Petroleum History Photography

Requests for photography resources are among the most frequent calls and e-mails to the American Oil & Gas Historical Society. 


Whether a teacher, student, researcher or journalist, a good place to start is your local historical society – or especially the nearest community oil and gas museum. While AOGHS provides free energy education research and resources, it depends on financial contributions. Support AOGHS outreach by making a contribution today.

AOGHS encourages follow-up calls and emails that help expand its links for future “oil patch” image researchers. Below are some of the best resources we found useful for vintage oilfield photography. Many historic photographs can be found with basic keyword searches at these sites. Hard copies often can be purchased from these sites. For some library sites, downloading materials for personal use with proper attribution is permitted; however, this sometimes does not grant permission to publish. Be sure to examine each site’s copyright requirements.


Kansas Historical Society logo.Kansas Memory, created by the Kansas State Historical Society, shares a growing historical collection for the use of anyone interested in any aspect of Kansas History.

As with many history related sites (including, “the value of this site is in its rich content, including letters, diaries, photographs, government records from the state archives, maps, museum artifacts, and historic structures in Kansas. “We will be adding additional content continually,” the site notes.

American Geologic Institute logo.The Earth Science World Image Bank is a service provided by the American Geological Institute — designed to provide quality geoscience images to the public, educators, and the geoscience community.

With more than 6,000 images available to search, it is among the largest sources of earth science imagery available. Some restrictions apply for commercial use. Founded in 1948, AGI provides information services to geoscientists, serves as a voice of shared interests in our profession, plays a major role in strengthening geoscience education.

Available from the Library of Congress, America at Work, America at Leisure – Motion Pictures from 1894 to 1915 is a collection of digitized early motion pictures featuring work, school, and leisure activities in the United States. This excellent site includes 150 motion pictures from which single frames may be captured, as in this 1903 Pawtucket Fire Department image filmed by American Mutoscope & Biograph Company.

The Detroit Publishing Company Collection includes more than 25,000 glass negatives and transparencies as well as about 300 color photolithograph prints, mostly of the eastern United States.

The collection includes images from along railroad lines in the United States and Mexico in the 1880s and 1890s as well as views of California, Wyoming and the Canadian Rockies. The Library of Congress notes that it is not aware of any U.S. copyright or any other restrictions on the photographs in this outstanding collection.

Photo of derricks and oil barrels from Library of Congress collection.The Library of Congress American Memory collection provides free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience.

This is a digital record of our history and creativity. These materials, from the Library of Congress and other institutions, chronicle historical events, people, places, and ideas that continue to shape America — serving the public as a resource for education and lifelong learning.

The LOC’s American Memory collection includes spectacular stereoscopic views of the oil region of Pennsylvania and New York.

Circa 1914 cable-tool rig from the California Online Archives.

One of almost 300 petroleum related images from the California Online Archives, “Oil Industry in California 1911-1914,” University of California, Berkeley, Bancroft Library.

The California Online Archives documents early California history with the Bancroft Library, including 299 digital images. Use the internal search with the phrase  “Oil Industry in California 1911-1914” to get started. Thumbnails and screen-sized images are included with caption information and date when available.

University of Northern Iowa logo.The Rod Library at the University of Northern Iowa library in Cedar Falls provides an extraordinary summary page of history related website links’

The Digitized Primary American History Sources offer a wide range of rare photographs and other historical documentation. One special section, Cartoons – Images – Posters – Advertisements, offers a further breakdown of topics and sources with links to the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives and Records Administration. This is among the best places to begin for oil field photography research.

Native Americans sit at Tepees.The First State Carnegie Library was built in 1901 Guthrie, Logan County, notes this “Snap Shots from the Past” website project. This extensive site is part of the Oklahoma GenWeb project and features photographs submitted by visitors responding to the site’s request:

“Do you have an Oklahoma photo online or a photo you’d like to scan or have scanned to put online? Know of an Oklahoma event or historical site online? Send the link and we’ll add it to our ever growing list or contact us about including your photo online.”

AOGHS Support Ad 2020

The National Archives Library Information Center provides NARA staff and researchers nationwide with convenient access to content beyond the physical holdings of their two facilities in Washington, DC, and in College Park, Maryland. This site provides numerous links to information and images covering American history and government.

petroleum map of early PA oilfield at Fuller Farm..The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection has more than 17,400 maps online.

The collection includes rare 18th century and 19th century maps and other cartographic materials in resolutions which permit detailed searches. Maps are accessible through a keyword searchable database. Early Pennsylvania oil region maps and contemporary advertisements are well represented.

The Nineteenth Century in Print: Periodicals – collected by the Library of Congress – now includes 955 volumes and more than 750,000 pages from almost two dozen 19th century periodicals. Among those available in this extensive collection:

Manufacturer and Builder periodical with engine article.Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Manufacturer and Builder, Scientific American, the United States Democratic Review, and the American Missionary.

The United States Patent and Trademark Office offers full-text and full-page image databases. However, patents issued from 1790 through 1975 are searchable only by patent number, issue date, and current U.S. classifications. Attempts to search those patents by any other fields will result in an error message.

The search engine Google Patent Search is not as limited – and frequently finds surprising results – but does not include trademark information.

Steel oil derricks and a pool of oil.The New York Public Library Digital Gallery provides access to 600,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the collections of the library. The collection includes historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.

This massive oilfield photography resource includes excellent Pennsylvania oil region images from the Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.

A stream engine train rounds a corner.Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act on July 1, 1862, hoping to bind the Union’s East and West.

The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum website documents the mammoth construction efforts and features an extraordinary collection of stereoscopic views of railroad expansion across America. This website — launched in 1999 — has become a leading internet resource, welcoming its one-millionth online visitor in 2005.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (1841-1963) is archived on this site with 147,000 pages in online digital format. Newspapers can be full-text searched for keywords or accessed by date of issue — which include good quality images of text and vintage advertising.

Golden Rule Refining Company service station circa 1930.

“Golden Rule Oil Company and Blue Ribbon Gasoline,” circa 1930, courtesy of the Wichita Photo Archives, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. One of about a dozen Blue Ribbon filling stations operated by the Golden Rule Refining Company. The refinery was located in Wichita and owned by Elbert S. Rule.

The Wikipedia public domain image resource listprovides links to online sources of imagery with subheadings for history and specific periods of history. Importantly, the presence of a resource on this list does not guarantee that all or any of the images in it are in the public domain and users should verify copyright status of individual images selected.

circa 1900 cable-tool derrick.In Kansas, the Wichita Photo Archives website is maintained by the Wichita Public Library Local History Section, Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum, and Wichita State University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections. These partners provide access to materials for educational and research purposes. Downloading from this website for personal use with proper attribution of the source is permitted; however, this does not grant permission to publish. That permission must be sought separately.


The American Oil & Gas Historical Society preserves U.S. petroleum history. Become an AOGHS supporting member and help maintain this energy education website and expand historical research. For more information, contact © 2020 Bruce A. Wells.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This