Petroleum History Photography
Oilfield images help preserve discoveries, pioneers, and technologies.
Requests for photography resources are among the most frequent calls and e-mails to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. There are countless images of the U.S. exploration, production, refining, marketing, and transportation industries — and institutions preserve collections worldwide. Please let AOGHS know if you know of links that would be helpful to energy educators. – the Editor
According to A History of Photography And How It Shaped The World, the earliest photograph can be traced to 1825 in France. When the age of the “daguerreotype” was followed by paper prints made from glass-plate negatives in the mid-19th century, the earliest American oil wells would be documented. Pioneer petroleum industry photographers like “Oil Creek Artist” John A. Mather would document Northwestern Pennsylvania boom towns.
Whether a teacher, student, researcher or journalist, a good place to start is your local historical society – or especially the nearest community oil and gas museum. Below are some of the best resources we found useful for vintage oilfield photography. Many historic photographs can be found with basic keyword searches at these sites. Hard copies often can be purchased from these sites. AOGHS encourages follow-up calls and emails that help expand its links for future “oil patch” image researchers.
For some library sites, downloading materials for personal use with proper attribution is permitted; however, this sometimes does not grant permission to publish. Be sure to examine each site’s copyright requirements. While the American Oil & Gas Historical Society provides free energy education research and resources, it depends on your financial contributions. Support AOGHS outreach, including this website, by making a contribution today.
Kansas Memory, created by the Kansas State Historical Society, shares a growing historical collection for the use of anyone interested in any aspect of Kansas History.
As with many history related sites (including aoghs.org), “the value of this site is in its rich content, including letters, diaries, photographs, government records from the state archives, maps, museum artifacts, and historic structures in Kansas. “We will be adding additional content continually,” the site notes.
With more than 6,000 images available to search, it is among the largest sources of earth science imagery available. Some restrictions apply for commercial use.
Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education.
Available from the Library of Congress, America at Work, America at Leisure – Motion Pictures from 1894 to 1915 is a collection of digitized early motion pictures featuring work, school, and leisure activities in the United States.
This excellent site includes 150 motion pictures from which single frames may be captured, as in this 1903 Pawtucket Fire Department image filmed by American Mutoscope & Biograph Company.
The Detroit Publishing Company Collection includes more than 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies as well as about 300 color photolithograph prints, mostly of the eastern United States.
The collection includes images from along railroad lines in the United States and Mexico in the 1880s and 1890s as well as views of California, Wyoming and the Canadian Rockies. The Library of Congress notes that it is not aware of any U.S. copyright or any other restrictions on the photographs in this outstanding collection.
The Library of Congress American Memory collection provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.
This is a digital record of our history and creativity. These materials, from the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America — serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.
Editor’s Note — The LOC’s American Memory collection includes spectacular stereoscopic views of the oil region of Pennsylvania and New York.
The California Online Archives documents early California history with the Bancroft Library, including 299 digital images. Use the internal search with the phrase “Oil Industry in California 1911-1914” to get started. Thumbnails and screen-sized images are included with caption information and date when available.
The Rod Library at the University of Northern Iowa library in Cedar Falls provides an extraordinary summary page of history related website links’
The Digitized Primary American History Sources offer a wide range of rare photographs and other historical documentation. One special section, Cartoons – Images – Posters – Advertisements, offers a further breakdown of topics and sources with links to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives and Records Administration. This is among the best places to begin for oil field photography research.
The First State Carnegie Library was built in 1901 Guthrie, Logan County, notes this “Snap Shots from the Past” website project.
This interesting site is part of the Oklahoma GenWeb project and features photographs submitted by visitors responding to the site’s request:
“Do you have an Oklahoma photo online or a photo you’d like to scan or have scanned to put online? Know of an Oklahoma event or historical site online? Send the link and we’ll add it to our ever growing list or contact us about including your photo online.”
TheNational Archives Library Information Center provides NARA staff and researchers nationwide with convenient access to content beyond the physical holdings of their two facilities in Washington, DC, and in College Park, Maryland. This site provides numerous links to information and images covering American history and government.
The David Rumsey Historical Map Collectionhas more than 17,400 maps online.
The collection includes rare 18th century and 19th century maps and other cartographic materials in resolutions which permit detailed searches.
Maps are accessible through a keyword searchable database. Early Pennsylvania oil region maps and contemporary advertisements are well represented.
The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals – collected by the Library of Congress – now includes 955 volumes and more than 750,000 pages from almost two dozen 19th century periodicals. Among those available in this extensive collection:
Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Manufacturer and Builder, Scientific American, the United States Democratic Review, and the American Missionary.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers full-text and full-page image databases. However, patents issued from 1790 through 1975 are searchable only by patent number, issue date, and current U.S. classifications. Attempts to search those patents by any other fields will result in an error message.
The search engine Google Patent Search is not as limited – and frequently finds surprising results – but does not include trademark information.
The New York Public Library Digital Gallery provides access to 600,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of the library.
The collection includes historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.
This massive oil field photography resource includes excellent Pennsylvania oil region images from the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.
Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, hoping to bind the Union’s East and West.
The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum website documents the mammoth construction efforts and features an extraordinary collection of stereoscopic views of railroad expansion across America.
This website — launched in 1999 — has become a leading internet resource, welcoming its one-millionth online visitor in 2005.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1841-1902) is archived on this site with 147,000 pages in online digital format. Newspapers can be full-text searched for keywords or accessed by date of issue — which include good quality images of text and vintage advertising.
The Wikipedia public domain image resource list provides links to online sources of imagery with subheadings for history and specific periods of history. Importantly, the presence of a resource on this list does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain and users should verify copyright status of individual images selected.
In Kansas, the Wichita Photo Archives website is maintained by the Wichita Public Library Local History Section, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, and Wichita State University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections.
These partners provide access to materials for educational and research purposes. Downloading from this website for personal use with proper attribution of the source is permitted; however, this does not grant permission to publish. That permission must be sought separately.
The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Support this AOGHS.org energy education website with a contribution today. For membership information, contact email@example.com. © 2019 Bruce A. Wells.