There wasn't a lot of Google-Earthing back in those days.

What are garden-variety aerial images today took a lot more time and effort to capture nearly 100 years ago. And those with an interest in Missoula and western Montana history are bound to appreciate, admire and respect this exhibit.


UM News Service tells us that some of the state’s earliest known aerial photography now is available online courtesy of the University of Montana Mansfield Library. The images are part of a massive collection taken by the U.S. Forest Service. They have been held in the library’s Archives and Special Collections department. So far UM has made about 3,500 images available that now can be viewed online.

Missoula Montana
Image courtesy of UM News Service

The focus of the current images that can be viewed is on the 1930s, such as the above image of Missoula from 1937 showing an island in the Clark Fork River that today is Caras Park. The photographs are of land in the U.S. Forest Service Northern Region, which includes a significant amount of western Montana and northern Idaho.

UM News says the Forest Service originally used the photographs to assist with creating maps and conducting timber surveys. Much more far-reaching these days, they are used for a variety of purposes, including environmental studies, land-use planning and historic preservation.

attachment-Aerial Archives 2


Remember, we're talking mostly about the 1930s here. Professor Donna McCrea, head of  Archives at the Mansfield Library, says that the format of the images was 9-by-9-inch negatives on reels of film, each containing 200 to 600 images. That made providing access to them challenging. It took a lot of ingenuity and some whip-smart UM students volunteering their time.

Professor McCrea said the library had to custom build a platform to safely hold the film reels as the images were being scanned. And the project got an early boost two years ago with a $10,000 grant from the Foundation for Montana History, which funded a part-time project manager.

A pretty cool way to look back in time!

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