Exploring the development of the downtown urban landscape using the General Electric Photograph Collection

Material Description

This project will digitize 36,000 images image from the GE Photograph Collection, dating from 1880-1970, focused on the impact of electrification on downtowns and the urban landscape. This includes three sections of the collection that had a direct impact on downtowns, including 20,800 street lighting photographs, 11,200 street railway images, and 4,000 photos of expositions, including World’s Fairs. Lighting installation scenes show downtown street scenes across the United States, ranging from the earliest night photographs of Times Square to the electrification of small town main streets. The exposition photographs depict World’s Fairs, ranging from the 1893 Columbian Exposition to Chicago to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Photographs of electric streetcars highlight street transportation from Korea and France to New York City and Schenectady. As the photographs show streetcars in operation, they also show the downtown scenes the cars operated in and the changes in architectural styles over time. The overall GE Photo Collection includes 1.2 million prints. The photographs were donated to the GE Hall of History in 1974, which merged with miSci (then known as Schenectady Museum), in 1997. It documents the development of one of America’s most influential corporations and the impact it had on the development of the United States. The images were created by photographers within GE’s publicity department and document the development of the electrical industry, the electrification of the United States, late 19th factory work, the development of industrial research, and the invention, improvement and marketing of a variety of home appliances.


miSci requests $121,500 to digitize and make accessible 36,000 images in the General Electric (GE) Photograph Collection focused on the urban landscape, including the street lighting, street railway, and expositions sections of the collection. The project will focus on images from 1880-1970, which document downtown public spaces and major public events. Free online access will leverage existing relationships and utilize the New York Heritage online database and Digital Public Library of America. miSci will hire two digitization technicians and three catalogers for the two years of the project. The project will take advantage of efficiencies in the both the scanning and metadata creation process. Scanning will be made efficient due to consistent image sizes and types. Project catalogers will also take advantage of pre-existing guides and templates, as well as the caption, date, and subject information included on each GE photograph to increase cataloging efficiency.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



Museum of Innovation & Science


Date Range

1880 - 1970

Geographic Scope

Street Lighting and Street Railway photographs cover the continental United States, Japan, Brazil, Great Britain, France, and small quantities from other European and Asian countries. The Exposition photographs concentrate on World's Fairs and major state or national celebrations, including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Cleveland, Washington, Brazil and others.


  • 36000 Photographs