Photograph and Image Collections


Photographs and other images at the Smithsonian Institution Archives are not in a central file, but are dispersed throughout its collections. However, there are a few collections which are mostly devoted to photographs.

Many digitized images from these and other collections can be found Archives' Collection Search. Most online images can be downloaded in low resolution versions (300 dpi or less). We encourage the use of Archives images without charge or the need for permissions for educational and personal use. Reproduction fees for higher resolution images and additional commercial fees may apply.

  • Accession 11-006, United States National Museum, Division of Graphic Arts, Photographic Collection, 1860-1960. This collection contains historic images of Smithsonian artifacts, portraits, buildings, and architectural drawings.
  • Accession 11-007, United States National Museum, Division of Graphic Arts, Photographic Collection, 1860-1960. This collection contains historic Smithsonian images pertaining to natural history, such as plant and animal specimens and anthropological studies.
  • Accession 11-008, Smithsonian Institution Office of Public Affairs, Photographic Collection, 1960-1970. This collection documents public events held at the Smithsonian Institution, such as presidential visits, exhibit openings, and special events. 
  • Accession 11-009, Smithsonian Photographic Services, Photographic Collection, 1971-2006. This collection contains images of Smithsonian artifacts, exhibits, events, and photographic reproductions of historical images. Also included are 6 boxes of passport photographs that originated from the United States National Museum Office of the Registrar.
  • Accession 12-492, United States National Museum, Division of Graphic Arts. Section of Photography, Photographic Collection, 1933. This collection contains lantern slides documenting a cross section of activities occurring at the Smithsonian Institution in the 1930s. The slides were projected by a balopticon at the Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago from 1933-1934. The set was called "Behind the Scenes in the Smithsonian" and was later displayed in the Main Hall of the Smithsonian Institution Building. Many of the slides are derivatives of original glass plates from Accessions 11-006 and 11-007. The date range of the images represented in this set ranges from 1903-1933. Subjects covered include anthropology, paleontology, geology, ethnology, exhibitions, Freer Gallery of Art, Natural History building, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, International Exchange Service, and National Zoological Park.
  • Record Unit 95, Photograph Collection, 1850s. This collection consists of ten series of photographs of people, places, things, and events related to the Smithsonian Institution and United States history. The majority dates from the mid- to late-19th century. Many of digitized images from this collection can be found Archives' Collection Search. Series include: 
  1. Portraits (persons important in Smithsonian or United States history)
  2. Group Portraits (prominent scientific groups, political groups, and Smithsonian staff)
  3. Buildings and Facilities (documenting the planning, construction, architecture, and use of Smithsonian Institution buildings, grounds, and facilities)
  4. Exhibits (permanent and special exhibits of the Smithsonian and its museums)
  5. Specimens, Artifacts, Equipment (specimens in the Smithsonian collections and of equipment used in research and other activities of the Institution, as well as some photographs of artifacts)
  6. Events (a chronological file of photographs documenting events in the Smithsonian's history)
  7. Expositions (mainly expositions in which the Smithsonian and its museums took part)
  8. Smithsonian Insignia and Medals (badges of office, documents, flags, insignia, medals, and other emblems of significance to the Institution);
  9. Washington, DC and Vicinity (non-Smithsonian buildings and sites in Washington, DC and the surrounding area)
  10. Slides (slides of people, groups, buildings, and exhibits—primarily negatives)
  • Record Unit 7177, George P. Merrill Collection. Merrill was a geologist with an interest in the history of his science. Consequently, he assembled a large collection of photographs of geologists, paleontologists, and other scientists, along with an example of their handwriting.
  • Record Unit 285, Director, National Museum of History and Technology (now National Museum of American History). Included in this file are photographs of the building, as well as permanent and special exhibitions.
  • Record Unit 371, Office of Public Affairs, The Torch, Records. These records include photographs that appeared in The Torch, the monthly Smithsonian newspaper that was distributed to current and emeritus staff.
  • Record Unit 549, Office of Public Affairs, Photographs. This collection includes photographs of Smithsonian staff and subjects.
  • Record Unit 639, Building Management Department, Photographs. This record unit consists of construction photographs for Smithsonian buildings.
  • Record Unit 351, National Air and Space Museum, Photographs. This collection consists mostly of photographs of museum functions.
  • Record Unit 365, Office of Public Affairs, National Zoological Park (NZP). This record unit includes photographs of zoo animals. Many more photographs of zoo animals, buildings, and events are housed at the zoo.
  • Record Unit 7315, J. Victor Carus Photograph Album. This collection includes images of many famous scientists of the second half of the 19th century.
  • Record Unit 7355, Martin A. Gruber Photograph Collection, 19191924 This collection consists of black and white photographs taken by Gruber, who worked for the War Department between 1891 and 1929. Subjects include buildings, bridges, monuments, and trees and flowers of the Washington, DC, area, as well as views of the National Zoological Park. All 328 images from this collection are available online.
  • Accession 90-105, Science Service, Records, 1920s1970s. These records constitute the morgue files for the Science Service, and as such contain past articles, press releases and other materials produced by the Science Service. The Archives has digitized over 9,300 informal and formal portraits from this collection documenting scientists, engineers, and other prominent figures of the 20th Century.