Chicago Tribune Unearths Forgotten Aerial Footage of Chicago in 1914

The Chicago Tribune on Monday published a report on the “rediscovery” of a long-forgotten 8-minute 35 mm film in the National Archives – aerial footage of Chicago shot in August 1914.

Aviation pioneer Roy Knabenshue hired an unknown camera operator to shoot the footage aboard his dirigible, which he brought to Chicago, offering 25-minute rides over Chicago at a cost of $25 per person.

His blimp traveled from the South Shore to the mouth of the Chicago River. The airship was called “White City” after the amusement park of the same name (located near what is now 63rd Street and King Drive).

Previously, Knabenshue piloted the first successful dirigible flight in the U.S., at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. He reportedly flew under the name Professor Don Carlos so as not to embarrass his prominent newspaper-publishing family in Ohio. Knabenshue also presented aviation exhibitions for the Wright Brothers.

Knabenshue donated the film to the National Archives in 1943. He died in 1960.

It’s believed to be one of the first aerial movies of the city.

Pilot Roy Knabenshue (Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)Pilot Roy Knabenshue (Courtesy of the Chicago Tribune)

Many local monuments hadn’t been built – there’s no Soldier Field on view, and you won't find Buckingham Fountain or the Michigan Avenue bridge.

Other iconic buildings are long gone, including the Masonic Temple and the Federal Building, a domed building that was taller than the U.S. Capitol Building.

On the South Side, the footage shows the future home of the Museum of Science and Industry (then the Field Museum) and the South Shore Country Club. One can also see the University of Chicago, but not Rockefeller Chapel, which was built between 1925 and 1928.

There’s no footage of the North or West Sides.

The Tribune learned of the existence of the film from former Chicago harbormaster R. J. Nelson, who became aware of it while doing research in the ‘70s. Tribune writer Mark Jacob had moderated a panel at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest on Nelson’s book “Dirty Waters,” about corruption in the harbor industry.

Jacob credits Chicago historian Tim Samuelson with taking the time to look at the footage and identify specific areas of the city.

Modern footage was shot in a helicopter with video provided by Chris Walker and Alyssa Pointer.


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