The Mammoth camera was manufactured by the J.A. Anderson Company, Chicago in 1900. It was designed as the largest camera ever made in order to capture a complete train with cars.
The camera was designed by Lawrence for a commission, and built by Chicago camera maker J.A. Anderson. Aside from his stunning aerial photography, George Lawrence also came to be known for making the biggest camera of his time. Read on to find out what his mammoth camera was for!
The mammoth camera, which weighed 1400 pounds (640 kg) and used a 4.5′ × 8′ glass-plate negative, required 15 men to load it into a large, horse-drawn carriage. It reportedly costed Chicago & Alton Railway $5,000 in order to obtain the largest photograph of the Alton Limited, their pride and joy. The company’s pamphlet, which featured Lawrence’s enormous photo, was entitled “The Largest Photograph in the World of the Handsomest train in the World.”
The following is an exert from the Railroad magazine, 1901:
The Chicago & Alton Railway had built a special train to go into fast daylight service from Chicago to St. Louis and wanted it photographed. Mr. Charlton, the director, believed his train to be the handsomest in the world and he wanted a photograph of it, six long Pullmans, engine, tender and all. He called the company's photographer, George R. Lawrence, and instructed Mr. Lawrence that it was necessary to have a photograph 8 feet long of the " Alton Limited. " The photographer explained that the train would have to be photographed in sections, and these sections fitted together during the process of printing. But he felt obliged to add that this was an ordinary method which was not conducive to absolute truthfulness of perspective, and one which would certainly show the joints, no matter how carefully the different sections were blended together.
But the directors did not want a half-and-half photograph. They had built a faultless train, of which they demanded a faultless photograph, and it must be a photograph at least 8 feet long. The photographer assured them of his helplessness in the matter, but the directors were more than obdurate; they insisted. At last a truce was called, and the railway photographer left the boardroom with an idea.
When, sometime after the conference, the photographer returned, it was with the plans for a camera holding a single plate 8 feet by 4 1/2 feet, this being three times as large as the largest plate ever before exposed. The Chicago & Alton Railway, then and there gave Mr. Lawrence, their photographer, carte blanche to have such a camera made.
The enormous instrument was manufactured by J. A. Anderson, of Chicago. It took two and a half months to build. It is finished throughout in natural cherry wood. At the back of the camera is a small track upon which two focusing screens run. These are not, as might be supposed, merely a multiplication of the ordinary ground glass, they are made of semi-transparent celluloid stretched across the frames. The bed is about 20 feet long when fully extended; and the camera has a double swing, front and back.
The bellows are made of an outside covering of heavy rubber, with each fold stiffened by a piece of veneered white wood, 1/4 inch thick. This is lined inside by heavy black canvas and additional lining, making it doubly light-proof. Forty gallons of glue were used in the construction of this huge bellows, and 500 feet of white wood to stiffen it. It is divided into four sections, each supported by a frame, mounted on small wheels, which run on a steel track.
The plate-holder is somewhat different from the dark slides that we manipulators of small instruments are accustomed to. It is a roller curtain containing about 80 square feet of ash, 3/8 inch thick, and is lined with three thicknesses of light-proof material. The plate-holder is mounted on a ball-bearing roller. Ball-bearing rollers are also mounted every two inches in the grooves, in which the edge of the curtain slides, thereby reducing the friction to a minimum.
The weight of the camera is 900 lb., and the plate-holder, when loaded with the giant plate, weighs 500 lb., making a total weight of 1,400 lb.
Amateur photographers are only too well aware of the disfiguring spots caused by specks of dust on exposed plates. How much more, then, would one imagine the monster camera to be liable to this annoyance. But it has been obliviated in a most ingenious way. After a long journey the plate-holder can be dusted quite easily by an operator shut inside the camera. The holder is put in position; the large front board is swung open: the operator passes inside with a camel's hair brush, the door is then closed, and a ruby glass cap placed over the lens. All that is now required is that the curtnin-slide be drawn, and the operator is then free to dust the plate in his dark-room camera. Having dusted the pbtc, he draws the roller curtain down, and emerges from the camera's front door.
The lenses were ground at great expense and trouble. They arc the largest photographic lenses ever made. The wide angle lens has an equivalent focus of 5 1/2 feet; the other lens, a telescopic, rectilinear lens, is of 10 feet equivalent focus. The latter was the one used when taking the large photograph of the " Alton Limited. "
The plates for this gigantic camera are also the largest ever manufactured. They are made in St. Louis, and have to be coated entirely by hand. They cost $70 per dozen. Five gallons of developer arc used to develop one plate, and the services of eight men arc required to manipulate it during the process in the dark room.
The camera was transported on a flat freight car, but when away from the railway was moved in a specially padded van. Fifteen men were necessary to handle and set up the monster camera, to focus and photograph the train.
There was no snap-shotting this subject. On the occasion of this, the first exposure, the day was clear, but an exposure of 2 1/2 minutes was given. An isochromatic plate was used to preserve the colour-value of the train, and from the first exposure a perfect negative was secured, resulting in the largest photograph ever made on one plate, or, to quote the proud boast of the railway concerned, -the largest photograph in the world of the handsomest train in the world.-
But, it would be a waste to use that expensive and gigantic camera just once, right? Apparently, Lawrence also used it to take the biggest group shots ever:
This is the coorespondence note that J.A. Anderson mailed to photographic publishers:
DEAR SIR, I take pleasure in sending you what I believe is the largest camera in the world. This camera is constructed to allow a full exposure of a plate measuring 56x96 and embodies in its construction all the improvements an up to date camera can have being reversible having double swing back rising and swinging front and an arrangement for bracing the back that makes it as rigid as the back of a small camera thus dispensing with any jar or vibration while an exposure is being made In the construction of the four bellows two cone and two square there was over fifty yards of heavy black rubber sheeting used and though they allow an extreme focus of fifteen feet yet so compact were they made the whole camera can be folded to three feet The holder is curtain slide and although fifty feet of five eighth inch lumber was used for the slide it was made to work so easily that a boy of fourteen years would have no difficulty in drawing it As a ground glass for focusing in this mammoth camera would be clumsy to handle and liable to breakage two frames were made to slide on the back of the camera and celluloid strips made to fit in these frames making a very light and satisfactory substitute for the usual ground glass The camera was designed and manufactured by myself
Yours very truly,
All information for this article were sourced from Lomography & Historic Camera.