San Francisco, looking to the southwest. Published 1878, C. R. Parsons.
Balloons gave us the first real oppurtunity to view the earth from above, but before we could physically do this our artistic imaginations were capable of envisioning what this perspective (see above). With the development of a camera and image capturing mechanism it was possible to acquire remotely sensed imagery of urban areas for the first time.
The cartoon above is from May 25, 1862. "What Nadar had really done was to change the level of art to the level of science and utility, from the artistic drawing to an instrument of work." - Daunier
Felix Tournachon, aka Nadar, captured the first aerial view of European cities, starting with Paris in 1858.
Boston from a captive balloon at 1,200 feet, October 13, 1860, James Wallace Black.
This is the oldest conserved aerial photograph
(Nadar's first works were lost).
This photograph is printed with Albumen (coal) and housed at the Boston Public Library.
<updated 4-2-09, thank you Professor Feigl for the correction>