When Pigeon Photographers Offered a Real-Life Bird’s-Eye View of the World

Julius Neubronner/Jennavecia, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Julius Neubronner/Jennavecia, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

You’ve heard of carrier pigeons, but what about photographer pigeons? As The New Yorker reports, a German apothecary and inventor named Julius Neubronner advanced the field of aerial photography in the early 20th century by attaching cameras to his homing pigeons and setting them loose. Consider the birds the original drones.

Except that wasn’t Neubronner’s original intent when he built the pigeon camera back in 1907. He occasionally used pigeons to deliver prescriptions to and from a sanatorium a few miles away from his home in Kronberg (near Frankfurt), and he wanted to track where they flew. So he set out to invent a solution.

His device consisted of a leather harness and aluminum breastplate that allowed a lightweight camera to be attached to a pigeon’s body. A built-in pneumatic timer let the pigeons snap multiple photos mid-flight. As The New Yorker notes, “Whether the cameras would actually capture the desired object, however, depended on luck and the whims of the pigeons.”

The patent for his invention was nearly rejected because the German patent office thought the apparatus was too heavy for pigeons to carry (it wasn’t). He eventually received a patent in 1908 and went on to showcase his invention at expositions in Dresden, Frankfurt, and Paris. He even made a bit of money by selling postcards showcasing the pigeons’ photos, which were snapped and developed on the spot.

At the time, aerial photos were only achieved through the use of balloons or kites, and the range of motion was limited in those cases. Neubronner’s clever use of the available technology was later adapted for wartime purposes, and Germany’s military tested out the pigeon cameras on Western Front battlefields, according to The Public Domain Review. However, airplanes quickly surpassed the pigeons' capabilities and “consigned Neubronner’s birds to their traditional role of carrying messages,” the Review notes. But their voyages live on in the photographs they captured.

An aerial photo of a hotel in Germany
Julius Neubronner/Jennavecia, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain Mark 1.0

[h/t The New Yorker]

A Ring Containing a Lock of Charlotte Brontë’s Hair Found Its Way to Antiques Roadshow

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

A ring that “very likely” contains a lock of Charlotte Brontë’s hair appeared on a recent episode of the Antiques Roadshow that was filmed in northern Wales, according to The Guardian. The jewelry itself isn’t especially valuable; the TV show's appraiser, jewelry specialist Geoffrey Munn, said he would have priced it at £25, or about $32.

However, an inscription of the Jane Eyre author’s name as well as the year she died (1855) raises the value to an estimated £20,000 ($26,000). That isn’t too shabby, considering that the owner found the ring among her late father-in-law’s belongings in the attic.

A section of the ring comes unhinged to reveal a thin strand of hair inside—but did it really belong to one of the famous Brontë sisters? Munn seems to think so, explaining that it was not uncommon for hair to be incorporated into jewelry in the 19th century.

“There was a terror of not being able to remember the face and character of the person who had died,” he said. “Hair wreaths” and other pieces of "hair work" were popular ways of paying tribute to deceased loved ones in England and America from the 17th century to the early 20th century.

In this case, the hair inside the ring was finely braided. Munn went on to add, “It echoes a bracelet Charlotte wore of her two sisters’ hair … So it’s absolutely the focus of the mid- to late 19th century and also the focus of Charlotte Brontë.”

The Brontë Society & Brontë Parsonage Museum, which has locks of Brontë’s hair in its collection, said that it had no reason to doubt the authenticity of the ring.

[h/t The Guardian]

From Cocaine to Chloroform: 28 Old-Timey Medical Cures

YouTube
YouTube

Is your asthma acting up? Try eating only boiled carrots for a fortnight. Or smoke a cigarette. Have you got a toothache? Electrotherapy might help (and could also take care of that pesky impotence problem). When it comes to our understanding of medicine and illnesses, we’ve come a long way in the past few centuries. Still, it’s always fascinating to take a look back into the past and remember a time when cocaine was a common way to treat everything from hay fever to hemorrhoids.

In this week's all-new edition of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is highlighting all sorts of bizarre, old-timey medical cures. You can watch the full episode below.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here.

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