Rediscover Historical Imagery in Google Earth 6

Friday, December 3, 2010 at 1:35 PM


Historical imagery is one of the most powerful features of Google Earth, enabling you to go back in time and browse the visual historical record of our planet - from the evolution and rise of developing communities to the destruction caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and fires. With Google Earth 6, we’ve made it easier than ever to discover historical imagery. In addition to streamlining the timeline interface, we’ve added a date button to the status bar to notify you of past imagery that you might be interested in exploring. So now, when you zoom in on a location in our latest version of Google Earth, the button will appear highlighting specific years. Clicking it enables historical imagery and takes you back to the year you selected. For instance, when I zoom in on the headquarters of a certain company with a fruit namesake nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, Google Earth suggests imagery from 1948. Clicking the date button reveals the fruit tree orchards that used to inhabit that very location. I wonder if they were apple trees.

Google Earth 6 suggests historical imagery to explore, e.g. of Silicon Valley in 1948

In the almost two years that historical imagery has been available, we have captured several moments of cultural significance, such as the inauguration of the first African American President of the United States, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the transformation of South Africa in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Washington D.C., January 20, 2009. Can you spot where the jumbotrons were installed?

But the feature is more than just what historians deem significant. We built the historical imagery database to enable anyone to see and tell their own personal history. A great example comes from fellow historical imagery engineer Reuel Nash:

In 1979, my wife and I spent the first night of our marriage in a hotel at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. It was still there in 1995, which you can see in Google Earth. The hotel and the surrounding area has since been replaced by Terminal D. You can see the terminal construction (and destruction of the hotel) literally from the ground up using historical imagery.

The construction of Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

We have a vast amount of data in our historical imagery archive, so you’ll be able to tell your own personal stories by browsing those places that are special to you. In fact, we have more square miles of high resolution imagery in our historical imagery archive than in our default view. In the coming years, we look forward to expanding this imagery collection even further. Visit the Historical Imagery Showcase to watch video tours of cities with imagery dating as far back as 1940.


Posted by Chris Co, Google Earth Software Engineer