On October 8, 1860, Boston newspapers announced that
painter turned photographer James Wallace Black would
photograph Boston from a hot-air balloon hovering over
the city. On October 13th, a balloon carried Black 1,200
feet over Boston, and he exposed eight plates. The
photographer got one good print; he entitled it "Boston
as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It." The Herald
printed the image.
James Wallace Black (1825–1896), known
professionally as J.W. Black, was an early American
photographer whose career was marked by
experimentation and innovation.
After trying his luck as a painter in Boston, he turned to
photography, beginning as a daguerreotype plate
polisher. He soon partnered with John Adams Whipple, a
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1. From a hot air balloon.
3. Felix Claude Tournachon, aka Nadar, of the village
of Petit-Bicêtre near Paris, from a balloon in 1858.
Bonus: See map below. (Map has been rotated 90 degrees to the left.)
1. How was this photograph created?
2. What city does it depict?
3. Who made the only earlier one? Of what city?
Bonus: Identify at least one geographical feature in the picture.
|Answer to Quiz #327
October 23, 2011
|Tin Eye Alert!
You can find this photograph on TinEye,
but you will have more fun if you solve the puzzle on your own.
|Inspired by longtime Quizmaster Mike Dalton.
|Comments from Our Readers
|Congratulations to Our Winners!
Collier Smith Harold Atchison
Stephen Jolley Gary Sterne
Barbara Mroz Kelly Fetherlin
Sally Garrison Sally Garrison
Janice M. Sellers Margaret Waterman
Angel Esparza Daniel E. Jolley
Carol Farrant Marilyn Hamill
Sherry Marshall Suzan Farris
Evan Hindman Arthur Hartwell
Nicole Blank Margaret Paxton
Joyce Veness Donna Jolley
Diane Burkett Robert W. Steinmann Jr.
Dawn Carlile Shirley Hamblin
Yay! No peeking this time; I guessed it was either a balloon or a Zeppelin.
Love the 'history of photography" quizzes! The moment I saw the picture for this
week, I knew it was taken by one of two methods - hot air balloon or tethered kite.
(Sidebar: Have you ever seen some of the photos taken by pigeon?) This lead to Nadar,
whom I learned about during my second undergrad. Knowing that he was French
originally took me to Paris, but then I found information about James Wallace Black
(need to see if he is mentioned in any of my old texts) and that the Boston photo is the
oldest surviving aerial photo. A couple of key strokes later and there it was.
Great quiz this week! Daniel E. Jolley
The photograph was taken by James Wallace Black from an aerial balloon in 1860. He
got help from his buddy, Samuel A. King, who was a balloon navigator. This is the
oldest surviving aerial photo. The city is Boston, Massachusetts. I can't tell if the
boots in the corner of the photo are Jim's or Sam's. I suspect they belong to Jim.
. Carol Farrant
N.B. Are you joking about the boots? I thought the balloon was tethered. Maybe
not... - Q. Gen.
Actually, it does look like boots to me. Lace up boots. I’ve been in a hot air balloon.
And, while it was a very smooth ride, I wasn’t concentrating on taking an historic
picture. Being seated sounded logical to me. But it’s probably just another uneven edge.
The Boston balloon could have been tethered. I couldn’t find anything to document
that one way or the other. His buddy could have been keeping the flames going while
he took the picture, or he could have been on the ground watching the tethered line
after giving James Black a detailed explanation of how this all worked.
One of my initial reactions was that it was a map stamped in metal. I also wondered if
it was an old photo of a cross-cut of a tree. You know, tree rings. If left exposed, the
rings break up a bit. The Boston Common section quickly squashed that reaction. We
have to think creatively. These were simply random thoughts when getting the first
look at the photo. Then the search starts.
“Underwater Photography”: Should I be getting a head start on the next photo by
looking for pictures of the Marianna Trench? Carol Farrant
Thank you for the 1860 map of Boston (hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/31598).
All my direct ancestors had left Boston by 1860 so I did not save later maps. Current
features include laterals Hatch Shell and Parkman Grandstand. Sherry Marshall
Another map puzzle that has done me in - never used Tineye before but had to with this
one. :( Had it in my head that it was an aerial photo of either D.C. or Paris with the
circle in the middle of the photo, so all the Googling in the world didn't get me the
correct image. Nicole Blank
Well, that was my first impression [of a map stamped into metal]..., but then I looked
closer. Marilyn Hamill
Good One! Just googled aerial photograph to get the ball rolling, I assumed at first that
it was Paris, since so many interesting early photographs are from Paris, France. How
wrong I was!, but that got me close to right answer. While doing some reading on this
one, I ran into our old friend, Eadweard Muybridge & his moving horse heliotrope, the
subject of an quiz. Robert W. Steinmann Jr.
|How Collier Solved the Puzzle
|For a fan/dilettante of both photography and hot air ballooning (I
have done lots of photos, one flight), this one was fairly easy.
I recognized the picture right off as an early aerial photo of a city,
and Googling (images) "first aerial photo hot air balloon" led directly
to your photo at (blindwithcameraschool.org/worlds-first-photo/).
But it is labeled erroneously as "World's First Aerial Photo"The first
aerial photo was taken by Gaspard-Felix Tournachon, better known
as Nadar [wiki], in 1858, using a tethered balloon over the Bievre
However, this photo is NOT one of Tournachon's (none of which
survive, apparently). But this leads to:
The photo you show is of Boston, MA, USA, and is likely the earliest
surviving aerial photo, taken in 1860 by James Wallace Black, also
from a tethered balloon.
The darkened open space at 11 o'clock is probably Boston Common.
The first known aerial photograph was taken in
1858 by French photographer and balloonist,
Gaspar Felix Tournachon, known as "Nadar". In
1855 he had patented the idea of using aerial
photographs in mapmaking and surveying, but it
took him 3 years of experimenting before he
successfully produced the very first aerial
photograph. It was a view of the French village of
Petit-Becetre taken from a tethered hot-air balloon,
80 meters above the ground. This was no mean
feat, given the complexity of the early collodion
photographic process, which required a complete
darkroom to be carried in the basket of the balloon!
Unfortunately, Nadar's earliest photographs no
longer survive, and the oldest aerial photograph
known to be still in existence is James Wallace
Black's image of Boston from a hot-air balloon,
taken in 1860. Following the development of the
dry-plate process, it was no longer necessary carry
so much equipment, and the first free flight balloon
photo mission was carried out by Triboulet over
Paris in 1879.
|Honoré Daumier, "Nadar
élevant la Photographie à la
hauteur de l'Art" (Nadar
elevating Photography to Art),
published in Le Boulevard,
May 25, 1862.
Félix Nadar was the pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix
Tournachon (1 April 1820, Paris – 23 March
1910), a French photographer, caricaturist,
journalist, novelist and balloonist. Some
photographs by Nadar are marked "P. Nadar" for
Nadar was born in April 1820 in Paris (though
some sources state Lyon). He was a caricaturist
for Le Charivari in 1848. In 1849 he created the
Revue comique and the Petit journal pour rire. He
took his first photographs in 1853 and in 1858
became the first person to take aerial photographs.
His first pictures were taken from a tethered
balloon 240 feet (73 meters) above the village
of Petit-Bicêtre near Paris. He also pioneered the
use of artificial lighting in photography, working in the catacombs of Paris.
Around 1863, Nadar built a huge (6000 m³) balloon named Le Géant ("The Giant"),
thereby inspiring Jules Verne's Five Weeks in a Balloon. Although the "Géant" project
was initially unsuccessful Nadar was still convinced that the future belonged to
heavier-than-air machines. Later, "The Society for the Encouragement of Aerial
Locomotion by Means of Heavier than Air Machines" was established, with Nadar as
president and Verne as secretary. Nadar was also the inspiration for the character of
Michael Ardan in Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.
On his visit to Brussels with the Géant, on 26 September 1864, Nadar erected mobile
barriers to keep the crowd at a safe distance. Up to this day crowd control barriers are
The oldest surviving aerial
photograph. Boston, October
13, 1860. By James Wallace
known in Belgium as Nadar barriers.
In April 1874, he lent his photo studio to a
group of painters, thus making the first
exhibition of the Impressionists possible. He
photographed Victor Hugo on his death-bed in
1885. He is credited with having published (in
1886) the first photo-interview (of famous
chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul, then a
centenarian), and also took erotic photographs.
From 1895 until his return to Paris in 1909,
the Nadar photo studio was in Marseilles
Nadar died in 1910, aged 89. He was buried in
Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
|Nadar's oldest surviving aerial
photo. Parish, 1866.
prolific Boston photographer and inventor. Black's photograph of abolitionist John
Brown in 1859, the year of his insurrection at Harpers Ferry, is now in the National
Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.
In March 1860, Black took a photograph of poet Walt Whitman when Whitman was in
Boston to oversee the typesetting of his 1860 edition of Leaves of Grass. Black's studio
at 173 Washington Street was less than a block from the publishing firm of Thayer and
Eldridge, who apparently commissioned the photograph to promote the 1860 edition.
On October 13, 1860, two years after the French photographer Nadar conducted his
earliest experiments in balloon flight, Black made the first successful aerial photographs
in the United States in collaboration with the balloon navigator Samuel A. King on King's
hot-air balloon, the "Queen of the Air." He photographed Boston from a hot-air balloon
at 1,200 feet (8 plates of glass negative; 10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in). One good print resulted,
which the photographer entitled "Boston as the
Eagle and the Wild Goose See It." This was the
first clear aerial image of a city anywhere.
Almost immediately, aerial photography would be
put to use by the Union Army in the American
Black later became the authority on the use of the
magic lantern, a candlelight-powered projector that
was a predecessor of today's slide projectors. By
the late 1870s Black's business largely consisted of
lantern slide production, including his famous
images of the Great Boston Fire of 1872,
published a photographic album titled Ruins of the
Great Fire in Boston, November 1872.
He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in
|For more information on the history of aerial photography see
Aerial Photographs of the Arnold Arboretum
by Shiela Connor