The World's Largest Camera in 1900 Weighed 1,400 Pounds!


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(George R. Lawrence with his camera. Photo: Indiana Historical Society)

If you're someone who's excited about all the new full-frame mirrorless cameras that have come out in the past year because they're so much smaller than their DSLR counterparts, you're clearly spoiled. 

In 1899, the Chicago & Alton railway company introduced a new train dubbed the Alton Limited. The train was sleek and uniform and had a very symmetrical design and the company wanted to show it off in a single panoramic image.

Not a tiny panoramic either. An 8-foot image that could be mounted to a gallery or wall and showcase the beauty of the new train. That wasn't so easy in 1899. At first Photographer, George R. Lawrence thought it would be best to shoot the train in sections and then stitch them together to create one huge picture. That method wouldn't work, however, as the images became warped and looked strange when they tried to put them together. 

To get an image as large as they wanted, they had to build a bigger camera... a much bigger camera.

Cameras used a single plate as a negative back then and the one they needed for this camera was three times the size of any plate ever used before. The fun thing about this camera is that it's really just a big camera. They just scaled everything up. 

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Over the course of two months, they made a few giant lenses, a wide angle, and a telephoto and added giant bellows that were made in four parts and on wheels so it could be glided backward forwards with ease and ended up with a 1,400-pound behemoth of a camera. 

It took fifteen people to make the camera run and needed to be transported in its own massive wagon car. 

The fun thing is, it worked. The 8-foot image dubbed "the handsomest train in the world,"  along with others were exhibited at the Paris Exposition where photographer Lawrence won the Grand Prize for World Photographic Excellence.

People can do amazing things when they're motivated by "what's possible."