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