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‘The Ingenious Victorians’, a new book by John Wade which features the ‘Mammoth’ (pictured at the bottom of the front cover).

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This was the “world’s biggest camera” commissioned in 1899 by the Chicago and Alton Company who had built “the handsomest train the world”. The company called in Chicago photographer George ‘Flashlight’ Lawrence, whose studio slogan was ‘The Hitherto Impossible in Photography Is Our Speciality’.

Lawrence ambitiously suggested that for him to shoot the largest picture in the world he would build the world’s biggest camera. The Mammoth would use a single 4½ft x 8ft (1.37 x 2.4m) glass plate – larger than any other photographic plate every exposed.

It took 15 men to operate it. This whole operation was a huge success for Flashlight and the resulting prints of the “handsomest train…” were submitted to the Exposition Universelle of 1900 where they were at first thought to be fakes. The Mammoth has never been seen since.

Others in this fascinating book include cameras in disguise: in a bowler hat, a cravat, walking stick and, most popular of all, in a pocket watch. Ingenious, not to say wild, Victorian inventions discussed in this book include safety coffins designed to prevent premature burial and the first traffic lights – which exploded a month after their erection in Westminster.

pen-and-sword.co.uk