Talk:Pigeon photography

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Time line[edit]

It's a pity that the question of the reliability of sources in this case has been so confrontational. There have been a few red herrings such as feasibility. I have looked for sources in German (with some success) and French (with much more limited success), and here is a time line based on two of them: [1] [2]

  • 1904 Julius Neubronner's first aerial photographs
  • patent initially rejected for impossibility, then granted after authenticated aerial photographs of Frankfurt have been presented
  • 1909 Internationale Luftschiffahrtausstellung (in Frankfurt, not yet in Berlin); Julius Neubronner is awarded the messenger pigeon in silver for a photo of a housewife's washing in Eschborn
  • 1910 Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung (a general newspaper appearing in Munich, capital of Bavaria) prints a news report on Militärluftschiffahrt und Brieftaubenphotographie (military aviation and messenger pigeon photography)
  • 1912 Neubronner demonstrates feasibility to the military in Tegel (Berlin)
  • 1914 Photo of Julius Neubronner? (not from the two sources mentioned above) [3]
  • 1918 military has lost interest in buying Neubronner's patents, due to advances in aviation

This is interesting because:

  • it locates the actual research in Frankfurt (near Neubronner's origin) and Berlin (German capital), both outside Bavaria
  • it locates a speculation on military use in Bavaria
  • it implies that the military never acquired the necessary(?) patents.

My personal working hypothesis after seeing this is that the newspaper speculated about a future Bavarian Pigeon Corps, and that this speculation, possibly combined with some intentional misinformation during World War I, found its way into sources in English which then copied it from each other. German sources did not make this mistake because it was too easily falsified.

There is also a complete absence of any online sources on this military unit in German, e.g. 0 relevant Google hits for "Brieftaubeneinheit Neubronner" or "Brieftaubenkorps Neubronner". I tried many combinations of relevant search terms, taking into account the 4 possible spellings each for Bayern (Bavaria) and bayerisch (Bavarian). Altogether, this raises a red flag for me, so that in my opinion exceptional sources are required. From my recent experience in an unrelated topic (see WT:CGR#Eyes needed: "Gratius Falsius" and the "Procurator Cynegii" in Roman Britain) I think the minimum standard that we must require here is a source that gives a citation to a contemporary or at least almost contemporary source. Otherwise it's too likely that we are dealing with the end of a telephone game, since this is no doubt a very attractive topic. --Hans Adler (talk) 12:04, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

Hmmm, interesting stuff. It may well make sense to rename the article as has been suggested. The 1916 edition of Popular Science[4] clearly claims though that many pigeons fitted with cameras had been brought down behind allied lines. That seems like rather a pointless thing to invent? --Malleus Fatuorum 13:25, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
I admit this source is contemporary. So let's see if I can shoot down its reliability:
  • It calls Julius Neubronner "Jules Neubronner". That's either an extraordinary mistake or a sign of uncritical copying from a French source that translated the first name.
  • It ascribes a totally implausible motivation to Julius Neubronner that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere else: That he invented aerial photography in case one of his prescription-carrying pigeons would get temporarily lost again.
  • "can take thirty photographs [...] This allows an almost continuous registry of the principal points of view during a flight of six miles." – Not sure about this. I was under the impression that he could make only a single photo per journey, although this might obviously be a later improvement.
And then there is the fact that messenger pigeons were used on a large scale during World War I for other purposes. It's easy to imagine that the author of this popularly written book embellished this a bit. The photograph in your source seems to be authentic, btw. [5] So everything is still far from clear. With a different title we could at least attribute the BPC claims and put them into a context that makes clear that they are a bit questionable. – Here are some additional sources related to the topic but (except for possibly the first) without relevance for the BPC:
  • Its tantalising that the following source is not available online but appeared in a magazine on history of photography which can be ordered for 20 euros: Franziska Brons (2006) Bilder im Fluge: Julius Neubronners Brieftaubenfotografie [6].
  • I also found background on Julius Neubronner and his family. It turns out that the pharmacy he inherited still exists. [7]
  • It seems Julius Neubronner also played a role in film history. [8]
Perhaps we should also consider Julius Neubronner as a move target? --Hans Adler (talk) 15:17, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
I have no problems with renaming the article. Or even splitting it into two articles. A bio on Julius and then another for pigeon aerial photography or whatever. I do want to ask where the single image per flight thing came from? I haven't read through all the newly provided sources, but all the old ones said the cameras took images every 30 seconds. لennavecia 15:23, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
My second reference above [9] describes the pneumatic mechanism used. Air escapes until the camera is triggered. The initial amount of air controls the delay. In principle there may have been a second mechanism for making one photo every 30 seconds, but that would have had to fit into the limited weight of 50 g. --Hans Adler (talk) 15:41, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
I have seen several rather old sources now that say 2–8 photos. Of course that could have been improved later. Also some sources talk about 75 g and training for the pigeons. --Hans Adler (talk) 19:34, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for doing this research, by the way. I appreciate it. لennavecia 20:37, 17 June 2009 (UTC)
Thanks for starting an article of the type I really love. --Hans Adler (talk) 22:24, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

Various further sources. It is beginning to look as if an article on the Neubronner family might be useful for April Fool's Day, so I am including trivia:

