From a close-up of a spider to the first underwater color photos, these pioneering pictures capture the spirit of exploration.
There’s nothing like a photo of a “first.”
A first can be a discovery, like the first trip to the North Pole. It can be a technological advancement, like the first successful aerial color photograph. Or, it can be a combination of both—like the highest vertical photo for its time, captured from the first helium balloon to reach the stratosphere.
Here, from our archives, are those and other pioneering photos.
Admiral Robert E. Peary searches the horizon for land during his third attempt to reach the North Pole in 1909. The successful trip made Peary the first person to reach the region.
David Fairchild used a 12-foot-long (3.7-meter) camera, nicknamed “Long Tom,” to capture this enlarged image of a California wolf spider for his 1913 National Geographic article, “The Monsters of Our Back Yards” [sic].
Williamson's Undersea Wonders took this still of actress Lulu McGrath for the 1922 silent film Wonders of the Sea. The production company specialized in film and photos shot through a porthole in their patented submarine chamber.
This photo of a porkfish appeared in the 1927 National Geographic article that debuted the first underwater color photos. The photographer took them using autochrome, the first viable method of color photography.
This 1925 photo shows the Sphinx of Giza before it was fully excavated. After it was uncovered, National Geographic’s editor-in-chief warned his staff not to use the photo because it was “very much out of date.”
This photo of the Statue of Liberty appeared in a 1930National Geographic article that featured the first successful aerial color photos. The photographer used Finlay, a process that required a shorter exposure than autochrome.
When National Geographic published this picture of South Dakota in 1936, it was the highest vertical photo ever taken at that time. The image was captured from the Explorer II helium balloon, the first aircraft to reach the stratosphere.
In 1937, National Geographic published the first natural-color photo of a solar eclipse.
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