Where can I find historical photographs from the Great Surveys of the American West?

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 were sponsored by the Interior Department, and Surveys led by Clarence King and Lt. George M. Wheeler were sponsored by the War Department.

A convenient way to find images from the surveys is to search on the names of the photographers. You can also search on terms like "Wheeler Survey" and "King Survey".

The 1867 King Survey

  • Known as the "U.S. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel"
  • Led by Clarence King (later the first Director of the USGS)
  • Photographers: Timothy O'Sullivan (who was also part of the Wheeler Survey) and C. E. Watkins.

The 1867 Hayden Survey

  • Known as the "U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories"
  • Led by Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden
  • Photographer: William Henry Jackson.

The 1872 Wheeler Survey

  • Known as the "U.S. Geographical Surveys West of the One Hundredth Meridian"
  • Led by George Montague Wheeler
  • Photographer: Timothy O'Sullivan (who was also part of the King Survey).

The 1869 Powell Survey

  • Known as the "U.S. Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region"
  • Led by John Wesley Powell (later the second Director of the USGS)  
  • Photographers: J. K. Hillers and E. O. Beaman 

Photographs from these expeditions are also available through the Library of Congress.

Related Content

Filter Total Items: 5

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,...

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...

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...
Filter Total Items: 5
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.

Filter Total Items: 10
March 4, 2004

PubTalk 3/2004 — Mapping the American West

Clarence King and the 40th Parallel Survey

By James G. Moore, Geologist

  • After completing a geology degree at Yale and coming West in a wagon train, Clarence King worked with the California Geological Survey and was in the field party that discovered Mount Whitney
  • King led the United States Geological Exploration of the
Men sitting around a table beside a wagon in 1870 Wyoming
December 31, 1870

Hayden Survey 1870 Wyoming in camp at Red Buttes

U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories (Hayden Survey). Group of all the members of the Survey, made while in camp at Red Buttes at the junction of the North Platte and Sweetwater Rivers. Natrona County, Wyoming, 1870. Standing left to right: John "Potato John" Raymond and "Val," cooks; Sanford R. Gifford, landscape painter; Henry W. Elliott, artist;

formal portrait of caucasian man with full beard, wearing a 19th century suit and bow tie
December 31, 1870

Ferdinand V. Hayden, 1870

Portrait of Ferdinand V. Hayden, about the time of his directorship of the Geological Survey of the Territories. c. 1870. The Hayden Survey was a predecessor to the USGS.

Thirty men posed around a canvas tent
December 31, 1868

Camp scene. United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Paral

Camp scene. United States Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey). Plate 80: Camp scene. n.d.
(Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan.)

Three men posed under a canvas tent
October 31, 1868

Clarence King in camp, Salt Lake City, Utah

Clarence King in camp, Salt Lake City, Utah. United StatesGeological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey). 1868. Plate 96: Clarence King in camp, near Salt Lake City, Utah. October 1868.
(Photo by T.H. O'Sullivan.) 

Image: J. W. Powell's Appointment as USGS Director

J. W. Powell's Appointment as USGS Director

J. W. Powell's Appointment as Director, U.S.Geological Survey This single-page document, signed in Washington, D.C., on 21, March 1881, is the appointment of John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) as Director of the United States Geological Survey (1881-1894). It is signed by President James A. Garfield and countersigned by Interior Secretary S.J. Kirkwood. It is blind-stamped

Image: John Wesley Powell's Swivel Chair

John Wesley Powell's Swivel Chair

This swivel chair is an original and is believed to have been used by John Wesley Powell. Object ID: USGS-575126

Image: John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell

This is an oil portrait of John Wesley Powell painted by N.H. Busey. Powell served as the director of the Geological Survey from 1881 to 1894. Although he was the second director of the survey, he is perhaps the most famous. He participated in several mapping and exploration expeditions to the southwestern United States, and the national center in Reston is named after him

Portrait of Clarence King

Clarence King, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1879-1881

Clarence King, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, 1879-1881. 

Image: Clarence King

Clarence King

This portrait of Clarence King was painted by George Howland in 1902. King was the first director of the Geological Survey. He served from 1879 to 1881. Object ID: USGS-575110