The American West, 150 Years Ago

In the 1860s and 70s, photographer Timothy O'Sullivan created some of the best-known images in American History. After covering the U.S. Civil War, (many of his photos appear in this earlier series), O'Sullivan joined a number of expeditions organized by the federal government to help document the new frontiers in the American West. The teams were composed of soldiers, scientists, artists, and photographers, and tasked with discovering the best ways to take advantage of the region's untapped natural resources. O'Sullivan brought an amazing eye and work ethic, composing photographs that evoked the vastness of the West. He also documented the Native American population as well as the pioneers who were already altering the landscape. Above all, O'Sullivan captured—for the first time on film—the natural beauty of the American West in a way that would later influence Ansel Adams and thousands more photographers to come.

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty

    That Escalated Quickly: Putting the Fun in Funiculars

    Since the 1860s, these intriguing counterbalanced cable railways have been built on mountaintops for tourists, on hillsides for mines, and in cities for public transport.

  • Stephen Lam / Reuters

    The Animals of California’s Devastating Camp Fire

    Images of the pets, working animals, and wildlife that have become victims, evacuees, rescuers, and comforters after California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire

  • Josh Edelson / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Metal Bull, First Snow, Raging Wildfires

    A fireworks festival in Burma, political turmoil in Sri Lanka, starlings over Rome, an Allosaurus in Paris, wintry scenes in northern China, and much more

  • - / AFP / Getty

    Dizzying Heights: Vertical Tourism in China

    Chinese developers have opened a series of new tourist attractions in some very lofty places. Glass-bottomed bridges, cliffside walkways, observation decks, and more