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Agricultural Library Photo Collection Documents U.S. History

By Brian Norris
November 7, 1997

The original “Smokey Bear”--a bear cub that survived a New Mexico forest fire and became a renowned symbol of forest fire prevention in the 1940s--is among the 20th century “celebrities” featured in a collection of nearly 60,000 historical Forest Service photographs at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Md. Copies of the images, many dating to the turn of the century, are available for loan, and reproductions can be obtained for a fee.

NAL is the largest agricultural library in the world and is one of four national libraries of the United States, with the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine and the National Library of Education. NAL is part of the Agricultural Research Service, chief research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Forest Service Historical Photograph Collection got its start in 1898 when Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service and an avid photographer, ordered his forestry agents throughout the United States to begin taking photographs of their activities. By the time World War II began, more than 400,000 photographs had been taken for the collection. Pinchot added many of his personal photographs from the early 1900s as well. Since the war, Forest Service employees have continued the practice, adding tens of thousands of additional photographs to the record.

In addition to the original Smokey the Bear, the Forest Service collection features photographs of Theodore Roosevelt and other early 20th century notables. Also included are images of farmers, foresters, miners, cowboys, scientists, Native Americans and others who helped shape the western United States, along with pictures of railroads and towns, forests, mountain ranges, plains, mining operations, forest-related industry, plants and animals. The images are preserved and managed in NAL’s Special Collections Section.

Information on using the Forest Service photograph collection is available by contacting Special Collections, National Agricultural Library, 10301 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville, Maryland 20705-2351. The Special Collections Section can be reached by telephone at (301) 504-5876 and by e-mail at

Scientific contact: Brian Norris, National Agricultural Library, Beltsville, Md. 20705; telephone (301) 504-6778, fax (301) 504-5472, e-mail