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The Smithsonian and Photography
Photography predates the founding of the Smithsonian by just a few years. The introduction of various photographic processes in the 1830s culminated in the development of the daguerreotype in 1839. From its founding in 1846, the Smithsonian adopted the camera to advance its mission, cataloging plant and animal species and documenting the grandeur of the American landscape and the continent’s original inhabitants. Photography brought the faraway near and made visible the previously invisible. Many of our photographs also serve as a historical record of the growth of the Institution.
The Photos You See Here
Only a very small percentage of our photographs presently exist in digital form, and many have not been fully researched and described. The photos you see here are a sample of the more than 13 million images in some seven hundred collections in our museums, archives, and research centers. These collections contain photographs collected from outside sources in addition to those taken by Smithsonian staff, and represent a broad range of subjects and themes in the fields of art, history, culture, and science.
Higher resolution versions of many of these images can be obtained from the Smithsonian. Follow the “Persistent URL” link located below each image for more information.
What Is the Smithsonian Institution?
The Smithsonian traces its roots to 1846 when the United States accepted a bequest from Englishman James Smithson to establish an institution “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
The Smithsonian Institution is now the largest museum and research complex in the world. It consists of 19 museums and galleries, 9 research centers, and the National Zoo. The Institution cares for an estimated 137 million historical artifacts, works of art, and natural history specimens; 1.5 million library volumes and rare books; 89,000 cubic feet of archival material; and more than 2,000 animals. Smithsonian experts conduct research in art, history, culture, science, and technology. To enhance public access to this research and our vast collections, Smithsonian professionals are digitizing as much as possible as rapidly as possible and making these assets available via the Web and other technologies—all in pursuit of the Smithsonian’s mission “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
To learn more about us, explore the Smithsonian’s website.
To search across the Smithsonian's museums, libraries, and archives, visit the
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