How can I find USGS historical photographs?

The USGS Photographic Library, located at our library in Denver, Colorado, is an archive of still photographs dating from the 1870s and taken by USGS scientists as part of their field studies.

The works of pioneer photographers W.H. Jackson, T.H. O’Sullivan, Carleton Watkins, J.K. Hillers, Thomas Moran, A.J. Russell, E.O. Beaman, and William Bell are represented in the collection. Topics include USGS personnel, earthquakes, volcanoes, geologic hazards and other phenomena, historical mining operations, and earth science photographs.

Use the online USGS Photographic Library to access digital copies of photographs selected from the collection. Since only a portion of the collection’s 400,000 images are online, researchers are welcome to visit in person to view the collection, or our librarians can check the collection for you. For more information, call 303-236-1010.

A limited number of historical photographs are also in our online Multimedia Gallery and on USGS social media platforms like flickr and Instagram.

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Does the Geographic Names Information System Database contain entries for obsolete names and historical geographic features that no longer exist?

Yes, The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) actively seeks names of features that no longer exist. The term "historical" as used in the GNIS specifically means that the feature no longer exists on the landscape. An abandoned ghost town, for example, still exists so it is not historical. Historical features have no reference to age, size,...

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A number of images from the "Great Surveys of the American West" can be downloaded through the online USGS Photographic Library . Before the USGS was established by Congress as a part of the Department of Interior, four surveys of the western United States took place between 1867 and 1879. Surveys led by Ferdinand Hayden and John Wesley Powell...

How can I find out-of-print USGS publications?

Out-of-print USGS publications and maps, depending on series and date, can be obtained in various ways: Check the USGS Publications Warehouse for online availability. If the publication is listed but does not have a link to a digital version, contact the Publications Warehouse Team to request a digital copy. Borrow from your local public, academic...

How can I find publications of the USGS?

The USGS Publications Warehouse is an online catalog for searching all USGS publications and downloading free digital versions. USGS Libraries contain sets of all USGS publications plus many state geological survey publications. The public go in person to any USGS library to do research, but USGS library materials can only be borrowed by placing a...

Why does the USGS use the spelling "gage" instead of "gauge"?

The spelling of “gage” is part of our very rich USGS history. In 1888, USGS Director John Wesley Powell met a very forward-thinking graduate student named Frederick Haynes Newell. Powell was so impressed that he made Newell the first full-time appointee to the new Irrigation Survey, which was created to investigate the potential for dams and...
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Date published: July 19, 2017

Historical Maps at Your Fingertips

Earlier this month, the USGS launched “TopoView 2.1”, an enhancement to the current popular TopoView mapping service that lets users discover, interact, and download historical USGS topographic maps scans.

Date published: April 12, 2016

USGS Continues to Write History

The fourth volume of the comprehensive history of the U.S. Geological Survey, Minerals, Lands, and Geology for the Common Defence and General Welfare: Volume 4, 1939‒1961, has been issued as an electronic document.

Date published: December 2, 2010

Book Released Detailing History and Relevance of Repeat Photography

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A new book on the methods and applications of repeat photography that showcases its international usage in monitoring landscape change on five continents has been released. 

Date published: March 22, 2006

New USGS Website features repeat photography of Glacier National Park glaciers over time


U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists with the Global Change Research Project are unveiling a new website featuring a collection of repeat photographs of glaciers in and around Glacier National Park, Montana.

Date published: March 30, 2000

Why Lewis and Clark Needed the USGS

As Lewis and Clark ascended the Missouri River in the spring of 1805, they were expecting to encounter a waterfall that Indians and fur trappers had described and sketched on crude maps.

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Image: USGS Cartographer at Work
January 1, 1968

USGS Cartographer at Work

Yutaka Hamamoto working on a Wild A-7 Stereoplanigraph.

Image: USGS Cartographer at Work
January 1, 1957

USGS Cartographer at Work

Color separation scribing of the contour plate for a USGS topographic map using a freehand scriber. This handheld stylist was designed to hold a phonograph needle that was sharpened to engrave a .003" scribed line.

Image: USGS Topographic Field Party
January 1, 1941

USGS Topographic Field Party

A mounted topographic field party poses while working on the Dos Cabezas quadrangle in Arizona. 1940-1941. The quadrangle was surveyed by D.H. Rutledge, W.E. Burton, and G.K. Jensen, so it is likely that most or all of them are in this photo.

Image: USGS Topographer at Work
July 1, 1925

USGS Topographer at Work

Topographer George Stanley Druhot running a level line on oil-shale cliffs north of the Colorado River. The level line was one mile long and climbed 2,000 feet over talus slopes.

Image: USGS Topographer at Work
January 1, 1924

USGS Topographer at Work

R.R. Monbeck on the rim of Haleakala volcano on the island of Maui

USGS Embudo Personnel
December 31, 1889

USGS personnel at the Embudo Station, New Mexico

USGS prersonnel at the Embudo Station, New Mexico. Embudo was selected as the site of the first USGS streamgaging station in 1889 because of the need for systematic water resource assessments of western states as it not only offered a favorable climate and easy rail access, but qualified for congressional funding tapped specifically for the “arid West.”

Attribution: Water Resources
Image: USGS Topographers at Work

USGS Topographers at Work

Captain Straughan (right) and rod man Bud Sullivan (left) departing for a day in the field. Straughan has a tripod on his shoulder and a plane table packed in the satchel under his leg. The flagpole in the background is flying a United States flag and a USGS flag - a common practice in mapping field camps.