[Boston from a Hot-Air Balloon]

Artist: James Wallace Black (American, 1825–1896)

Date: 1860s

Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative

Dimensions: 25.6 x 20.2 cm. (10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Robert O. Dougan Collection, Gift of Warner Communications Inc., 1981

Accession Number: 1981.1229.4


Two years after the French photographer Nadar conducted his earliest experiments in balloon flight, the Boston photographer James Wallace Black ascended over the city to make the first successful aerial photographs in America. He flew on Samuel King's hot-air balloon, the "Queen of the Air," and exposed several glass-plate negatives, including this extraordinary, if imperfect, view-as much lunar landscape as "Beantown." Almost immediately, aerial photography would be put to use by the Union Army. By 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed a civilian Balloon Corps to serve under the Bureau of Topographical Engineers to spy from the skies on Confederate troops during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia.