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[Detail] 2nd Annual Outing, Herz' Employees, c 1912

Collection Overview

Panoramic Photographs, offers a detailed view of "Main Street" life in America, from small towns to large urban centers. Topics include industry, engineering feats, county fairs, and international expositions. Several hundred group portraits, as well as landscapes and natural wonders, are also included.

Special Features

These online exhibits provide context and additional information about this collection.

Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform, 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877
  • Development of the Industrial United States, 1876-1915
  • Emergence of Modern America, 1890-1930
  • The Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
  • Postwar United States, 1945-early 1970s
  • Contemporary United States, 1968-Present

Related Collections and Exhibits

These collections and exhibits contain thematically-related primary and secondary sources. Also browse the Collection Finder for more related material on the American Memory Web site.

Other Resources

Recommended additional sources of information.

Search Tips

Specific guidance for searching this collection

Specific guidance for searching this collection

To find items in this collection, search by Keyword or browse by Subject Index, Contributor Index or Location Index.

For help with general search strategies, see Finding Items in American Memory.


U.S. History

Panoramic Photographs, contains 4,000 panoramic photographs which offer a detailed view of "Main Street" life in America, from small towns to large cities. The collection can be used to explore the rise of industrial America, daily life and leisure activities at the turn of the century, and cultural attitudes toward the natural world, among other topics.

1) The collection contains photographs of cities and towns across the United States. These photographs show city skylines, architectural styles, and street life from the period.

Search on cityscapes, commercial streets, square, and town to find views of urban centers.

Students can use the collection to observe the development of different locales. Search on city or town names such as San Francisco, Baltimore, or Chicago to find photographs which show the change within these cities over time. Students can also use the Location Index to help them locate specific sites. Use the table below to investigate items which show change in three cities:

San Francisco Panorama of the ruins, July 14, 1906
Three years after, San Francisco, April 1909
A Panorama of San Francisco, California, February, 1912
Use Alcatraz Island as a reference point.
Chicago Crowd at Cubs Park, July 27, 1929
The Official Web Site of the Chicago Cubs: Wrigley Field History and Information
Compare the buildings behind Wrigley Field. Notice that some additional bleachers have been built, and one building has had its conical roof removed.
Baltimore Baltimore Harbor After Fire, 1904
Baltimore Harbor, 1912
Use the building with four smoke stacks as a reference point.


2) The wide range of U.S. industry photos in the collection can enhance teaching units on the rise of industrial and modern America. Students can get an idea of industrial development at the turn of the century by looking at the images of work and work environments. Use the list below to see examples:

Search on specific types of labor such as mining, lumbering, oil, and steel to see other images of the work environment during the turn of the century.

3) Taking the Long View, 1851-1991, documents daily life by showing recreation and leisure activities of the time. Students can research what activities were new arrivals on the turn-of-the-century leisure scene. For example, students may investigate when the beauty pageant became an American institution, and how gender roles were changing during this period. Some examples of activities are listed in the list below:

Search on bathing beauty pageants, sporting events, rodeos, conventions, picnics, and banquets to find images of people involved in the events of daily life.

4) The style of panoramic photography recorded images as well as a sense of how Americans of the period perceived their surroundings. Grand vistas of landscapes were popular during the turn-of-the-century decades because of American pride and a sense of mastery of their world and its resources. Taking the Long View, 1851-1991, contains panoramic photographs of natural wonders, many of which became heavily visited tourist destinations. For example, students can compare a panoramic photo of Crater Lake taken in 1913 with the photos found on the Crater Lake National Park website. Using these images and the timeline from the Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 in American Memory, students can begin to study the history of the U.S. conservation movement and the formation of a National Park System.

Search on national park, hotels, and specific sites such as Niagara Falls to find other images related to American attitudes concerning undeveloped land.


Critical Thinking

1) Chronological Thinking

Taking the Long View, 1851-1991, contains panoramas from all fifty states. Students can use the photographs to study the history of their state. Students might research and compare land development, industry, agriculture, and housing in their region one hundred years ago and today. Students can also use the collection to create a "then and now" museum of photographs from the collection and from current newspapers.

Search on specific place names such as New Orleans, Baltimore, and Seattle, or use the Place Index to find a geographic location.

2) Historical Comprehension

Students can use the collection to imagine what life was like in turn-of-the-century America. Teachers can guide students in a discussion of what aspects of life they can learn about from the photos. How did people work? Where did people live? What did people do for fun? What was difficult about living a hundred years ago? What might have been easier? What were the effects of industrialization on the American landscape?

Hester Street, New York City

Hester Street, New York City, ca.1902

For example, have students look at Hester Street, a turn-of-the-century market in New York, as well as a City market of Los Angeles and The Horses Market in South Omaha, Nebraska. How do these markets compare with the places where we buy and sell goods today?

Search on employment, commercial streets, and specific types of industry such as lumber, petroleum, paper, and steel to find photographs related to work. Search on dwellings, markets, schools, games, and amusement for images which show daily life of the period.


3) Historical Research Capabilities

Students may use the collection to research local history. They can assemble a set of panoramic images to create an exhibit or report on their region in an earlier time period. Students might analyze parts of a single panorama and research related resources to explain the elements in a photograph.

Location Index to help locate a specific place to research.

4) Historical Issue Analysis and Decision Making

In the decades surrounding 1900, Americans were faced with choices about how to develop land and use resources. New technologies were available to exploit resources to an extent never seen before. It was also during this time that national parks were established. Students might consider the history of American attitudes toward developing and utilizing natural resources and use this history as a context for studying present day issues of conservation. Students might look at the Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 Collection Connection to further explore these ideas.

Search on mountains, waterfalls, national parks, oil, mines, canals, dams, and railroad to see images showing different uses of the land.


Arts & Humanities

1) Expository Writing

Using photos from the collection to illustrate their writing, have students create and provide explanatory labels for an exhibit of what life was like at the turn of the century. Students might answer questions such as:

  • How did people from that time period make a living?
  • What did they do for fun?
  • How did they dress?
  • What modes of transportation did they use?

2) Creative Writing

Have students write short stories about people in the panoramic photographs. Students might create characters living in specific locales, and describe where they live and their daily activities. Or, students can write a journal or diary entry in the voice of someone who is describing a place or event found in a panoramic photo. Or, students can assume the role of a tour guide leading visitors around a particular city, and describe the sights, smells and sounds of that place.

3) Content Themes in the Study of Literature

The decades surrounding 1900 saw the increasing development of regional literature. Students studying regional writers of the era can use the panoramic photographs as a way to visualize the type of landscape the writers drew upon for creative inspiration. Students can select photos that illustrate a work of non-fiction or fiction.

For example, students might be asked to read John Muir's The Mountains of California, found in Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Students can then search on Yosemite and Sierra Nevada Mountains in Taking the Long View, 1851-1991, to find images to illustrate Muir's writing.