Aerial mapping and photography has become incredibly important in the last few years. Americans are noticing more detailed news segments that involve aerial shots of certain regions, more thorough web images of any area around the world and the introduction of Google Earth to help people across the world see other places of the globe, all while sitting in front of their computer.

The history of aerial maps and photography dates back to the earliest periods of photographic discovery and have helped explorers and the average person learn credible information about the earth, bodies of water and land and the atmosphere.

Notable Contributions to Aerial Mapping

The first person to successfully accomplish aerial photography was Gaspar Felix Tournachon, also known as "Nadar." In 1858, he photographed the houses of the French village of Petit-Becetre from a balloon which was tethered 80 meters above the earth. And in 1860, James Wallace Black successfully photographed Boston from a balloon. Nadar's photos no longer exist, however, Black's image of Boston can still be found.

In 1882, English meteorologist E.D. Archibald was one of the first to successfully take photographs from a long string of kites. Arthut Batut is another pioneer and took aerial photographs of France from a kite in 1889. He suspended a large camera from a single kite and set an automatically timed exposure.

Pigeons were used in 1903 by Julius Neubronne, who mounted a camera to the breast of the bird for aerial images. The camera could be set to take automatic exposures every 30 seconds. After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, George R. Lawrence captured the devastation and fire, also using a kite high above the city. He designed a large format camera with a curved film plate to take panoramic images, which still continue to be some of the largest aerial pictures ever to be taken.

Rocket mounted cameras became popular in 1897 by Swedish inventor, Alfred Nobel. In 1906, Albert Maul perfected the rocket mounted camera when he used a rocket propelled by compressed air to take pictures at 2,600 feet above the earth. The camera was ejected and then parachuted back down.

Recent Uses of Aerial Maps

In later years, the military took advantage of the advancements in aerial maps and shot images during the American Civil War and World War I, instead of using sketches and drawings from aerial observers. In more recent years, aerial mapping is used in cartography, which is often the basis of determining topography maps, along with land-use planning, archaeology, environmental studies, surveillance, artistic projects and commercial advertising.

One of the biggest and most recent advancements in aerial photography has been the creation of orthophotos, which are photographs that can be used as maps. The orthophoto is a simulation of the picture taken from an infinite distance, looking straight down onto the area. These types of aerial mapping are commonly used in geographic information systems to create maps. Large sets of these photos can also be divided into tiles and used as online maps, such as the popular Google Maps. With Google Earth, orthophotos are laid onto a digital elevation model to simulate three dimensional landscapes.