The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Archives Reveal How Cities Change: Photos of DC from the Early 1900s
The Smithsonian Institution Archives recently digitized over 300 images of Washington, D.C. from the 1920s. Read more about the collection here, and check out the photographs, which are now available on Smithsonian Collections Search Center as well as on the Flickr Commons. Intern Amanda Kaufman writes about the collection, which she helped digitize this summer, below. How well do you know Washington DC? A recently digitized collection of over 300 images from the early 1900s—showing buildings, bridges, landscapes, monuments, and zoo animals—contrasts the current landscape and frenzy of the city today with images of a more laid back time. What makes this collection fascinating, now, is that it invites us to see how the city has changed and grown over the past 90 years. One image, for example, shows the landscape of the Palisades when it was still considered a suburb of DC, with sparse housing sitting atop rolling hills. Other sites are more recognizable, such as the White House, Capitol Building, and Washington Monument. Several photos display the image of the White House majestically in the background while a flock of sheep are shown lazily strolling across the lawns, grazing and sleeping in the shade. During the late 1910s and early 1920s, President Wilson cut grounds keeping costs by bringing in a flock of sheep to trim the White House lawns. A few photos from the collection include individuals who were sightseeing in the city, and their clothing gives a sense of the fashion of the time. The street scenes show sparse traffic and vintage vehicles and trolleys that give one a romantic image of how DC once was. Photos of buildings which once stood prominently in downtown DC, but are no longer in existence, are scattered throughout the collection. Other photos document historic hotels, such as the Willard, Occidental, and Raleigh Hotels. Images of well-known monuments may make one do a double take due to changes in surrounding scenery since the original images were made. For those who consider themselves aficionados on all things DC, are you able to identify the location of all the monuments? Head on over to the set on the Flickr Commons to check out some of the photos and leave your location guesses or comments!
Amanda Kaufman is a Reference Intern at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.