Drones are now commonplace in warfare today to capture images of high risk areas, and while many may see these unmanned aircrafts as a recent invention, the idea was in use over 100 years ago during World War I by the German military. Instead of aircrafts, which weren’t around during the early 19th century, homing pigeons were used to carry the timed cameras.
Julius Neubronner, a German inventor, came up with the idea of attaching an automatic timed camera to a pigeon in 1907 and immediately received interest by the Prussian Minister of War. Soon after, a military pigeon station was put in place at Spandau.
The German military had already been experimenting with various methods of capturing photographic intelligence before Neubronner’s idea was brought to the forefront, including the use of kites, balloons and even rockets. None of those solutions proved to be as reliable as the pigeons however.
In order for it to work, German war engineers had to come up with a way to construct the camera that would not only work for their needs, but also be small and light enough for the pigeons to carry. A Frankfurt firm eventually came up with a solution that worked, and while the use quickly became outdated with the advent of aviation technologies, it was an effective enough solution that the CIA in the United States developed their own pigeon camera system.