March 31: The First Government-Sponsored Aerial State Survey

On March 31, 1935, the Hartford Courant announced the completion of the first-ever statewide government-sponsored aerial survey in the United States.

The idea for such a massive undertaking was hatched years before, when 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. 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 company flew four planes in precise geometric patterns over the state in March and April of 1934.  The planes flew at 100mph for a total of 153 hours of flight time and kept a steady altitude of 11,400 feet to keep all of the photos to scale.

The result was thousands of individual photographs, which were then pieced together by employees of the Connecticut National Guard and the State Highway Department to make a massive mosaic view of the state that ended up being 31 feet high by 42 feet wide.  Piecing together these photographs took almost an entire year, and the cost of the entire project totaled approximately $25,000.  These photographs have been digitized and are readily accessible at the Connecticut State Library’s website.

Photo #2847 of the 1934 Aerial Survey, showing part of Old Saybrook, CT.


Further Reading

“Road Signs of the Air,” Jane Cullinane, Connecticut Explored

Collection of Aerial Photographs at the Connecticut State Library: