We know from our history books that the theory of the earth being round goes all the way back to ancient Greek philosophers as early as the 5th century BC.

But we didn't have actual visual proof to support that belief until 85 years ago, thanks to a famous photograph taken in the skies above South Dakota.

First photo of the curvature of the earth
National Geographic/Albert William Stevens via Geographicus.com

According to Vintage Everyday, the very first image to actually capture the curvature of our planet from the stratosphere was taken November 11, 1935, from a specially-constructed balloon floating 72,395 feet above earth from a spot about 35 miles south of Murdo, looking West toward the Black Hills. The photo was later published in National Geographic magazine.

That image was taken by United States Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel Albert William Stevens, who is a bit of a legend in the ballooning world, winning a pair of Distinguished Flying Cross awards for his high-flying exploits over the years. Five years earlier he had captured the first image of the earth's curvature, from an airplane flying over South America.

The 1935 flight began in a natural depression known as 'Stratobowl' near Rapid City, where an estimated 20,000 spectators gathered for the launch, while millions more listened in on a live radio broadcast.

The journey established an aviation record for Stevens and his co-pilot Captain Orvil Arson Anderson, soaring nearly 14 miles above the earth's surface. It would be another 21 years until someone would eclipse that mark.

Stevens died in March of 1949 at the age of 63.

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