A Bird’s Eye View Of Iowa City.

Iowa City in 2014.

Let’s face it – there’s something very dramatic about seeing a familiar place from above. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the emotional tug I felt when I first viewed the famous photograph called Earthscape – taken by Bill Anders – one of the three Apollo 8 astronauts as they orbited the moon on Christmas Eve 1968.

Apollo 8 astronauts – Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders – orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 – “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the Earth,” Anders read. Borman ended the passage, adding “and from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you—all of you on the good Earth.”

So, it is when I look at my favorite community – Iowa City, Iowa.

Today, of course, we have airplanes, helicopters, satellites, and drones from which we can snap all the pictures we want. But, back in the 19th century, the only way a person could gain some kind of aerial view of a city was 1) find a nearby hill, or 2) be brave enough to go up in a hot-air balloon. Read here about Captain Tom Baldwin – who made a living by piloting balloons and by jumping out of them!

So, in the 1860’s, the prolific map maker in Chicago – Chicago Lithographing Company – commissioned a panoramic artist named Albert Ruger to design dozens of “Bird’s Eye View” maps of Midwestern communities. In 1868, Ruger produced this one of Iowa City…

1868 – A Bird’s Eye View of Iowa City by A. Ruger, Chicago Lithographing Co.
Click here for more early maps of Iowa City.
(P-0191) This rare colorized Iowa City Business Section Birds Eye View postcard gives us a sense of what downtown Iowa City and the SUI campus might have looked like – note the Hall of Pharmacy & Chemistry (far left) and Close Hall (center) along with other downtown buildings constructed with red brick. Click here to read more.
(P-0034) Bird’s Eye View of Iowa City. Looking southwest, note the new Post Office (1904) and City Hall (1881) in the forefront – with the Johnson County Courthouse in the distance. Click here to read more.
(P-0032) A Bird’s Eye View of the SUI Campus. That’s Schaeffer Hall in the forefront and the Physics Building – MacLean Hall – behind it to the west.  

With the advent of the airplane in the late 1910’s and the 1920’s, brave souls such as SUI photographer Fred Kent now had a way to snap a number of ‘big picture’ shots of our fair city. Read more about the prolific Fred Kent here.

Circa 1922 – A Fred Kent classic.
(P-0103) (P-0318) Postcard dealers took black-and-white photos by Kent – colorized them – producing beautiful souvenirs. Above – this one’s dated pre-1924. (P-0104) Below – post 1924’s.
Here’s another Fred Kent B&W shot from 1924.
Circa 1925
Circa 1927 – SUI Sports Complex on the Iowa River – Iowa Field with the Baseball Stadium (upper middle) and the Armory (upper right).
Circa 1945 – this shot includes the Iowa City airport – top left.
Circa 1958 – The Pentacrest.
An aerial view of the SUI Memorial Union with the Iowa House addition under construction in the early 1960s.
(P-0256) (P-0126) Iowa City from the air – circa 1965 – looking to the east.
U of I campus in the 1970’s.
Today’s look at the U of I College of Dentistry.
The Pentacrest
In closing- one more Bird’s Eye View.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

Aerial Photo of Iowa City, Iowa, Greg Comer’s America From The Sky

Taken 50 years ago: A photo of Earth as it had never been seen before, Ronan McGreevy, IrishTimes.com, December 28, 2018

About Albert Ruger, St. Clair Community College Library Art Archive


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