A Brief History of Drones: How The First Drones Appeared In The 1800s

By Brian Gilmore

In the modern age, drones have become entirely commonplace. Over 100,000 people have a drone pilot license in the United States, and you can buy an entry-level drone for the cost of a gaming console. But while drones are now almost ubiquitous, they're not quite a modern innovation. Unmanned aerial vehicles have been used in various capacities dating back to 1850, making people famous and sometimes bringing about their tragic, untimely deaths. They were responsible for some of the more bizarre attacks in military history, and in the 21st century, they've transformed the balance of power in military theaters across the globe. They, like the cameras they carry, are capsules that have both captured and impacted history.

The First Known Air Raid Involving Drones

The Siege of Vienna in 1849 was the first time balloons were used in an organized fashion in warfare, when 200 balloons were launched from an Austrian ship to coerce the Venetians into surrendering. While balloons are classified separately from drones by modern F.A.A. regulations, the 200 balloons launched in 1849 were equipped with 25-lb. ordnances with built-in timers, which technically qualified them as pilotless vehicle systems. Wind wreaked havoc on the drones' ability to reach their desired destinations, resulting in an ineffective attack, but the cornered Venetians were nearly starved to death and surrendered some days later anyway.