Pigeons Were the Original Camera Drones

pigeron julus neubr.jpg
(Photo: Julius Neubronner/Wikimedia Commons)

In the early 1900s, a German Apothecary named Julius Neubronner was using homing pigeons to send and receive medical supplies across Germany. One of his pigeons, however, was stubborn to return home after making a delivery and would sometimes take a whole month before it came back. So, in 1907 he designed and built tiny cameras to mount to that Pigeon in an effort to find out where the Pigeon goes for that month. 

Pigeons using cameras.jpg
(Photo: Julius Neubronner/Wikimedia Commons)

This wasn't that crazy of an idea back then as by that time messenger pigeons had already been used for over 700 years to deliver, well... messages. 

In the beginning, Pigeons would only fly one way, home. It's not like in the movies where birds were just flying to random strangers homes to deliver messages. They're not that smart. They would all fly to a central hub like the post office where their messages were relayed, then the birds would be distributed in a cage by a horseback to their sender spots all over. Then in the late 1800s, someone figured out that if they put the pigeon's food in one location and their home in the other they could get them to come back. 

pigeon camera two lenses.jpg
(Photo: Julius Neubronner/Wikimedia Commons)

Julius's stubborn pigeon eventually returned and what he saw stunned him and the people around him. The bird had captured an aerial photograph of the city of Frankfurt. 

frankfurt pigeons.jpg
(Photo: Julius Neubronner/Wikimedia Commons)

This was only four years after the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk.  Aerial photography was a novelty having only been used sparingly in hot air balloons. Julius was on to something and designed a custom to lens camera that he was finally able to patent after proving that it worked. 

In 1909 Neubronner demonstrated his birds and his technology at both the International Photographic Exhibition in Dresden and International Aviation Exhibition in Frankfurt where his pigeons would arrive in front of a live audience and then he'd take out develop the film and make postcards on the spot of where the birds just came from.

He became instantly famous. 

aerial with wings.jpg
(Photo: Julius Neubronner/Wikimedia Commons)

Not bad for a man that just wanted to find out where his pigeons went.