  • In 1931, Wilhelm Neubronner (died 23 May 1972; Julius Neubronner's father) wrote a manual of ice stock sport that is still relevant. As of 2008, the German national ice stock competition for ladies was named after him. [10]
  • Exhibition of paintings by de:Anton Burger, a lifelong friend of Wilhelm Neubronner and co-founder of the de:Kronberger Malerkolonie. [11]
  • Julius Neubronner and his sister Lila, although not painters, were friends of Burger's students. [12]
  • Julius Neubronner's son Carl (13 Januar 1896 – 19 November 1997) experimented with model air crafts. Target of nazi repression. Apparently his idea of replacing the propeller with a solid-fuel rocket was revolutionary. Honorary citizen of Kronberg. When he was 93 he was allowed to join the Alte Adler, originally a club for German pilots who obtained their licence before August 1914. [13] [14]
  • Walter Schobert (1996), Kaiser, Kintopp & Karossen; Early Amateur Films by Julius Neubronner: Restored. Journal of Film Preservation 53. [15]
  • The annual price of the Schützenverein of Kronberg (founded in 1398) is named after Carl Neubronner. [16]
  • The synagogue of Kronberg, photo taken by Julius Neubronner. [17][18]
  • 31 films by Julius Neubronner, c. 1903–1918. (In the film "Julius Neubronner zaubert", he looks like the man with the pigeon and camera on the 1914 press photograph from the Gallica archive, linked above in the time line.) [19]
  • Cover page of Sciences et Voyages: Un pigeon photographe / exposition in Vevey on projects for military use of pigeon photography which were soon abandoned [20][21]
  • Much more on the exposition in Vevey. Claims (incorrectly) that Kronberg is in Bavaria. In the 1980s Rolf Oberländer produced a small number of replicas of the Doppel-Sport Panoramic Camera. In the 1930s a Swiss company produced their own model of pigeon cameras, patent in 1937. [22]
  • Caricature: Duck with pickelhaube taking a photograph [23]
  • One of Julius Neubronner's customers was Victoria, Princess Royal, who lived in "Castle Friedrichshof" = Schlosshotel Kronberg after her husband's death. [24]
  • Some time after 1704 the catholic minority in Kronberg got the privilege to build a catholic church. They started in 1738. The population of Kronberg, including non-catholics, was obliged to help; as a result 120 protestants left the city. In 1740, English, Swedish and Danish officials asked Kaiser Karl VI to stop this. In 1768 the building work was stopped. It served as a warehouse and then from 1824 as an inn. In 1887 Julius Neubronner bought it to live there and for his pharmacy. It still houses the pharmacy, surgeries, and the Kronberger Malerkolonie museum. [25]
  • Abstract of a Julius Neubronner patent. (not freely accessible) [26] (Not pigeon related. It's for adhesive paper tape. 17:56, 28 June 2009 (UTC))
  • In Kronberg it seems to be general knowledge that the military became interested in Neubronner's invention, but not that it was actually used by the military. [27]
  • In 1907, Julius Neubronner joined the de:Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung. [28]

--Hans Adler (talk) 22:24, 17 June 2009 (UTC)

On the number of pictures taken: If you look at Fuhrmann (1912), cited in the AFD discussion, you'll find that it states that 2 to 8 pictures could be taken: "Der kleine Apparat ist für 2-8 Aufnahmen". That source, as well as Wolf-Czapek+Becker (1911), also talks about the training, and gives both flight ranges and the 75g mass figure. Uncle G (talk) 01:21, 18 June 2009 (UTC)

The Vevey exhibition press flyer that I linked above (in French) says that the Doppel-Sport Panoramic Camera came c.1910 and was an improvement over Neubronner's earlier cameras. I think I read in another source specifically that with this step the number of pictures was increased. I am not sure about the number 30, though. Some sources talk about 30 pictures and some about one picture every 30 seconds. That's a bit suspicious. --Hans Adler (talk) 10:29, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
You mean suspicious that the number 30 crops up in both contexts? Perhaps, but I find the notion of a single-shot camera to be completely implausible. It would require very careful planning and lots of luck to get the birds exactly the right distance from their targets before their release, taking account of the fact that they have a habit of circling initially while they orientate themselves. I think we need to be careful of too much synthesis and original research here. --Malleus Fatuorum 13:48, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
Early sources speak about the problem of unpredictability. 2–8 is only slightly better in this respect, of course. In any case I am not rejecting the number 30 in either context altogether, just proposing to be a bit careful. --Hans Adler 14:35, 18 June 2009 (UTC)
Hans Adler, a duck with a WW1 pickelhaube - that sent me ROFL, priceless, how did you locate it. Power.corrupts (talk) 21:49, 23 June 2009 (UTC)
By clicking on every single Google hit for "Julius Neubronner". Hans Adler 09:26, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
An eagle with a WW1 pickelhaube would have been even more appropriate and funnier Albatross2147 (talk) 04:09, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
I suspect that the historical context was the build-up to World War I. The duck was probably preferred over a pigeon because with its round beak it looks even more harmless. It wouldn't have been appropriate to scare the canon fodder by depicting an enemy soldier as an eagle. Hans Adler 09:26, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

Hans, I know you searched for various possible translations of "Bavarian Pigeon Corp", but did you also try "Bavarian Pigeon Fleet"? I don't know if the translation would be different, but might be worth a try. You noted below you wouldn't be surprised to find there was a pigeon messenger corps. Worth a try, maybe? لennavecia 15:34, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

I hadn't tried it because the word seemed to make no sense. Now I did, and it wasn't much trouble at all because there were almost no Google or Google Books hits for Brieftaubenflotte or Taubenflotte. Apart from one source that we knew about before, only people poking fun at pigeons. Hans Adler 16:05, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
Flotte, the literal translation of fleet, makes no sense for two reasons: 1) the pigeons aren't manned, 2) a Flotte can only consist of boats, not planes, so it's the wrong metaphor anyway.
Squadron, or in German Geschwader, would make more sense because it only has the first problem. That's still bad enough, because it's extremely unlikely that such a humorous metaphor would have made it into the official or even semi-official name of a German military unit at the beginning of the 20th century. I tried Brieftaubengeschwader and Taubengeschwader, and also variants with hyphen, as usual, but with no success. Hans Adler 17:32, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

More French sources from Gallica:

Hans Adler 23:52, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

Mentioned in Modern Mechanix in 1931, 1932 and 1936. Doesn't seem to be very reliable, but could serve as evidence that the topic was popular. Hans Adler 11:34, 25 June 2009 (UTC)

I am reorganising the references for FAC. I had to remove the following unused references:

Hans Adler 21:05, 6 April 2011 (UTC)

Was this even feasible?[edit]

This article has much pertinent information about the carrying capicity of your average pigeon.

