At the turn of the century, photography was still in its infancy, but railway interests were hitting their stride. The Chicago & Alton Railway company had just finished buffing up the Alton Limited, “the handsomest train in the world,” but wanted to show the world its majesty in an 8 foot long print. At the same time, photographer George R. Lawrence was pushing the field of photography forward from his studio in Chicago with the slogan, “The Hitherto Impossible in Photography is Our Speciality.”
Normally Lawrence would have taken multiple plates and stitched them together much like we would today. Chicago & Alton didn't want to risk accusations of manipulation and wanted to “preserve the absolute truthfulness of perspective.” So Lawrence started designing the camera that would eventually hold a glass plate measuring 8 feet by 4 1/2 feet. The finished product utilized the largest Zeiss lenses ever made. The camera with the plate weighed 1,400 pounds when it was loaded and dropped in the middle of a field near Brighton Park.
Four men loaded the glass plate. At least six more operated the bellows and lens. Lawrence set the timer for 150 seconds. Ten gallons of chemicals later, he delivered beautiful, 8-foot-long photograph of the Alton Limited. Chicago & Alton submitted three prints to the 1900 Paris Exposition, where George R. Lawrence won the Grand Prize for World Photographic Excellence.