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George Raymond Lawrence (February 24, 1868December 15, 1938) was a commercial photographer of northern Illinoismarker. After years of experience building kites and balloons for aerial panoramic photography, Lawrence turned to aviation design in 1910.


The Lawrences are descended from John Philip Lorenz, who had emigrated from Germany in 1748. George was born in Ottawa, Illinoismarker, on February 24, 1868. He was the eldest of six children of Margaret Othelia Tritley and Michael B. Lawrence. Michael was a LaSalle County farmer and a carpenter. Within a few years, the family moved sixty miles east to a Kankakee County farm. George went to school through the eighth-grade in the nearby town of Manteno, Illinoismarker. He also attended St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Manteno.

Around 1890, he moved to Chicagomarker and began working at the Abbott Buggy Co. factory in Auburn, Illinoismarker. There, he invented a method of attaching iron rims on wooden wheels. In 1890, Lawrence married Alice Herenden and they had two children: Raymond W. Lawrence and George Lee Lawrence. In 1891, he opened The Lawrence Portrait Studio at the corner of Yale Avenue and 63rd Street, sharing the space and expenses with fellow photographer Irwin W. Powell.

In the mid–1890s, Lawrence perfected the use of "flashlight photography", which was the norm until flashbulbs were invented years later. In 1900, he built the world's largest camera to take a photograph of the Alton Limited locomotive, owned by the Chicago & Alton Railway. The camera weighed 1400 pound (640 kg) and used a 4.5′ × 8′ glass-plate negative. The photograph was taken for the 1900 Exposition Universelle (Paris Exposition of 1900) in Parismarker, Francemarker and won "The Grand Prize of the World." He also made innovations in areas of aerial photography such as ballooning and camera–carrying kites.

San Francisco photo

One of Lawrence's world renowned photographs is of the ruins of San Francisco, Californiamarker after the 1906 earthquake. It is a 160-degree panorama from a kite taken 2000 feet (600 m) in the air above the San Francisco Baymarker that showed the entire city on a single 17-by-48-inch contact print made from a single piece of film. Each print sold for $125 and Lawrence made at least $15,000 in sales from this one photograph. The camera used in this photograph weighed 49 pounds (22 kg) and used a celluloid-film plate.

In 2006, Juneaumarker-based photographer Ronald Klein built a working replica of Lawrence's camera and used it to rephotograph San Francisco from about the same location (but from a helicopter, not a kite), 100 years after the earthquake. The rephotograph was actually taken by Mark Walsh, George R. Lawrence's great grandson, who rode in the helicopter, held the camera, and clicked the shutter.

Marriage and remarriage

The giant camera built by Lawrence in 1900
In 1909, while he was away on an expensive and frustrating adventure attempting to take aerial photographs of wild animals in British East Africa, his wife found that he had been having an affair with one of his secretaries. Upon his return, he fled to California, taking his sons with him. He then turned from photography to aviation, building an aircraft at a factory in Chicago. He would be granted nearly a hundred patents for aviation-related devices.

He divorced his first wife in 1913 (with whom he had two children), and married Adele Frances "Della" Page in 1916. She was born in St. Louis, Missourimarker and was the daughter of Henry J. Page, an architect.George Lawrence was 55 years old and Della was 22 years old when they married. They had four daughters: Clara Antoinette, Virginia Lee, Ruth Adele, and Martha "Louise" Lawrence.

George and Della are survived by 8 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren; Clara had three children and two grand-children(in parentheses): Vince DiMaggio, Michael DiMaggio (Michael), and Donna Walsh (Mark Walsh); Virginia had one daughter, Louise Bing; Louise had 4 children and 5 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren: Thomas L. Phinney (Thomas W. Phinney II, who had Miranda and Fiona); Nanette Phinney; Robert Phinney (Devin Phinney and Heather Tyner, who had Blake and Phoenix); and Carolyn Phinney (Ryan P. Buss and Tara P. Buss).

Lawrence's aircraft company folded in 1919. He died in 1938, aged 70, and funeral services were held at St. Gertrude's Roman Catholic Church in Chicago. He was buried at St. Joseph's Cemetery in Manteno, Illinoismarker.



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