Homing pigeons weigh 300–500 grams. To fly freely, the birds should not be burdened with more than 10 percent of their body weight. In fact, many bird researchers say the ideal amount should be closer to five percent.... When we began inquiring about small GPS receivers in early 1996, we found that the smallest unit weighed 36.4 grams — too heavy for the birds.... We tried to put 25 grams on one pigeon right away, but the pigeon acted very disturbed.... Thirty-eight grams total is still a lot for a pigeon to carry, representing about ten percent of its body weight. The pigeons’ flying behaviour is influenced as seen in the long homing times and in our observations of pigeons that lost their ease of flight and flapped their wings with a higher frequency. The pigeons’ long breaks also indicate that the GPS recorder caused them additional effort. An earlier study showed that pigeons can be influenced very much by transmitter loads with a weight of 2.5 to 5 percent of body weight. The birds slow down by 15–28 percent on 90-kilometre flights, and their carbon dioxide production increases by 41–50 percent.

So what we are left with is a camera that the birds would have struggled to fly with especially with the added stress of battle conditions and a military unit that nobody can provide contemporary evidence about. Albatross2147 (talk) 07:02, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

Julius Neubronner was a second generation (at least) professional user of homing pigeons. The first cameras weighed 50 g, so that was in the feasible range for the strongest pigeons. A technically oriented German source from 1911, found by Uncle G, says: "Er hat es durch Training erreicht, daß eine Taube 75 g, d. h. ein Drittel ihres Eigengewichtes, 100 bis 150 km weit tragen kann." In English: "Through training he achieved that a pigeon can carry 75 g, i.e. a third of its own weight, over 100 to 150 km." 75 g could have been a step towards the Doppel-Sport Panoramic Camera, "a third of its own weight" seems to be hyperbole, and based on your information I would guess that 100 km was a reproducible distance and 150 km an outlier.
I agree that it just doesn't look as if the technology was ever developed to the stage where it could have been used by the military.
I hope to get more information from Munich once we have a German version of this article. There is an exhibition at Deutsches Museum which shows a pigeon with a camera, and perhaps someone can get access to the old copy of the Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung that discusses the technology. I also wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Bavarian Army had an unrelated messenger pigeon corps that was dissolved before, or around the time of, Neubronner's experiments. Hans Adler 09:47, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
The above seems irrelevant to me. We have verifiability, not truth. Verifiable considering we have images of the birds in flight and the images taken from the cameras, strapped to the pigeons, wings visible in one shot. The images were included in the Online Sensing Tutorial by NASA. So, applying a study unrelated to Neubronner's pigeons that questions the pigeons' ability is original research... and probably synthesis as well. لennavecia 15:28, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
Wait a moment. Verifiability, not truth, is our method for approximating the truth. Obviously pigeon photography did exist as an invention that was also practised on some small scale. What we don't have is any sufficient proof that it was actually used by the military. We don't have photos of photographer pigeons in battle formation, or aerial photographs from battle sites, taken by pigeons, or in fact anything indicating that pigeon cameras were really used in this way to make up for the serious red flags. Don't you think it's a bit odd that we have sources in German talking about failed experiments by the military to see if it's a viable technology, but don't even know the German name of this supposed unit? Do you think there are no military historians in Germany who would absolutely love such a story? Hans Adler 16:14, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
PS: What is even more significant is that we do not have a single year or remotely dateable event related to this supposed unit. I think as far as red flags for history go that's a really serious one. The only restrictions we know are that if the BPC existed before Neubronner invented pigeon photography, it must have used the pigeons for something else initially, and that all Bavarian units were disbanded after Germany lost the war in 1918. Hans Adler 17:42, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

I can't find any relevant literary references in the NASA Remote Sensing Tutorial, and there seems to be a factual error (the castle depicted seems to be Schlosshotel Kronberg, the residence of Neubronner's customer Victoria, Princess Royal, rather than something in Bavaria. I have contacted the author; let's see what happens. Hans Adler 18:23, 24 June 2009 (UTC)

