Chester Melvin Vaniman (1866-1912) was an American photographer, adventurer and businessman who specialized in panoramic images taken from heights. Born to a farming family in Virden, Illinois, he was the eldest of four sons, and attended Valparaiso University in Indiana and Chicago. His nickname was the "Acrobatic Photographer." He shot images from gas balloons, ships masts, tall buildings and even a home-made 30 meter pole. He was a famous aviator and balloonist. He scaled buildings, hung from self-made slings, and scaled dangerous heights to capture his unique images.
Vaniman's photographic career began in Hawaii in 1901 and ended some time in 1904. He spent over a year photographing Australia and New Zealand on behalf of the Oceanic Steamship Company, creating promotional images for the company. During this time the New Zealand Government also commissioned some panoramic images. Beginning in 1903 he spent over a year photographing Sydney and the surrounding areas. It was during this time that he created his best known work, the panorama of Sydney, shot from a hot air balloon he had specially imported from the United States.
Airships and death
Some time around 1904 he gave up photography and took up exploration. This included attempts at the North Pole and the Trans-Atlantic crossing - both attempted in Walter Wellman's airship America. At the first attempt to cross the Atlantic in 1910 they anticipated a five day crossing but the airship's motor failed after 38 hours leaving it adrift until it was rescued two days later by the Trent, a passing Royal Mail steamship.
Vaniman lost his life during his second attempt at a trans-Atlantic airship crossing when his airship, the Akron, exploded off the New Jersey shore on July 2, 1912. Filled with 11,300 cubic meters of hydrogen gas, his was the first American airship that could compare to the better known European manufactured models. Vaniman and his crew of four were killed when the airship exploded in front of the gathered crowd near Atlantic City, and gondola plunged 750 meters into an inlet. The other victims were his brother Calvin Vaniman, Fred Elmer, George Bourtillion, and Walter Guest. Subsequent investigation indicated that internal pressure had split the bag.
- Melvin Vaniman at earlyaviators.com.
- Trevelyan, Laura (2010-10-15). "Airship America's landmark crossing attempt recalled". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-10-15.
- Davies, Alan. "Vaniman, the acrobatic photographer". State Library of New South Wales 2007. Archived from the original on 2007-09-04. "enlarged again to 9760 cubic metres volume, giving a lifting capacity of 12 tonnes ... launched on 15 October 1910 ... crew of six, including Wellman and Vaniman and a stowaway cat"
- Akron at the National Underwater Marine Agency.
- Captioned image with more information on the Akron
- "The Vaniman Balloon" Popular Mechancs, December 1911, p. 810.
- Dilks, John. What Happened After the Rescue? QST, January 2011, pp. 95-6.
- "A Different Perspective: Vaniman, the acrobatic photographer".
- "A Different Perspective: Vaniman, the acrobatic photographer" State Library of New South Wales], online exhibit. Via Wayback.
- MS State University; First successful flight of a three decker aircraft
- University of Calgary; Vaniman Arctic Expedition; Airship in the Arctic
- Library of Congress; Panorama Collection
- Forbes Magazine; Airship Explosion