1895 : Talbert Abrams Born, Father of Aerial Photography

August 17, 2018 all-day

Talbert Abrams Pilot License Signed by Orville Wright

Talbert “Ted” Abrams (August 17, 1895, Tekonsha, Michigan – August 26, 1990) was an American photographer and aviator known as the “father of aerial photography”.

While a child he read about the flights of the Wright brothers and was inspired to become a pilot. When he turned 18 he moved to Detroit and found odd jobs at area airports. The following year was hired as a mechanic at the Benoist Airplane Company in Ohio. Soon after he moved to Buffalo, New York where he worked for the Curtiss Aeroplane Company. During his employment there, Abrams learned to fly at the Curtiss Aviation School, and in 1916 was issued his Federation Aeronautique Internationale Pilot’s license, number 282, signed by Orville Wright.

Abrams began taking pictures from airplanes when he was a gunner in World War I, and his pictures were used to plan military maneuvers.

In 1923, he and his wife, Leota, founded the Abrams Aerial Survey Company. It was hired to photograph the route for a major north-south highway in Michigan, and that road, U.S. 27, became the first highway built using aerial photographs.

Beginning in 1945 Ted funded the Talbert Abrams Award for gifted students in science education. He also set up engineering scholarships through various engineering societies. Michigan State University had for years promoted a project to build a modern planetarium on the campus. In 1961 it became obvious that contributions were not going to cover the construction cost. Then Talbert Abrams, through the Talbert and Leota Abrams Foundation contributed the remaining $250,000 needed to build “One of the finest facilities of it’s kind in the world”. This was just another indication of his generosity toward his community. Michigan State University directed that the new facility be named The Talbert and Leota Abrams Planetarium. The Foundation also provided extensive funding to the Library of Michigan to finance purchasing of genealogical materials.

Ted continued to receive impressive honors for his community service and generosity. One such honor was a tribute from the Michigan Senate for his “outstanding service in the field of aerial surveying”. He was presented honorary doctorates from three Universities. He was the first individual inducted into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame. In 1973 he was installed into the OX-5 Hall of Fame, along with Jimmy Doolittle, Eddie Rickenbacker, Admiral Byrd, and Amelia Earhart. Ted was on the first scheduled flight to Moscow after WWII. He made the trip twice.

Abrams flight time is unlikely to be challenged. In one of his many testimonials he noted that he had “mapped 1,720 American cities, 515 counties, 5,800 miles of highways, 48,000 miles of utility lines, plus more than 1,000 major projects in 96 countries.

Every year, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) presents the Talbert Abrams Award to a person who makes an outstanding contribution to aerial photography and mapping. Mount Abrams in the Antarctic is also named after him.


Wayland Mayo, Talbert “Ted” Abrams : Father of Aerial Photography, A Tribute to Lansing’s Fallen Eagle:.

Talbert “Ted” Abrams, courtesy of Michigan State University Abrams Planetarium.

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