Why are you replying to me with the above when I was responding to someone else? I didn't claim any of the above past the NASA thing (which is the information I got with the images I upload). Save that, I simply said that we have verifiable proof that pigeons flew and took pictures with these cameras, which is what this section questions. Also, I have already stated repeatedly that I agree that without German sources to verify military use or the name of a possible unit (whether used for testing or battle), the article should be renamed and rewritten. But, whatever. You guys do what you want with this article. I'm tired of the drama, particularly when I wrote the article to be an escape from the endless drama I normally deal with in my BLP work. لennavecia 19:48, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
Sorry for having misunderstood you. I was aware that you were replying to Albatross2147, but I wrongly assumed that you had read his statement in the same way that I read it. From his last sentence it seemed clear to me that he was referring specifically to the question of actual military use. It seems that some low-quality responses at the AfD have prolonged the confusion.
Thanks for moving the article. I would have done it, but I am a bit reluctant to move anything before a new title has been discussed. This one works for me. I expect that the tensions are basically over now and the fun part can start. Again, sorry for the misunderstanding, thanks for starting the article in the first place, and please don't run away now that the drama seems to be over. Hans Adler 21:25, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
Thanks, Hans. I figured I'd go ahead and remove all the unverifiable material and get it to a better name. We can still have a title discussion and move again if needed. I think from the sources you've found, this is probably the best descriptive title. And, as stated previously, we can also create a biography for Neubronner. لennavecia 22:07, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
I agree. Do you think we can use the Neubronner photo with pigeon and camera from Gallica under fair use? It's an agency photo from 1914. Hans Adler 22:40, 24 June 2009 (UTC)
{{PD-US-1923-abroad}}. لennavecia 02:49, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
Jennavecia says...we have images of the birds in flight... - are we really sure that we have? It seems to me that it is a common or garden posed image using a stuffed, dead pigeon as, I suspect, are all the others with birds in view. Can we find any other first decade of the 20th century photographic image of a bird in flight that is so clear with nary a hint of graininess and so up close that you can see the detail of the feathers as we have in BPC Pigeon.jpg? In addition I am at a loss to understand what is meant by ...applying a study unrelated to Neubronner's pigeons that questions the pigeons' ability is original research... and probably synthesis as well. I found the article simply by typing maximum weight homing pigeon in my favorite search engine and then moving past the first 10 results. I haven't inserted anything into the article about that, I have only put a query in here, and some people carry on as though it is an affront to their integrity. I am sorry about that but I meant no such thing. However I intend to put a sentence in to the effect that modern research indicates that carrying a 70 gram weight for any distance would be beyond the capacity of homing pigeons with a reference to the article. Hans I do realise that JN was from a long line of Taubenliebhaber but I rather doubt that he and his old man bred some sort of über-Brieftaube that could perform feats unknown and unremarked and unreproduced by other fanciers and researchers for more than a century. For the record my grandfather was a pigeon fancier in his youth, a scientist, and in the German army in WW1 and he never mentioned this phenomena. Albatross2147 (talk) 03:54, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
Explain how this image was created. لennavecia 06:16, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
When you explain the original provenance of the image which you obtained and posted in Wp, it would appear, without permission. As it seems credulity is in the air - howzabout they're angel wing tips? However, I would say that I don't know but I don't have to. I didn't post them in the article or elsewhere. Albatross2147 (talk) 10:57, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
They're public domain images. I don't have to obtain permission. Angel wing tips? Perhaps that's where the confusion is. We're not talking about cherubs. We're talking about pigeons. Common mistake. لennavecia 02:07, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
Oh, so you really doubt that it was feasible at all, even outside military applications? Here is what I find most convincing:
  • The catalogue of the exposition in Vevey. It has detailed information about Julius Neubronner's experiments. It has even more detailed information about the Swiss clockmaker Adrian Michel, who developed the pigeon cameras further 20 years later. It shows a large number of aerial photographs taken by Michel's pigeons and some of Neubronner's. All these photographs are from near the pigeons' homes, as one would expect. (Other sources get the locations seriously wrong, e.g. locating Schlosshotel Kronberg in Bavaria.) It shows the title page of the operating manual of Michel's pigeon camera. It also mentions two people who made replicas in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively.
  • The entry in Volume 23 (the third supplementary volume, 1912) of the 6th edition of Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, the German equivalent of Britannica. [29] Translation: Homing pigeon photography. Julius Neubronner, Kronberg, has trained homing pigeons to take tiny photographic cameras into the air, which then function automatically. At the Internationale Luftschiffahrtausstellung in Frankfurt in 1909 he presented equipment, resulting photographies, as well as the method of training of the pigeons for this service [...]
  • The entry in Volume 17 of the14th edition of the Brockhaus Enzyklopädie (the other German equivalent of Britannica; they are now merged), 1910: Eine der neuesten Anwendungen der P. ist das von Apotheker Neubronner ausgebildete Verfahren, photogr. Ausnahmen durch Brieftauben machen zu lassen. In English: One of the latest applications of P.[=photography] is the method, developed by the apothecary Neubronner, to have photographies made by homing pigeons. [30]
  • The 8-page article Le pigeon voyageur photographe in a 1910 issue of a French photography journal has many details about the practical side. The pigeons had to be trained very carefully. It started by a pigeon being equipped with a harness. Once it was used to that, a cuirass was added. Once it was used to that and able to fly with it, weight was added to it and increased gradually. The pigeons were not happy at all, and actually flew with this baggage as fast as they could, once they learned that they were always relieved of it immediately upon arrival. In the three years of experiments that preceded the exhibition, Neubronner had lost only one camera, and that was because it fell off the harness rather than because of a lost pigeon. The burdened pigeons were safe from predators because of the sparkling metal.
  • Finally there is Neubronner's pamphlet (55 pages) that appeared in 1909 with a publisher in Dresden: Die Brieftaubenphotographie und ihre Bedeutung für die Kriegskunst, als Doppelsport, für die Wissenschaft und im Dienste der Presse. Nebst einem Anhang: "Die Kritik des Auslandes". In English: Homing pigeon photography and its significance for the art of war, as a dual sport, for science and in the service of the press. With an appendix: "The criticism from abroad". [31] That leaves open the possibility that he was a totally deluded crackpot; however, that seems out of character for an official apothecary of the Kaiser's widow and well-known pioneer of film.
By the way, the reason that most of my sources are in French is simply that the French are leading (inside Europe) in digitisation of historical documents. One source points to a German newspaper article that I would very much like to see. Hans Adler 11:08, 25 June 2009 (UTC) / 11:42, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
PS: There is also a book by Friedrich Wilhelm Oelze: Brieftaubensport und Brieftaubenphotographie (English: Homing pigeon sport and homing pigeon photography), which appeared 1910. [32] It credits W. Dordelmann and J. Neubronner for cooperation. [33] Hans Adler 12:12, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
That's a good pointer. My French is significantly better than my German (it could hardly be otherwise), so I'll bear in mind to try French language searches on other topics in the future ... in fact I have one in mind right now. --Malleus Fatuorum 22:39, 26 June 2009 (UTC)

Latest finds[edit]

I have added a public domain photograph of Julius Neubronner. (It took me hours to research that it is in the public domain in Germany as well, not just in the US, so it's suitable for Commons.) I have also extended the article further. Here are some things I can't address today:

