George Bradford Brainerd, born in 1845, was a lifelong Brooklynite. He was a civil engineer by trade and for 17 years Deputy Water Purveyor for the City of Brooklyn, spending much of his time traversing the city by streetcar. As an accomplished amateur photographer, he almost always traveled with cameras, ones he had crafted himself.
Brainerd’s interest in photography began in 1858, at the age of 13. He was fascinated by the mechanism of the camera and the mechanical possibilities of the relatively new photographic technologies. Early on, Brainerd created his own cameras from cigar boxes and the lenses from opera glasses in order to create primitive ambrotypes.
By the time of his death, in 1887, at the age of 41, Brainerd had taken more than 2,500 photographs. Most were of Brooklyn’s urban landscape — bridges and train depots, engine houses, etc. — but many were rural scenes of upstate New York, Connecticut – and Long Island.
In addition to being an accomplished in early photography, Brainerd was also dedicated to life-long scholarship in a number of arenas: linguistics, botany, geology, medicine, mineralogy, and taxidermy. He had a working knowledge of 12 languages.