George R. Lawrence - Ft. Sheridan, Ill.
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"Ft. Sheridan, Ill. From Lawrence captive
airship at 600 ft. elevation." Copyright 1908
by the Geo. R. Lawrence Co. Chicago.
B I O G R A P H Y: George R. Lawrence (1869-1938)
After working briefly at a Chicago wagon factory in 1889, George Lawrence opened a studio for the
production of crayon enlargements -- large photographs, usually portraits, that have been enhanced
by pastels or charcoal. Crayon enlargements were popular wall decorations in the late 1800s.
In 1893, Lawrence's studio partner left Chicago permanently. Lawrence inherited the equipment and
learned to develop negatives from a local photographer's apprentice. He formed the Geo. R. Lawrence
Company and quickly became an innovator in the field, using the slogan "The Hitherto Impossible in
Photography is Our Specialty."
Lawrence designed his own large-format cameras and specialized in aerial views. He began by using
ladders or high towers to photograph from above. In 1901 he shot aerial photographs from a flimsy cage
attached to a captive balloon. Once, while flying more than 200 feet above Chicago, the cage tore from the
balloon, hurling Lawrence and his camera to the ground. Fortunately his fall was broken by telephone and
telegraph wires; he landed unharmed. Lawrence continued to use balloons until he developed a method
of taking aerial views with cameras suspended from unmanned kites.
George Lawrence was renowned for developing a flash powder
that permitted indoor banquet photography.
His system required flash powder in many locations around a room, sometimes in as many as 350 spots.
A single electric charge exploded all the powder, generating more light and less smoke than previous
George Lawrence used aerial kites to photograph San Francisco
after the devastating 1906 earthquake.
His photographs appeared in newspapers around the world and generated more than $15,000
for the photographer. In the 1910s, Lawrence left the field of photography and pursued a
career in aviation design.