The Original Drone

Homing pigeon in Germany (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

4 September 2023, Labor Day

On Labor Day, when I honor working birds, homing pigeons come to mind because they’re willing to try almost anything their keepers invent.

For centuries homing pigeons made themselves extremely useful by carrying messages, especially during wartime. The messages were carried in a pack strapped to the bird’s chest or inserted in a message tube strapped to the bird’s leg.

Homing pigeon with message tube on its leg (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Then in 1907, German apothecary Julius Neubronner, who used pigeons to deliver medications, decided to try aerial pigeon photography. He designed an aluminum breast harness and a lightweight time-delayed miniature camera to fit on a homing pigeon. It worked so well with his own pigeons that he applied for a German patent.

Homing pigeon carrying a camera, 1926 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But, as Wikipedia explains, the patent office rejected his claim until he sent them pigeon-made aerial photos. They granted his patent in December 1908.

Aerial photos taken by homing pigeons (photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Pigeon photography held great promise for World War I but was overshadowed by the invention of portable dovecoats to improve messaging and airplanes from which humans could do their own surveillance. So the fleets of camera-carrying pigeons just didn’t take off.

Three homing pigeons with cameras (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After World War II the CIA briefly flirted with the idea of pigeon photography but it, too, went nowhere. Now they have drones.

Recreational drone, July 2016 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I wonder if people realize that pigeons were the original drones.

Read more about Pigeon photography at Wikipedia. Happy Labor Day.

(photos from Wikimedia; click on the captions to see the originals)

One thought on “The Original Drone

  1. This was very interesting Kate, I had no idea this happened. That pic of them with the cameras strapped on is too much! Thank you

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