Photograph Collection

Containing over 2.5 million images, the Photograph Collection is one of the largest regional photography collections in the United States. The collection documents the people and the environment of San Diego County from the mountains and the desert to downtown and the beaches. Images from late 19th and 20th century photographers illustrate significant developments including: how the arrival of diverse cultures changed the face of the region; the uses of water in an arid climate; Indian culture; border relationships with Mexico; air and automobile transportation; suburbanization; agriculture; recreation; and more.

The sheer size of the collection allows for in-depth examination into the changing cultural, political and social mores of our region. The nucleus of the collection is the work of several commercial photographers from 1870 through 1940. A large segment of work by three early photographers was purchased by the Union Title & Trust Insurance Company in 1945, and in 1979, the collection was transferred to the San Diego History Center. During the 1980s and 1990s the Photograph Collection expanded rapidly with the work of several 20th century photographers, and the addition of the entire collection of the San Diego Union-Tribune prior to 1981. The collection continues to grow and change yearly with the addition of contemporary images.

Please Note:  In-person Library and Research Resources are currently unavailable until further notice. While we are currently working on providing our visitors and researchers with digital access to our collections, under special circumstances, we are able to answer some questions via email or phone. Please email our Collections Department at [email protected] for any questions related to the photo collection, document archives, and 3-D object collection, which includes historic clothing, fine art, and ephemera, furniture and objects of everyday life.

The Photograph Collection is housed within the History Center’s Research Archives.
Viewing the collection, purchasing photographs and staff assistance are available on site.
For information, hours and location: Research Archives


Search the Online Catalog for historic photographs of San Diego. 
Buy historic photographs of San Diego.

Click here for Photo Order Guide

See a complete guide to the Collection. 




Finding Aids
Guide to the Union-Tribune Collection

Edward H. Davis Collection of Indian Photographs and Drawings, 1900s-1940s
Portrait of a Proud Community: Norman Baynard’s Logan Heights, 1939-1985

California Border Region Digitization Project – Calisphere
California Border Region Digitization Project – OAC
California Explores the Ocean

San Diego Photographers 1874-1964

San Diegans and their automobiles
Early San Diego theaters
Photographs by Antony di Gesu of prominent San Diegans and others
San Diego sports
Motorcycles in early San Diego
Donal Hord, complete works of San Diego’s sculptor
San Diego diners from 1947
Early San Diego breweries
San Diego’s historic streetcars
Early San Diego amusement parks
Photographs by Ralph P. Stineman, 1910-1915
Photographs of Native Americans by Edward H. Davis
San Diego cityscape, early photos of San Diego’s skyline


NOTE: Images in the Postcard and View Cards sections are for research only. A number of the postcards in this virtual collection have been shared with the History Center and are not our property. Many of these images are not available for reproduction. Enjoy viewing the digital images.

Old postcards from San Diego’s many communities
Postcard views of the El Cortez Hotel
Panama-California Exposition, 1915-1916
California Pacific Exposition, 1935-1936

California Missions
Construction of flume brings water to San Diego
Downtown San Diego
Indians near Warner Springs
People of San Diego
Ranches of San Diego County
Rural San Diego
San Diego County Hotels
Schoolchildren 100 years ago
Ships in early San Diego harbor
Stereoscopic views of San Diego, 1870 – 1935

NOTE: The images on this website may not be downloaded, copied or used for any purpose without written permission. They are not free and they are not clip art. Please contact us for reproductions: collections@sandiegohistory org

To obtain reproduction rights and prices: Access Fees (pdf) – Production Fees (pdf) — Reproduction Order Form (pdf) or contact the Photograph Collection at [email protected].

Use of this website constitutes agreement with the above.