March 31: The First Statewide Aerial Photography Survey in the US


In 1933, Connecticut Governor Wilbur L. Cross, determined to move forward with infrastructure improvements in spite of budget constraints caused by the Great Depression, presented the State Planning Board with a formal request for an aerial photographic survey of the entire state.  Governor Cross reasoned that a detailed set of photographs would be an invaluable tool that various state departments — including the water, highway, tax, and health departments — could use to plan for future projects and (perhaps most importantly) apply for federal funding.

Once the governor’s ambitious proposal was approved by the State Planning Board, the state hired Fairchild Aerial Surveys, Inc. of New York City, an innovator in aerial photography and aviation, to carry out the project, which would be the first government-sponsored statewide aerial survey in U.S. history.  Over the course of two months in 1934, Fairchild flew four planes in precise geometric patterns over the state .

To see the photographs true to scale, each plane carried two men, and flew at 100mph at a steady altitude of 11,400 feet. Every 25 seconds one man would snap a new aerial photograph of the landscape below. The state mapping project took a total of 153 hours of flight time.

The 1934 survey was the first government sponsored aerial survey of an entire state.

In the early days of aviation, some places marked their location on the roof of buildings, as way finding guides for pilots. Connecticut State Library.

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.

On March 31, 1935, the Hartford Courant announced the completion of the first-ever statewide government-sponsored aerial survey in the United States.  These photographs have been digitized and are readily accessible at the Connecticut State Library’s website.

Further Reading

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

History of Aerial Photos and Online Finding Aids, Connecticut State Library