During the summer and fall of 1899, Robert Heffron Murray and Frank Cox experimented with kite aerial photography in the Beverly Neighborhood of Chicago, Illinois. Their experiments were reported in local newspapers, with articles explaining the science behind Cox and Murray’s studies and including aerial images taken by a camera attached to their kite. According to newspaper accounts, the experiments were conceived by Murray after he had read about similar work being conducted by the United States government at Blue Hill Observatory in Massachusetts for the purpose of measuring air currents for improved weather forecasting.
Cox and Murray used a Hargrave kite (i.e., box kite) that measured 108 inches in length and 96 inches in width. The total area of their kite was 125 square feet, 91 square feet being composed of lifting surface. The wood framework of the kite was made using southern yellow pine, while the bracing was made of No. 18 soft iron wire.
The highest altitude that Cox and Murray’s kite reportedly achieved was about 500 feet, but Murray is quoted in one article stating that the kite could achieve an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet. Murray also stated the one use for the kite could be for military reconnaissance – particularly in the Philippines where the kite could be used "in locating insurgents, and might be a means of saving a great many lives in addition to making military operations successful."
The camera used in taking this photograph is reported to have been a Kodak No. 2 Falcon. The No. 2 Falcon was a rather affordable $5.00 box camera that took pictures of 3.5 x 3.5 inch (9 x 9 cm) on a spool of daylight loading film for 12 or 18 photographs. It was introduced to the market in September 1897. The Kodak No.2 Falcon was advertised as a "bicycle camera." The combination of bicycling and snap-shot photography was popular activity during the 1890s, and numerous cameras were advertised as bicycle cameras at that time.
This photograph was believed to be taken in an open field that today would be located north of West 103rd Street, east of South Longwood Drive, and west of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad tracks in Chicago (Beverly Neighborhood). This particular area was referred to as Blue Island Ridge, and it was where many of the finest homes in suburban Chicago were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. At the time this photograph was taken, Murray and his family were residing at 1911 West 103rd, which would have been very near the kite launch site. Here, Murray is seen with outstretched arms as he launches the kite. Murray’s father, George William Murray, is seen at the left holding a crutch, while Frank Cox is believed to be the standing just over Murray’s right shoulder (on the left of Murray in this image).
Source: Robert Heffron Murray scrapbook, 1898-1905
About Robert Heffron Murray….
Robert Heffron Murray was born Wednesday, October 18, 1881, in Washington Heights, Cook County, Illinois, the son of George William Murray and Cora May (Heffron) Murray. After attending the Lewis Institute (forerunner of Illinois Institute of Technology) in Chicago for secondary school education, Robert enrolled and later graduated from The University of Chicago on Tuesday, June 14, 1904. Robert married Sue Mary Horton on Saturday, November 4, 1905, in Richmond, Virginia; no children resulted from their union. Sue was a childhood neighbor of Robert and the daughter of Horace E. Horton, the founder of Chicago Bridge and Iron. In 1917, Robert joined the United States Army and was commissioned as a Captain in the Army Reserves. He was elevated to Major when ordered to report for deployment to Europe during World War I. Upon return from active duty in Europe, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and was therefore commonly referred to as Colonel Murray. He started developing Sunset Hill Farm in 1934, which is located in the northwest quarter of Section 25 in Liberty Township, Porter County, Indiana. Leroy "Pete" Hanrahan, who served as Colonel Murray’s farm manager from 1934 until his death in 1952, was instrumental in assisting Colonel Murray develop Sunset Hill Farm. Today, Sunset Hill Farm operates as a county park. After Robert’s wife Sue died on Monday, February 26, 1962, he remarried Elizabeth (Linn) Allen, the widow of John B. Allen, on Saturday, January 11, 1964, in Liberty Township, Porter County, Indiana. Elizabeth, commonly referred to as Bips, was a member of the Chicago Board of Education and the grandniece of Jane Addams, a very well known early Twentieth Century progressive and the founder of Hull House in Chicago. Colonel Murray died on Saturday, October 28, 1972, in Valparaiso, Porter County, Indiana. Elizabeth "Bips" Murray died on Saturday, June 14, 1997, in Washington, DC.
Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. This image and associated text may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Steven R. Shook.
Tagged: , Robert Heffron Murray , Robert H. Murray , Col. Murray , Col. Robert Heffron Murray , Col. Robert H. Murray , Colonel Robert Heffron Murray , Colonel Robert H. Murray , Colonel Robert Murray , Colonel Murray , kite , flying , aerial photography , aerial photograph , photograph , flight , experiment , experiments , experimentation , KAP , kite aerial photography , bird’s eye view , aerial view