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When the Past Meets the Present: Googling PhillyHistory's Collection

PhillyHistory viewed in GoogleEarth

The historic photographs on PhillyHistory provide an extraordinary experience our city's past. But what about viewing the past with the present? The PhillyHistory team has created a way to do just that using the technology of GoogleEarth. Most of you are probably familiar with Google from their search engine and maps. GoogleEarth uses satellite and aerial images to enable people to virtually navigate through a 3-D landscape.

On PhillyHistory, the historic photographs can be opened in GoogleEarth to allow for an amazing comparison between the past images and the present architecture. Do you sometimes wonder what used to be where that skyscraper is? Just open the PhillyHistory photograph in GoogleEarth to view a row of storefronts from the 1920s.

If you'd like to view a photograph in GoogleEarth, click on the blue link "Open in GoogleEarth." There are now 3 ways to see photos in GoogleEarth:
1. One photo at a time
2. The first 100 results of your search
3. The entire collection of 50,000 photographs
Once in GoogleEarth, you will notice that the images have been organized by decades in separate folders. With currently more than 50,000 photos in the system, we thought this would create a cleaner presentation. Let us know what you think!

To view the PhillyHistory photographs in GoogleEarth, you must have GoogleEarth downloaded to and installed on your computer. The program can be quite large so it may not be ideal for everyone to use. So borrow a friend's computer, head to the computer lab at a local school, or give it a try from your own home and check out just one more way to view the amazing photographs at PhillyHistory!

Behind-the-Scenes of PhillyHistory

Have you ever wondered how photographs buried in the depths of the City Archives make it out of their envelopes and onto No need to wonder any longer! A brand new page on the website gives you a virtual behind-the-scenes tour of the process of preserving hundreds of thousands of photographs. From scanning to organizing to lugging boxes around, the PhillyHistory interns are busy making sure that photographs are added to the website on a regular basis.

Just one of the numerous aisles of boxes preserving the city's past at the City Archives.

A crumpled piece of tissue paper? Some strange supply for a new piece of art? If you want to find out what this really is, check out the new Behind- the-Scenes page on PhillyHistory!

Getting Ready for National History Day
March 12-13, 2008

Thousands of middle and high school students across the country are once again preparing for National History Day. The year long program encourages students to research a historical topic and create a documentary, exhibit, essay, performance, or, in Philadelphia, a website. As a partner of National History Day, the Philadelphia Department of Records is gathering information to assist students in investigating subjects connected to this year's theme- "Conflict and Compromise in History."

History Hits the Streets of Philly!
PhilaPlace project comes to South Philadelphia and Northern Liberties/Kensington

In October and November, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania launched PhilaPlace, a community history project, with workshop and history fair events in South Philadelphia and Northern Liberties/Kensington.

Members of the PhillyHistory team helped scan and collect information about photographs brought in by past and present residents of the neighborhoods. Selected photographs, as well as selected videos of individuals recounting neighborhood memories, will be part of the PhilaPlace digital archive once the website is launched.

For more information on the PhilaPlace project, please contact the Historical Society of Pennsylvania at 215-732-6200 ext. 227.

The New Life of Old Photographs... What Happens to the Photos After PhillyHistory?

Since its invention in 1826, photographs have provided a way to visually capture one quick moment in time. Some of the oldest photographs on PhillyHistory date back to the 1870s. Even though these photographs are celebrating their 125th birthdays, creative PhillyHistory users are giving new life to these and hundreds of historic images.

So where do photos from PhillyHistory end up? All over the place! They have appeared in school reports, academic books, television documentaries, the lobbies of hotels and condominiums, an exhibit at the Art Institute, bus shelters in Center City, websites, blogs, and dozens of other places. The Philadelphia City Paper has even begun running a feature, called Time Machine, highlighting a photo from the site every week.

The people who purchase photos on have also found some great uses for the photos. One family decorated a room in their home with historic images of their neighborhood. Several people have found photos of houses they are currently rehabbing and purchased the photos as reminders of the history of the properties. A user found a photo of the railroad station where her grandmother used to work many decades ago - She called it the perfect holiday gift. One man collects photos of Philadelphia sports stadiums and another discovered a photo of a friend's father. From home décor to gifts to collections, PhillyHistory users prove that the possibilities for these photographs are endless.

So why purchase a photo from PhillyHistory? The revenue from each purchase is invested back into the project, guaranteeing that additional photos will be placed online and preservation efforts can continue.

Your Neighborhood in Photographs:

The ability to locate photos from a particular neighborhood provides PhillyHistory users a unique tool to see the past of their communities. Thanks to the tech wizards who created PhillyHistory, we are able to determine which neighborhoods people search for the most. South Philadelphia remains by far the most requested neighborhood on the site but just last month there began a heated race for the second place spot! After many searches, Mayfair surpassed the long-reigning Fishtown to become the second most searched for neighborhood on PhillyHistory!

In honor of Mayfair, this month's "Your Neighborhood in Photographs" brings you photos of Frankford Avenue. Do you see any differences from today's locations?

Ryan Avenue and Frankford Avenue, 1929. Frankford Avenue and Bleigh Avenue, 1927.

Have a Question?

With over 50,000 photographs, dozens of blog entries, an entire Fine Art Collection, and a website full of special features, PhillyHistory contains a wealth of information. Now we're looking for some information from you! The PhillyHistory team is putting out a "Call for Questions." Do you have a question about a certain photograph? Are you wondering about how we geocode or map the location of certain photos? Are you curious about information in a blog entry? Do you have the perfect suggestion for a new feature? Let us know! As we continuously revise, expand, and add more photographs to the website, we want to ensure that remains a location where people find the answers to their inquiries, the solutions to their history mysteries, and the perfect refresher for their memories. We welcome your questions and comments at all times. So when you get a chance, send us an e-mail to, introduce yourself, and tell us what YOU would like to know!



Images scanned in the last 4 months

Total images scanned

Unique Visitors in the last 4 months

The Philadelphia City Archives are one of the country’s largest municipal archives, with an estimated 2 million photographs that date from the late 1800’s. These gorgeous pictures paint a stunning portrait of Philadelphia and its industry, architecture, culture and people.

New Addictive PhillyHistory Features

It's pretty easy to start searching PhillyHistory and suddenly find that two hours have gone by in the blink of eye. In the last few months, we've added a few more features to keep you just as addicted!

If you find a photograph that you love and would like to look at later, you can add it to your own personal list of favorite photographs. On the detail page of the photograph, click on the button "Add to Favorites." Anytime you want to see your favorite photos, just go to "Your Account" and click "View Favorites." For even more fun, you can now organize your favorite photos by creating and assigning tags to them. It's the perfect way to keep track of and arrange the photographs you love!

We've also added a box for users to leave feedback for us when they are purchasing photos. How are you going to use your photo? Let us know using the feedback option.

As mentioned in this newsletter, we've also expanded our use of GoogleEarth. You can now view an individual photo, a set of results returned from a search, or even the entire collection of over 50,000 photographs in GoogleEarth.

For those of you who have been exploring the site and using these new features, we would love to hear about how they have enhanced your PhillyHistory experience. Email us at

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