  • High quality photo of pigeon with Doppel-Sport camera, free with attribution to Deutsches Museum. [34]
  • Commons has an amateur photo taken at the exhibition in Vevey. [35]
  • Commons has a pigeon with camera of a type I have not seen before, from Bundesarchiv. The caption says it was added to the archive in 1926, but guesses it relates to aerial reconnaissance in World War I. [36]
  • The International Spy Museum in Washington shows a pigeon with camera, claiming this technology was employed by the US in World War I. [37] I tend to doubt this, since the camera looks like the rightmost one in our 3-pigeon photo. Hans Adler 23:59, 25 June 2009 (UTC)
  • I am not sure it belongs in the article, but here is a Google Books link to the short paper by Franziska Brons in Bilder ohne Betrachter. [38] Hans Adler 10:35, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Hugh S. Gladstone (1919), Birds and the War [39] goes into great detail about the use of pigeons in World War I, including numerous anecdotes. Not so much as a hint that they might have been used in connection with aerial photography. Hans Adler 15:30, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
  • In 1905 Julius Neubronner founded a company producing adhesive strips. Under the name Neubronner GmbH & Co. KG it still exists. The company was later taken over by his son Carl. It currently has ~80 employees. [40] Short obituary for Carl Neubronner in a magazine of the German packaging industry. [41] Company website. [42] Hans Adler 14:21, 27 June 2009 (UTC)
  • The club newspaper of RAMOG (rocket model builders) on Carl Neubronner, on the occasion of his 100th birthday. He directed the family company for 70 years. Hans Adler 16:43, 27 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Knoll, Paul (1913), Die Photographie im Dienste der Presse, Halle a.d.S. . The title coincides with the title of the section of the Dresden exhibition where Neubronner first presented his invention, and Halle is not far from Dresden. Moreover, Paul Knoll was director of the press archive which also had the Bundesarchiv photo I mentioned above [43]. Hans Adler 19:25, 28 June 2009 (UTC)
  • "Les pigeons photographes", La Liberté, Fribourg, 1908-12-03. Hans Adler 00:49, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
  • "Pigeons as birds of war", Flight – The Aircraft and Engineer, Official Organ of the Royal Aero Club, 1943-10-21, pp. [44], [45] & 2547. British magazine reports rumour of pigeon photographers used by Germans and Japanese. Hans Adler 02:08, 21 July 2009 (UTC)
  • Thank you Hans, for this extreme tour de force in source detective work. Now I would like to propose what everybody is thinking, that Albatross2147 & Co. stay away from this talk page for some time, as the evidence against Albatross2147's concerns is not just convincing, but overwhelmingly so. Please give the people here some rest to do constructive work. There will be plenty of opportunities to raise concerns later on. Power.corrupts (talk) 17:13, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
  • I think the dispute with Albatross2147 is basically over (for now), as he seems happy with the article in its current state (see his comment on my talk page). Dumping references on the talk page is my method for working on the article. I would like to write a section on actual military use because that's a topic many of our readers will likely come across. If possible while staying within policy, I would like to collect some of the claims such as existence of a Bavarian Pigeon Corps, point out the lack of verifiable details, and contrast this with the absence of any information pointing that way in our most specific, most reliable sources.
Of course I might even get information that changes everything, once I have found Neubronner's autobiography in the post, or after checking out the longer Franziska Brons article from a library or getting a response from the author of the NASA source. Hans Adler 17:58, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Chudoba, Philipp C. (1992), Blinding the Eyes of the Corps: Foresight at Last?, Monterey, CA . This master's thesis (Naval Postgraduate School) contains a footnote, saying: "The 'pigeon camera,' patented by Julius Neubronner, was a 2.5 ounce timer-activated device which was designed to be carried by homing pigeons. Although the technique was a wellreceived novelty at expositions, 'pigeon reconnaissance' proved to be impractical for military applications." The thesis reports estimates that about 25 % of all flights during World War I were reconnaissance missions, that there were significant advances in technology during the war, and that aerial photography was neglected by the US military afterwards. Hans Adler 22:20, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Rosmulder, Peter (2008), "Het land van boven", Pantheon (in Dutch) (4 (lucht)): 14–18 . "Dit systeem was een van de attracties op een internationale fotografie tentoonstelling in Dresden in 1909. // Op deze tentoonstelling werd ook een andere opzienbarende manier van fotograferen geïntroduceerd. Boven de expositiehal vlogen enkele duiven met automatische minicamera's aan hun lichaam De foto's werden snel ontwikkeld en als postkaart verkocht aan de verbaasde bezoekers. De man achter dit idee was de Duitser Julius Neubronner. Zijn vader gebruikte duiven al als koeriers voor zijn apothekersdiensten. In 1903 vroeg Neubronner een patent aan op deze manier van fotograferen. Vijf jaar later beschreef het tijdschrift L'Illustation deze manier van fotograferen: 'It is quite natural to see birds becoming photographers at the moment when men are beginning to become birds.'" The caption of the 3-pigeon photo is "De cameraduiven, 1908". Hans Adler 00:11, 27 June 2009 (UTC)
  • Haskin, Frederic J. (1909-03-11), "Value of carrier pigeons", Washington Herald . A lot of background. One unfounded original speculation ("the birds can mount higher and higher and obtain the desired pictures, while the balloon stays at a safe distance from the earth" – pigeons typically got lost when released from a high-flying balloon!). Hans Adler 12:52, 11 July 2009 (UTC)

The work you're doing here is quite phenomenal Hans, and this article is as a result becoming a really valuable resource. I've still got one nagging question though, which is where did this "Bavarian Pigeon Corps" name come from? --Malleus Fatuorum 22:31, 26 June 2009 (UTC)

