Photo Essays

Rare Postcards Reveal Early 20th Century Panoramas

by Allison Meier on May 13, 2013

 Panorama of the Hiawatha play, Ya-Way-Ga-Mug, Petoskey, Michigan, Photograph by Alton G. Cook (1906), showing three canoes being paddled by American Indians, on the far shore is a village of tepees, on the near shore are canoes pulled onto a pier.

Panorama of a performance of Longfellow’s “Indian Passion Play,” “Hiawatha,” in Petoskey, Michigan, Photograph by Alton G. Cook (1906). (All images courtesy the Library of Congress)

The United States Postal Service was just expanding into widespread delivery to the remote corners of the country when panoramic postcards appeared to advertise in wide frame the beauty of these far-flung locales. Usually folding for more compact delivery, these broad little views offered expansive looks at landscapes, and also accommodated the rapidly growing modern marvels of the world, like towering skyscrapers or massive sea vessels. The Library of Congress recently added over 400 of these postcards to its online Prints & Photographs Catalog.

Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor Creator(s): Lische, J.A., artist Date Created/Published: c1901. Medium: 1 photomechanical print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows rendering of Statue of Liberty with lighting eminating from the torch and people entering the base.Metropolitan Building Date Created/Published: c1912. Medium: 1 photographic print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows the Metropolitan Building and surrounding buildings and park.

Statue of Liberty by J.A. Lische (1901); Metropolitan Building (1912)

Most of the cards are around 3.5 inches by 10 inches and date from the early 1900s, the large part having been received as copyright deposits, according to the Library of Congress. The panoramic format of photography reached its peak of popularity around the early 20th century, where these souvenirs and advertising items gave detailed, sprawling views of beautiful landscapes, military formations, horrific disasters, sporting events, and engineering achievements. Among the 400 postcards are images from 39 states, including numerous small towns that were just beginning to flourish like Beloit, Wisconsin, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, and the oil fields of Oklahoma. There are also some odd photographs that are panoramic for no clear reason, like a flock of seagulls gnawing on some dead fish or a man feeding a seal.

Although these panoramic postcards were part of a 2008 inventory, due to their delicate nature as “real photo” postcards it took several years to properly scan and document them, a task that was just finished late last month. The panoramic photograph is something of a lost analog art, though they’ve definitely made a comeback with smartphone panorama-stitching apps — showing that we still have a keen desire to optically replicate what it’s like to really be somewhere and perceive it within the human field of vision.

You can see some of the Library of Congress’ favorites on their blog, and below is a selection of some of these panoramic photographs that caught my eye while cruising through these remarkable vignettes into our newly expanding country.

City of New-York, Brooklyn, Jersey City & Quarantine Station on Staten Island Date Created/Published: [between 1900 and 1920] Medium: 1 print (postcard). Summary: Postcard shows the waterfront of New York City and New Jersey ca. 1850. Places identified include: Jersey City; Hoboken; Bedlow's Island; Ellis Island; Hudson River; Robbins Reef Light House; New-York; Quarantine, Staten Island; East River or Long Island Sound; Governor's Island; Brooklyn.

View of the New York Harbor looking to Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Jersey City  from the Quarantine Station on Staten Island (1850)

Mound in Mound Cemetery showing moat, Marietta, O. Creator(s): Fischer, Harry P., photographer Date Created/Published: c1908. Medium: 1 photographic print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows earth mound in cemetery.

Mound Cemetery in Marietta, Ohio, photograph by Harry P. Fischer (1908)

[Navy baseball game at Newport, Rhode Island] Creator(s): Moser, N. G., copyright claimant Date Created/Published: c1912. Medium: 1 photographic print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows men in navy uniforms gathered around baseball diamond.

Navy baseball game in Newport, Rhode Island, photograph by N. G. Moser (1912)

Daily increasing crowds at John Till's, Almena, Wis. Creator(s): Denison, H. H., copyright claimant Date Created/Published: c1909 Medium: 1 photographic print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows a crowd gathered at the home of alternative healer John Till in Almena, Wisconsin.

“Daily increasing crowds” outside of the home of alternative healer John Till in Almena, Wisconsin, H. H. Denison (1909)

Avalon, Cal. / Lester Clement Barton. Creator(s): Barton, Lester Clement, 1884-1918, photographer Date Created/Published: 1908. Medium: 1 photographic print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows gulls eating dead fish.

Seagulls eating dead fish in Avalon, California, photograph by Lester Clement Barton (1908)

Boardwalk, Atlantic City, N. J. Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 photomechanical print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows people on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Atlantic City Boardwalk (1905)

Presidents Locomotive, 1927

Presidents Locomotive (1927)

Mauretania Date Created/Published: [1908]. Medium: 1 print (postcard). Summary: Postcard shows panoramic view of the steamship Mauretania.

Mauretania Steamship (1908)

Fredonia, PA Creator(s): Moore, J. C., photographer Date Created/Published: J. C. Moore; c1908. Medium: 1 print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows the snow covered streets of Fredonia, Pennsylvania.

Street covered in snow in Fredonia, Pennsylvania, photograph by J. C. Moore (1908)

Base ball at Sauk Centre, Minn., July Fourth Creator(s): Olson, W. O., photographer Date Created/Published: Alexandria, Minn. : W. O. Olson ; c1908. Medium: 1 photographic print (postcard). Summary: Postcard shows baseball game within a race track on prairie, horse and buggies surround the track, stadium, church or school house.

Baseball game at a prairie race track on the Fourth of July in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, photograph by W. O. Olson (1908)

Bird's-eye view of Lake City, Minn. Creator(s): Phillips, F. H., copyright claimant Date Created/Published: c1907. Medium: 1 print (postcard) : color. Summary: Postcard shows residential view of Lake City, landmarks are indicated above buildings. Bluffs in background.

Bird’s-eye view of Lake City, Minnesota, photograph by F. H. Phillips (1907)

[Car on beach with airplane overhead, probably in Daytona, Florida] Date Created/Published: Daytona, Fla. : H. Marshall Gardiner ; c1911.

Cars driving on the beach in Daytona, Florida, with an airplane overhead, published byH. Marshall Gardiner (1911)

Panorama of New York river front Date Created/Published: 1900. Medium: 1 print (postcard) Summary: Postcard shows the skyline of New York with water traffic in the foreground.

Panorama of the New York waterfront (1900)

Chappie feeding the seals, Catalina Island / Lester Clement Barton. Creator(s): Barton, Lester Clement, 1884-1918, photographer Date Created/Published: 1908.

“Chappie feeding the seals” on Catalina Island, photograph by Lester Clement Barton (1908)

View all 400 panoramic photographs online at the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Catalog.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: