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About the Photos

Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • CARNIVAL OF THE ARTS, 1937

Analog Memory: 1925

Analog Memory: 1925

July 16, 1925. "U.S. Patent Office files." Harris & Ewing glass neg. View full size.

 

American Art Museum, too

Renovated and reopened in 2006, it is the National Portrait Gallery, but shares space with the American Art Museum. The art collection is great and the space is beautiful -- looks very similar to the structure as pictured here. The upper floor are the Luce Foundation Center and Visible Conservation Center. Really cool.

http://www.npg.si.edu/inform/renovation.htm

"The Smithsonian American Art Museum's Luce Foundation Center for American Art accommodates 5,000 artworks, densely installed in secure glass cases for public viewing in the third floor in the west wing."

Paper mountains

The USPTO now receives close to 500,000 patent applications each year. Imagine storing all that in paper form. In 1960, arguably the dawn of computer storage, that number was under 80,000. Interestingly, your patent stood a much better chance of being approved in the old days.

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/ac/ido/oeip/taf/h_counts.htm

National Portrait Gallery

That shot sure looks similar to the interior of the National Portrait Gallery. Did the Patent Office later become the National Portrait Gallery?

[In 1968. - Dave]

Fire Protection

Note the modern sprinkler system above and the four fire extinguishers at the end of the stacks. The Patent Office had clearly learned from the Great Patent Fire of 1836 and was taking no chances.

Not the "Paperless Office"

The man looking over the railing at the vast archive is, perhaps, dreaming of it. "Someday, I'll put all of this stuff on a few little electronic storage devices, no larger than a cigar box, and then they won't laugh at me any more!"

This photo reminds me of Franz Kafka's descriptions, in his novel "Amerika," of enormous record-keeping operations in which the employees had no idea at all what the larger enterprise was about. Not that they cared, or even had to know, as long as they got paid, and could go back to their attic rooms and get drunk and gamble on their time off. Then it was right back to work before dawn!

All those great ideas

Row upon row, shelf upon shelf of file folders and books, each of them containing ideas that some individual thought was so brilliant, it was worth telling the federal government about so that no one else could steal it.

The highest patent number I see indexed on the ends of the shelves is 1,234,039. Just think, over a million ideas committed to paper (and of course, there are millions more today). There's something about it that boggles the mind.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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