That's something I would like to know too:
  • "Perhaps the most novel platform at the beginning of the 20th century was the famed Bavarian pigeon fleet that operated in Europe." [46] I got a response from the author today. He says he thinks he had it from the Manual of Remote Sensing (1st edition 1975, Volume 1, Chapter 2), and that it doesn't have much more information. He kindly provided me the two sources cited by that work:
    • Newhall, Beaumont (1969), Airborne Camera: The World from the Air and Outer Space, New York: Hastings House, p. 48, ISBN 9780803803350 
    • Maleug, Dick, 1971, Way Back When, Hycon Heights, Monrovia, Calif., v. 17, no. 1, p. 3
The first is widely available both in libraries and as a cheap used book. The second is very obscure. It seems to be a journal or magazine for aerial photographers. "Hycon Heights" should probably read "Hycon Highlights" or "Hycon Hy Lights".
  • "NASA Observatorium": "The Bavarian Pigeon Corps: 1903 // An innovative attempt to avoid dangerous balloons or uncertain kites was to attach a very light camera to a carrier pigeon. These cameras took a picture every thirty seconds as the pigeon winged its way along a straight course to its home shelter. Releasing the birds behind enemy lines presented no small problem. In addition, the pigeons were rather tasty to hungry troops who shot them down. // This early remote sensing tool became just another curiosity at the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition, where picture postcards of the fair taken by pigeons were very popular: note the bird's wingtips on the edges of the photo. Pigeons were certainly faster than balloons, but their flight paths were unpredictable. Fortunately, some bicycle repairmen from Ohio had just come up with the answer. " [47] / [48]
  • This CIA source from 2001 seems to downplay the significance of the "Bavarian Pigeon Corps". [49] Could this type of "information" have started the hoax? [50]
  • John E. Estes, History of Remote Sensing, 2005: "1903 - The Bavarian Pigeon Corps uses pigeons to transmit messages and take aerial photos, and someone named Julius Neubronne patented the breast mounted pigeon camera." [51] (Has references!)
  • This forum post from 2008 seems to have very valuable pointers: [52]
  • This is what the end of the telephone game looks like: "One of the most innovative (and whimsical) use of remote sensing in military reconnaissance operations Bavarian Pigeon Corps. In 1903, whole battalions of trained pigeons took to the skies with cameras strapped to their breasts. The cameras were timed to fire automatically toward the scene below. Of course, there was no way to predict the pigeons flight path, nor could the birds be convinced to hold the camera steady. Pigeons were also less than excited about flying behind enemy lines where they might become a tasty dinner." [53]
  • PAPA: "The Bavarian Pigeon Corps used their pigeons to carry messages and for aerial reconnaisance. In 1903, Julius Neubranner designed a tiny breast-mounted camera for carrier pigeons. The camera could be set to take automatic exposures at 30-second intervals as the pigeon flew along. The flight path was not always reliable, however! Mostly used for military purposes, the birds were introduced at the 1909 Dresden International Photographic Exhibition, where postcards of aerial photographs taken above the exhibition were very popular with the public." [54]
  • Cohen, CJ, Early history of remote sensing, 2000 [55] (can't access this from home)
  • The English term "Bavarian Pigeon Corps", together with the year 1903, has become a brand name for pigeon photography in the remote sensing community. It is used untranslated in many languages, including German. [56] In one case it's translated back to German (bayerische Taubenflotte, Bayerisches Brieftauben-Corps) [57]
There are a few clues here. I know that some very early (1909–1911) French sources incorrectly located Neubronner's experiments in Bavaria. (Some located them in Saxony, perhaps due to the exhibition in Dresden. Kronberg really was part of Prussia at the time.) Many of the "BPC" sources misspell Neubronner as "Neubronne"; a typically French misspelling. The two key sources on the web were apparently the NASA Observatorium and Estes' History of Remote Sensing. Many sources clearly combine information they found in several places, or add their own speculation. If this has been going on for almost a century, it's not surprising that a catchy term emerged. Hans Adler 00:11, 27 June 2009 (UTC)

Hypothesis 1 for the genesis of the "Bavarian Pigeon Corps":

  • Something that happens in Munich (capital of Bavaria) in 1910, possibly in connection with the appearance of his book, makes France aware of Neubronner. This could either be an exhibition or the article "Militärluftschiffahrt und Brieftaubenphotographie" in Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung" (September 1910); or possibly both. This would explain that most French sources are from 1910/1911, whereas Neubronner became popular in Germany in 1909.
  • An influential French report in 1910 or 1911 spells Neubronner as "Neubronne" and locates the experiments in Bavaria.
  • Early English reports are based on the French report.
  • Speculations of military applications and the topos of homing pigeons as soldiers make it natural to refer to Neubronner's pigeons as a Bavarian "fleet" or "corps". The suggestive terms mislead others into believing that the pigeons were really used by the military. The "Bavarian igeon corps" consisting of pigeons is reinterpreted as the "Bavarian Pigeon Corps", a unit of the Bavarian Army.

Hypothesis 2:

  • Homing pigeons are losing importance in the German army due to advances in technology. In the late 1930s some pigeon enthusiasts in the army try to reverse the trend by applying them in aerial reconnaissance, a critical technology in World War I. (This is the same time that Adrian Michel begins work on pigeon cameras.)
  • Photos of the camera developed for the German army find their way into the Scherl archive (later integrated into Bundesarchiv) [58] and Popular Mechanix [59]. Note that both photos show the same camera model.
  • The experiments happened in Munich, over several years. [60] [61]. Hans Adler 02:14, 27 June 2009 (UTC)

How you can help[edit]

I think as far as the core information goes, the article is about as good now as it can be without additional offline sources. In the following subsections I am listing some obvious directions for further research that can't be pursued without getting sources from a library or even from an antiquarian bookshop. Hans Adler 23:40, 29 June 2009 (UTC)

German sources[edit]

