Illinois Historic Aerial Photographs, 1936-1941

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Listed in Illinois, Land Records, Photographs


“On May 12, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Agricultural Adjustment Act. This law was originally administered by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Adjustment Administration (USDA-AAA), and today the USDA-AAA is known as the USDA Farm Service Agency. Since the mid 1930s, the USDA-AAA and subsequently the USDA-FSA have periodically acquired nationwide aerial photography. Acquired on a county-by-county basis, this aerial photography was first used by the USDA to assess the nation’s agricultural lands by estimating cropland acreages from measurements taken on the photographs. USDA-AAA aerial photography also served as the basis for the first national soil surveys. In Illinois, first-time statewide coverage of USDA-AAA aerial photography was achieved between 1936-1941. This aerial photography is widely recognized in Illinois as a unique resource that represents the earliest photographic record of the cultural and physical landscape features of the entire state. It is intensively used by government agencies, surveyors, planners, consulting scientists and engineers, and other individuals for diverse purposes ranging from determination of past land uses to providing the basis for needs assessment studies in ecological restoration. In Illinois, this USDA photography between the years of 1936-1941, is estimated to be 33,066 photographs. When the original 9″-x 9″-and 7″-x 9″-cellulose nitrate film negatives for these photographs were deemed a fire hazard, they were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration in the 1960s and eventually destroyed, and high-quality photographic paper prints remain as the only physical record. Public access and continual use of library print collections for several decades has resulted in a significant number of the photographs becoming defaced, faded, worn, or lost. The Illinois State Library (ISL), the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS), and other libraries have collaborated on scanning these photographs in order to complete a digital archive that will provide a comprehensive photographic record of the early twentieth century for the entire state.”

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