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 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.

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

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

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

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

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

Atlantic City Boardwalk (1905)

Presidents Locomotive (1927)

Mauretania Steamship (1908)

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

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, Minnesota, photograph by F. H. Phillips (1907)

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

Panorama of the New York waterfront (1900)

“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.

The Latest

Required Reading

This week, Title IX celebrates 50 years, the trouble with pronouns, a writer’s hilarious response to plagiarism allegations, and much more.

Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...