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Aerial Photographs

The Connecticut State Library holds several statewide aerial photograph collections & additional smaller collections.

History of Aerial Photos


In September and October 1885 Alfred E. Moore and John G. Doughty flew over Connecticut in a hot air balloon. Mr. Doughty was invited in order to attempt to get photographs. Each has written about his experiences.

Mr. Doughty describes his great fear of leaving the earth and his relief, every time the first ascension was delayed. But, he says, “… the paralyzing fear felt at starting was entirely lost before we had risen one hundred feet…” (Century v.32:no.5 1886:Sept. p.681),  Because the first ascension was delayed till 5:00, the photographs he took that September day did not turn out satisfactorily. After constructing new equipment to support the camera, they ascended in October and took the pictures available to us now. There are balloon aerial photographs by John Doughty at the Connecticut Historical Society.

The 1934 Aerial Survey Project: a Tool for State Planning

Governor Wilbur L. Cross recommended an aerial survey of the entire state of Connecticut to the State Planning Board in 1933. The governor and the board saw such a survey as an essential tool in planning for the state’s future. Dr. Charles G. Chakerian, director of the Board, said "The Water, Tax, Health, Highway and other departments had wanted one for years." (Hartford Daily Courant Mar. 31, 1935)  The survey would be the first government sponsored aerial survey of an entire state. (The Institute of Geographical Exploration at Harvard University conducted an earlier survey of Massachusetts, the first of an entire state. These photographs can not be found today.)

Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. of New York City, an innovator in aerial photography and aviation, conducted the aerial photography for Connecticut’s survey. The result was thousands of individual photographs, which were pieced together to make a massive mosaic view of the state.

Governor Cross organized the State Planning Board in late 1933 and the first board statement was issued on January 8, 1934. The Planning Board was originally composed of:

William L. Slate, Chairman (Director of the State Agricultural Experiment Station)
Joseph W. Alsop (Public Utilities Commission)
Austin F. Hawes (State Department of Forests and Parks)
William F. Ladd (State Militia)
John A. MacDonald (State Highway Department)
Allen W. Manchester (Connecticut State College)
Daniel S. Sanford (Fairfield County Planning Association)
Sanford H. Wadhams (State Water Commission)
Charles G. Chakerian, Director- a prominent writer on social and religious issues, then a research fellow at Yale University

Civil works planning was a national initiative through the National Planning Board of the Federal Emergency Administration. The effort was to identify worthwhile public works projects that could be funded with federal money. The National Board delegated to a regional board for New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. The state board reported to both. The money for Connecticut’s planning board came through the Civil Works Administration and the Public Works Administration.

The purpose of the planning board was to coordinate and integrate information pertaining to growth and development of the State. They collected information, data and maps from across departmental lines and made the information available to all. There were several projects initiated by the board relating to water quality, forests, highways, population demographics and zoning. An aerial map of the State was considered “the most essential single step for our state-wide data.” (Connecticut State Planning Board, Statement #9, April 4, 1934. CSL call number: ConnDoc P693 st) The aerial survey would give valuable information to many state departments.

1934 Aerial Photography

"Two men in a cabin plane circled around in a cloudless sky. They flew, at 100 miles an hour, up the state. Every 25 seconds the photographer took a picture of three and one quarter miles." (Hartford Daily Courant Mar. 31, 1935)

The planning for the aerial survey had already begun before January 1934. Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. was chosen to conduct the photography and photographing of a photo mosaic. Fairchild was perhaps the only company capable of doing a survey of a complete state at this time. The company was named after its founder, Sherman M. Fairchild. He was a restless scientific genius that came from a wealthy family. In consequence, he had means to form companies around his inventions. After the First World War, he formed a company to manufacture his revolutionary aerial survey camera. Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. was formed in 1922 to exploit the innovations of the camera. He then formed a company to build airplanes with enclosed cabins and single wings to expedite aerial surveys.

In the 1920s, the Fairchild Aerial Survey company “constantly lobbied Governor John Trumbull to contract for a survey. After all, Trumbull could be called, ‘The Aviation Governor,’ because … he was an active pilot. When Lindberg came to Hartford … after crossing the Atlantic, Trumbull flew his plane in to Brainard Airport to meet him” (memo from State Archivist Mark Jones to State Librarian, Ken Wiggin, dated 6/25/99). But at that time, no one state agency could pay for an aerial survey. The project waited till the State Planning Board coordinated the effort.

Four airplanes did the aerial photography for the Connecticut survey in March and April 1934. The early spring months were chosen so as to be free of snow cover yet be before the sprouting of leaves on trees. Fairchild owned three of the airplanes, probably Fairchild manufactured FC-2 cabin airplanes. It had a heated, enclosed cabin so that pilot and photographer could endure long hours in the air. It was a monoplane with the wing extending from the top of the airplane to have an unobstructed downward view. The wings also folded for transport by railroad to survey locations. The fourth airplane belonged to the Connecticut National Guard, 43rd Air Division, 118th Observation Squadron. This was a Douglas O-38E two-seat, open cockpit observation biplane that was standard with the Air Corps at the time.

The pilots for the photography were:

S. Reiss- Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc.
Lt. Charles L. Wright-118th Observation Squadron (lived in New Britain in 1930 and was perhaps a solderer for Landers, Frery and Clark, manufacturing electric appliances.)
William Knox- for 118th Observation Squadron
Stanley Ferguson- for 118th Observation Squadron

The photographers, all from Fairchild, were:

Sidney Bonick (project supervisor)
Harry Holstrom
Thomas Noble
T. Domins

The camera used was a Fairchild K-3 aerial survey camera with a 9.5” focal length, F4.5 lens and a haze-reducing filter. The camera was mounted on a frame and had an electric motor advance and a timing device to automatically shoot pictures. The view-finder had two inked lines to aim for current exposure and overlap of image. The film was 9 inches wide and 75 feet long rolled in canisters. There were 100 exposures per roll. The exposures were 7.5” x 9” each. The scale was 1”:1,200’. (The prints in the collection of the State Library have the same scale.)

The survey fights were flown at 11,400 feet, as level as the pilot could fly. The speed of the airplane was kept at 100 miles per hour. The photography was taken at vertical (90 degrees.) The exposures were taken at a rate to have a 50% overlap. That is, each photograph would have half of the previous exposure and half of the subsequent exposure. Photographs were taken in flight lines of 16 to 20 miles that were plotted from topographic maps. The air crews could take as many as four rolls of film in a day of filming.

The aerial photography was done on good weather days in March and April 1934. Optimum time of day for photography was from 10 AM until 2 PM. A total of 153 flying hours were required for the four airplanes to cover the 5,004 square miles of the state.

There were 10,484 exposures made in the state survey of which many were unusable because of missed orientation, clouds or reflections. The film was shipped to Fairchild Aerial Surveys Inc. for developing and printing. At least two sets of prints were shipped back to Hartford: one to the Connecticut State Library and one to be used in the creation of the mosaic map. Copy photographs were requested from the State Library almost immediately after arrival. Copy photographs were ordered from Fairchild, who housed the negatives.

Fairchild also provided index sheets to the photographs. The 33 index sheets are reproductions of the 1895 U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps with boxes inked in to locate particular photographs. The photograph number was printed inside the box. A photograph number in a circle identified photographs not printed. Approximately every other photograph was indexed perhaps for reasons of space on the sheets. The State Library enlarged the index sheets to the scale of the U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps.

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