured
to it is an insulated wire consisting of several small piano forte
wires laid up together, this leading to the drum of the winch.
Just below the lowest kite is hung the camera from the steel wire.
Inside of the small steel wires from the point of suspension of the camera
to the ground or ship is an insulated copper wire which acts as
a conductor for electric current which actuates the shutter of the
camera, the return being through the steel wires of the main line.
- The controlling winch. This was constructed on board from an
unused electric motor and controller, and was geared to the gear of the
drum through the means of a wooden pulley on the armature shaft and a
leather belt. The controller allowed the motor to run in either direction
and for fast paying out, a device was fitted to slip the belt,
the pressure on the kites then turning the drum and paying out.
Its speed was controlled by a friction band worked from a hand lever.
The whole winch was mounted on a coaling truck and could be moved
about the deck in any desired position and the electric current was
carried to it by flexible conductors.
For operating the shutter a small magneto was mounted on the side of
the frame work supporting the motor and when ready to expose, the
handle of the magneto was rapidly turned and a push button pressed
which sent current through the armature which controlled the shutter.
- In the various tests several cameras were sent aloft with
different lenses for varying angles, distances, field, power etc, and the
size of the tripod used varied with the size of the camera. The
panorama camera was the largest used and required the largest trip.
Exhibit C shows this camera aloft. Other cameras used were smaller
with wide angles as shown in Exhibit B while another used had very
small angle with high magnifying power with 36" focus.
- As a base of operations the quarter deck of the Maine was
turned over to Professor Lawrence and stripped of everything that
would be likely to foul the kites, lines, etc, all awning stanchions
and ridge ropes taken down aft over the stern. The first attempt to
send a camera aloft to take a picture took place on August 28, 1905,
although the kites had been flown the intervening days between the time
of coming on board August 25 and the above date.
The general results of the first experiment were as follows,
3:30 p.m. started up first kite and then sent up 7 others
Camera used 10"x16" with wide angle lens. If any picture due to this
exposure resulted no evidence was furnished the Board.
4:10 p.m. started up camera
4:25 p.m. snapped shutter with 2000 ft wire out at a elevation
of 35 degrees
4:57 p.m. landed camera on deck
- It might be mentioned here that of the very great many
pictures taken while Professor Lawrence was on board, a period of two
weeks; the only ones furnished the Board as positive results are those
that accompany this report. Professor Lawrence informed us by letter
after arriving at Chicago that many of the films were failures, owing
to the imperfect washing they had on the Maine, though during his
stay on board we heard, no complaint about lack of fresh water to which
he attributed it. He also stated that many of the films had become lost
It would also seem proper at this point to account for the delay in.
making this report, as no pictures were furnished the result of the
experiments until the day this report is dated, January l2, 1906 although
the party left the ship on October 7, 1905.
It is only fair to say though that Professor Lawrence has stated that
a set of pictures had been sent some time in November but that no trace
of them was ever found. After one or two urgent letters from the
Board the pictures marked as exhibits to this report were received on
the day mentioned, January 12.
- Second test, August 29th,
11:00 a.m. started up the first kite, followed by 6 others
Results not known. This was carried out while the ship was
11:31 a.m. nine kites up
Camera used was Panorama 20"x 48 "plate, focus 19"
12:13 p.m. Paid out 2000 ft line, altitude top kite 45 degrees
Weight of camera 49 lbs.
12:18 p.m. Made exposure
12:19 p.m. Began reeling in
12:34 p.m. Camera on deck
These were the only two tests in which the time was actually taken,
making the whole elapsed time from the time of starting up the first
kite until the camera is on deck, but one or more of the Board were
present at many of the other times and it is our opinion that to
ensure success, at least one hour and a half would be occupied to
make the complete operation. However the Board does not consider the
element of time of so much importance as the result of the time expended.
- After the apparatus was once in working order, kite ascensions
were made for the purpose of taking pictures at almost every favorable
opportunity from August 29th until October 7, 1905, but it is impossible
to state how many attempts were made, the results being shown only in
the photographs furnished.
- Accidents of different kinds occurred and would be likely to
occur under any ordinary conditions, though the whole system could be
improved in many particulars. Kites were lost or blown to pieces, some
falling in the water. On one occasion the steadying line carried away,
tilting the camera but fortunately not losing it.
The electric current failed at almost the start, the magneto not giving
enough current to quickly release the shutter. This was remedied by
using the ships voltage with proper resistance to control it. After some time
it was found the kite line should not be used to conduct the electric
current, because the great pressure the turns of wire on the drum were
under strained the insulation, causing it to wear away, producing
grounds on the line that seriously interfered with the operation of
For a practical machine, the electric winch could be much smaller and
more compact and undoubtedly one could be designed to effectually do
the work required though there was no fault to find with the home made
one except as to its size and consequent unwieldiness.
- It was impossible to be present at all attempts to take pictures
though at least one of the Board endeavored to be, but it was
not possible to keep a record of what the pictures should have been
and in submitting the exhibits, the Board wishes to state that the
legend on them is to the best of their knowledge correct. In addition
to those already mentioned exhibits are marked D,E,F,G,H,I,J,K,L,M,N.
- The Board would particularly invite attention to the photographs
taken by the panorama camera, marked J and K and to details of
the latter M and N. Exhibit J was taken while the ship was at anchor
off Provincetown from the Maine with the camera hoisted directly over the
town and Cape Cod peninsula with the idea of getting the sea beyond
On the right of the picture is plainly seen a number of fishing
schooners that were entirely hidden from the ship.
Exhibit K was taken primarily with the idea of getting a photograph of
the fleet as it lay at anchor from aloft and with a view of actually
testing the distance they could be photographed.
Exhibit L shows a detail of K made at an altitude of 250 ft with a
small angle lens of 36" and plainly shows the Marconi towers at
South Wellfleet, Mass. a distance of 11-3/4 miles.
Exhibit M was similarly taken at 250 ft and shows Cape Cod Light
Exhibit N was taken on a clear day from the upper top of the Maine.
This film was made just before Professor Lawrence left the ship and
was carried by him to his studio to develop and fix and is submitted
more as a sample of what should be expected from the others, provided
the films had proper treatment and the atmospheric conditions were
favorable. Clear days were the exception and hazy weather generally
prevailed during the time the photographs exhibited were taken.
- The Board is of the opinion that,
The idea of taking photographs from high altitudes is under certain
circumstances, especially during war, of inestimable value: such as
locating ships in enclosed or blocked harbors, the interior of fortresses,
the location of shore batteries etc.
The scheme worked out by Professor Lawrence both from a purely
mechanical and photographic point of view is excellent, though the
details of the actual working parts may be much improved.
The scheme can be more effectively used on shore than on ship board
where the working room is of necessity limited.
It would not be practicable to use the apparatus on board a battle
ship with the ships force to do the work, but that with practice,
Officers sufficiently acquainted with photography could soon become
skillful in this kind of work.
In lieu of this,
That the Government secure the right to use Professor Lawrence's
apparatus, then perfect it and put it on an auxiliary for the use of
the Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet for further tests by
Officers and men of the Navy.
W. H. G. Bullard
Lieut. Commander, U.S. Navy
A. L. Willard
Lieut. Commander, U.S. Navy
J. H. Holden
Lieutenant, U.S. Navy
The Commander in Chief,
U.S. Atlantic Fleet.
(2 enclosures under separate cover of exhibits)
[ National Archives Record Group 74 ]