  • Oelze, Friedrich Wilhelm (1910), Brieftaubensport und Brieftaubenphotographie (in German) . Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin has a copy.
  • Oesele (1910-09-10), "Militärluftschiffahrt und Brieftaubenphotographie", Münchener Allgemeine Zeitung (37): 699 . [62]
  • Bade, Ernst (1913), Handbuch für Naturaliensammler: Eine Praxis der Naturgeschichte, p. 40 .
  • Günther, Hanns (1914), "Krieg und Kamera", Kosmos, Handweiser für Naturfreunde (11): 482–485 . Günther, Hanns (1914), "Krieg und Kamera", Kosmos, Handweiser für Naturfreunde (12): 522–527 . [63] [64]
  • Lissitzky, El (1925), "K. und Pangeometrie", in Einstein, Carl; Westheim, Paul, Europa-Almanach, Berlin, pp. 103–113 . Appears to be the source of the following information: "Après quelques expériences d'une 'photographie de pigeon' du Dr. Julius Neubronner entre 1904 et 1909...". "Julius Neubronner obtenu en 1909 au salon international de l'aviation à Francfort le prix de la 'Silberne Brieftaube'." [65]

French sources[edit]

  • "Un pigeon photographe", Sciences et Voyages (2), 1918 . [66] [67]
  • Gradenwitz, A. (1908-11-14), "Les pigeons photographes", L'Illustration (3429): 322 . [68] This seems to be the original source for the following statement: "It is quite natural to see birds becoming photographers at the moment where men are beginning to become birds." [69]

Extrait de "L'illustration" 14 novembre 1908 :
Dés 1840, un pharmacien de Cronberg, en Allemagne, M.Neubronner, avait l'ingénieuse idée de distribuer aux médecins des environs des pigeons voyageurs destinés à lui faire parvenir rapidement une copie d'ordonnance.Ce système, notamment en France et en Amérique, fonctionna jusqu'en 1848.Le docteur Neubronner, fils de l'innovateur, en reprit l'application entre son officine et un sanatorium installé à Falkenstein, ce sont ces pratiques qui l'on conduit à l'intéressante invention dont il s'agit ici. Jules Neubronner s'avisa de munir certains de ses pigeons d'une minuscule chambre photographique.
Perfectionnant ensuite son procédé, il employa un appareil spécial, construit d'après ses indications, cet appareil s'adaptant à la poitrine du pigeon, était tenu par des bretelles élastiques passés sur son dos. L'idée primitive du docteur Neubronner s'est élargie , et le ministère de la guerre allemande s'est interressé à son procédé. L'inventeur à été invité à faire des démonstrations devant le bataillon d'aérostation de Reinickendorf et le major Gross.
L'avenir nous le dira, mais quoi qu'il en advienne, il est assez naturel de voir les oiseaux devenir photographes au moment ou les hommes commencent à se transformer en oiseaux.

— [70]
  • Same author, same title. Reprint? Bulletin du Club Niépce Lumière 11, p.14. [71]
  • Humbert, Jean-Charles (2004), Mission aérienne au Sahara en 1916: l'odyssée des aviateurs Le Bœuf et de Chatenay, ISBN 9782747569835 . Contains the sequence of words: "naturel de voir les oiseaux devenir photographes au moment où les hommes". This is either straight from L'Illustration or translated back from English.

Sources in English (mostly American)[edit]

  • "Carrier pigeon photographer: Neubronner", Scientific American Supplement, 66 (21): 332, 1908  [72]
  • Hardenbergh, G.S. (1908/09), Yale Scientific Monthly, 15: 225  Check date values in: |date= (help); Missing or empty |title= (help). [73]
  • "Carrier pigeons as photographers", Scientific American, 100: 4, January 2, 1909  [74]
  • Meyer, H.E. (April 10, 1909), "Pigeon photographers", Harper's Weekly, 53 (32)  [75]
  • Thorne Baker, Thomas (1934), The kingdom of the camera, London, p. 189 . [76]
  • Scientific American, 146: 83, 1932  Missing or empty |title= (help). "At the right is an enlargement of a picture taken by a pigeon-camera. Note wing tips Left: A bicycle patrol carrying pigeons in a special knapsack from..." [77]
  • Scientific American 1939? [78]
  • Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing, 15: 481, 1949  Missing or empty |title= (help). "Pigeon camera for eight exposures on a strip of film. the Taunus Mountains, and I have continued the practice ... 1. Double pigeon camera for two exposures. ..." [79]
  • The British journal of photography, 113, 1966  Missing or empty |title= (help). [80]
  • Newhall, Beaumont (1969), Airborne Camera: The World from the Air and Outer Space, New York: Hastings House, p. 48, ISBN 9780803803350 . Contained the 3-pigeon photo, dated Neubronner's invention to 1903, cited L'Illustration. [81] Also referenced to this source: "In 1912, Julius Neubronner successfully attached cameras as light as 2 1/2 ounces to pigeons in Cronberg, Germany. [82]
  • Maleug, Dick, 1971, Way Back When, Hycon Heights, Monrovia, Calif., v. 17, no. 1, p. 3. This is very obscure. It seems to be a journal or magazine for aerial photographers. "Hycon Heights" should probably read "Hycon Highlights" or "Hycon Hy Lights". Cited by Manual of Remote Sensing (1st edition 1975, Volume 1, Chapter 2) in connection with this topic.
  • Burrows, William E. (1987), Deep black, ISBN 978-0394541242 . "The exposed film was then hastily developed and turned into postcards by Julius Neubronner, who had patented the pigeon camera in 1903."
  • Albright, S. (2002), "Whatever happened to them?", Racing Pigeon Digest, 10 (20): 48 . [83]
  • The Times, April 21, 1932  Text "Dr. J. Neubronner [obituary]" ignored (help); Missing or empty |title= (help).

Some questions[edit]

  • Neubronner writes in "55 Jahre..." that he twice got a gold medal for his photographs at the Paris Air Show. Can we at least confirm that he was there? In which years?
  • What was the original context of the photographing duck with pickelhaube? [84]
  • The pickelhaube duck is supposed to be from a Neubronner biography. I only know his "55 Jahre..." autobiography from 1920, which doesn't contain it. Can we identify another biography?
  • Were pigeon cameras used/experimented with by the Bavarian military (up to 1918)?
  • How did the "Bavarian pigeon fleet" and "Bavarian Pigeon Corps" come up?


