The Library of Congress is among the largest libraries in the world. Founded in 1800, it is also the oldest federal cultural institution in the US. The Library of Congress—also known as the LOC—is made up of millions of books, films, newspapers, photographs, and more, which preserve the history of our country as well as other countries around the world.
The photos collected by the LOC offer snippets of life in years gone by, whether officially commissioned or comically candid. Fortunately, many are available to view digitally on the LOC’s website. For those interested in what the collection has to offer, we’ve put together a list of the 11 best photos from the Library of Congress.
Portrait of Billie Holiday
This stunning portrait of Billie Holiday was taken in New York City in February of 1947. It was taken by a photographer named William P. Gottlieb as part of a larger collection of portraits of famous jazz singers of the time. Club Downbeat, where Holiday was performing, was a legendary jazz bar which saw iconic performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillepsie.
An American soldier in Sicily
Can you spot the resemblance? This photo from 1943 depicts a young American soldier from Milwaukee, Wisconsin enjoying an ice cream reunion with relatives he had found while deployed in Palermo, Sicily.
Tennis star Althea Gibson gives some pointers on the game
In 1956, Althea Gibson became the first Black tennis player to win a Grand Slam title. This photo, taken the following year, shows Gibson leading a tennis clinic made up of over 500 students at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, New York. This image shows 11 young female athletes watch with rapt attention as Gibson demonstrates a tennis grip.
Tony, a small Shetland pony and lightweight champion
You’ve probably heard of boxing kangaroos, but did you know there are other animals capable of entering the ring? This is a photo of Tony, a small Shetland pony, throwing some punches at Veterinary Department U.S. Quartermaster Corps, Albert Walker. Tony was the lightweight champion of his stable, and was the beloved pet of a nine-year-old girl named Edna Van Duyne.
Monitoring women's beachwear
While nowadays plenty of women enjoy sunbathing in two-piece bikini sets, this photo from 1922 is a good example of what female beachwear used to look like. Not only were women required to wear modest, skirted swimsuits which covered the chest, thighs, and midsection, but the swim skirts were also not permitted to be more than six inches above the knee. The two bathing ladies in this photo stand together as the beach officer pulls out a measuring tape to ensure their swimwear is within guidelines.
Getting the perfect shot of the Grand Canyon
Dedicated photographers will do anything to get the shot, as depicted in this image of a photographer dangling from a climber’s rope in the Grand Canyon. The photo of this precarious setup was taken in 1908.
Brünnhilde the cat
This photo, titled Brünnhilde, shows the unexpected side view of a cat wearing armor and a winged headplate while posing to mimic the character Valkyrie Brünnhilde from the Richard Wagner opera, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Whimsical and adorable, this is one of the most popular photos in the Library!
Riveter at work on a bomber
During World War II, so many men had been drafted into the army that women needed to take on traditionally male-dominated careers in order to keep weapons, airplanes, and automobiles ready to go for those at the front lines. This 1942 photo shows a young woman drilling the rivets on a Consolidated bomber airplane.
Mulberry Street, New York City
This photo of Mulberry Street in New York City depicts what the now-modernized street looked like once upon a time, around the turn of the century. Before there were traffic lights and swanky restaurants, this street located in the heart of Little Italy hosted open-air markets which were accessible by foot or horse-drawn carriage.
Dog enjoying a car ride
Everyone knows that dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows to enjoy the many sights, sounds, and smells of the places passing by. This photo from 1910 depicts a dog enjoying a fully open-air ride in an early automobile alongside its chic owner.
World Trade Center
This powerful image, taken in 1976 by American photographer Balthazar Korab, depicts the original Twin Towers standing tall over the Hudson River. The beautiful twilight setting and sparkling lights of the surrounding buildings create a striking image to remember the Towers by when viewing this photo in a post-9/11 world.