Many problems have been solved, many are still open. I am striking out the things that were resolved. Hans Adler 20:37, 26 April 2010 (UTC)

If the pigeon camera did not exist then please explain the Elastolin toy soldier[edit]

Elastolin and Lineol figures were known for their accuracy in depicting German military personnel and their equipment -- and became more so in the 1930s. Why would Elastolin have manufactured a figure in the 1930s (figure number 659/30) of a weapon system that every German veteran and school boy would know did not actually exist?

Yes, the camera carried by the Elastolin pigeon is tremendously oversized for effect, but it would have been a break with everything Elastolin represented to have manufactured a figure armed with an imaginary weapon -- or, in this case, deploying an imaginary aerial photography system.

BTW, the figure shown in the photograph is an Elastolin figure of a Swiss soldier. ( (talk) 19:27, 26 April 2010 (UTC))

In my research for this article I have been in contact with German Elastolin figure collectors, including Andreas Pietruschka, editor of Figuren-Magazin. I am not interested in these figures myself, but here is what Mr. Pietruschka told me by email last summer:
  • Hausser's production was organised such that soldiers of different armies could be created by simply exchanging the head (necessary because of different helmet forms) and painting the figures differently. This explains why there are Italian and Swiss variants of this figure.
  • When these figures came to market in the mid 1930s, the producers of war toys had very incomplete information about the young and partially secret Wehrmacht divisions. Therefore they had to work with models from an earlier era.
I can add to this that newspaper reports in the 1930s created the impression that pigeon photographers were being perfected both in Germany and France. I cannot judge whether this is more likely to have been true or part of a disinformation campaign, but in any case the toy producers and their audience would have been influenced by this. Hans Adler 20:33, 26 April 2010 (UTC)
PS: Military use of pigeon photographers was definitely not imaginary. We know that it was tried out in WWI, according to its inventor "with satisfactory success". This doesn't sound very enthusiastic, though. Hans Adler 20:35, 26 April 2010 (UTC)

2012 BBC Earthflight series[edit]

The 2004 BBC programme is mentioned - might it also be worth mentioning Earthflight, a six-part series which was broadcast for the first time a few months ago and included masses of footage from bird-mounted cameras. The last of the six programmes in the series was dedicated to showing how the footage was obtained. Details here [87]. It got excellent reviews: [88] [89] [90] review of the 'how they filmed it' final episode (talk) 12:01, 31 March 2012 (UTC)

30 8mm film[edit]

It states here on p6, that "One possibility emerged with the familiar homing pigeon. In 1903 the Germans developed a seventy-gram pigeon camera that took thirty eight-millimeter negatives automatically every thirty seconds." Is that accurate?Smallman12q (talk) 13:23, 31 March 2012 (UTC)

No. The absurd year 1903 is the typical signature of the kind of misinformation that is circulating among certain military educators in the US. In that year not even Neubronner himself had thought of equipping birds with cameras, let alone "the Germans". These people seem to have been playing a huge telephone game over several decades, in which the misinformation that was current during the Second World War (I am not sure whether for military-psychological reasons or due to sensationalist press) was further inflated and embellished rather than double-checked. I would have liked to say something about this nonsense in the article, but without discussion of the phenomenon in reliable sources Wikipedia can't say that the information is false. We can merely leave it out as obviously false, as a matter of editorial discretion. Hans Adler 01:16, 1 April 2012 (UTC)

April Fools?[edit]

Seriously? Is this meant to be some poor attempt at an April Fools joke? Can you guys not come up with something more funny than this? -- (talk) 08:17, 1 April 2012 (UTC)

Yes, yes, and sorry, we can't. It's not a good April Fools joke if there aren't at least a few people who end up believing it and telling their friends about it as if it was real. Hans Adler 09:13, 1 April 2012 (UTC)

A few guys wanted to do a piece called "Droppings kept falling on my lens", but somehow it didn't quite scan. —MistyMorn (talk) 09:59, 1 April 2012 (UTC)

It's actually real. everything on the wiki main page is real. just in a way that makes you think it is not. (talk) 13:39, 1 April 2012 (UTC)
I just added some external links for such videos on YouTube. That it could be done in 1909 is obviously more amazing, even without video; but it comes as little surprise since spy-sized cameras are not exactly new. Wnt (talk) 15:58, 1 April 2012 (UTC)


Wanderer57 (talk) 15:05, 1 April 2012 (UTC)

Congratulations. You may actually be the first reader who made it to the end of the article. I believe that's the traditional place for making a hoax article so over the top that most readers finally get the joke. Is your post related to that tradition? Hans Adler 15:45, 1 April 2012 (UTC)
Thank you. I did not read the whole article.
The notion of miniaturizing cameras to lipstick-tube size to be carried by albatrosses was a great touch. I thought some comment was needed. Wanderer57 (talk) 00:56, 2 April 2012 (UTC)

This article should have been labeled April Fools[edit]

I think Wikipedia has an obligation to tell its readers if an article doesn't meet its expectations, even in 'joke' form. Though April Fools is fun, and everyone has a good laugh, I still think that serious encyclopedias should be held to a higher standard because people rely on them strongly for resources. Perhaps others will find it petty, but Wikipedia has responsibilities to provide accurate information to its readers 365 days a year.

This article is completely factual. (talk) 04:30, 2 April 2012 (UTC)
I hope the people calling it a hoax were just trying to play an April Fools trick on us. Wnt (talk) 22:22, 2 April 2012 (UTC)


Is there any way this inspired technology that lead to modern animal cameras? — Preceding unsigned comment added by Commander v99 (talkcontribs) 17:17, 7 April 2012 (UTC)