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Illinois Historical Aerial Photography 1937-1947

Statewide aerial photographs were first acquired for Illinois from 1937 through 1947. This collection history gives details about the approximately 33,500 photographic paper prints that were scanned. The original silver nitrate film negatives were purposefully destroyed by the National Archives in the early 1980s due to deterioration and instability. An attempt to copy the negatives prior to their desctruction resulted in a very poor quality replacement. Due to this fact the original photographic prints are now the best substitute for the negatives. Use of the paper prints over time has resulted in their becoming faded, worn, defaced, or lost. Access to these print collections is becoming increasingly restricted.

Digitization, or print scanning, has been completed for statewide coverage of Illinois in an effort to create a lasting archive of this irreplaceable collection. The individual aerial photographs distributed here have not been georeferenced. Adjacent aerial photographs can be used for stereoscopic viewing in most areas of the state (except portions of Carroll, Piatt and Stephenson Counties).

Data Distribution

JPEG File Format

This format is a compressed file with the following file extension .jpg. The original TIFF format files were compressed using Adobe Photoshop CS4 and their Quality setting was set to 10. The average file size is approximately 7.25 megabytes for 7x9 inch photos and 9.25 megabytes for 9x9 inch photos. These files should open in most browsers as they are an open source file format. These files have not been georeferneced.

TIFF File Format

This format is a full resolution file format with the following file extension .tif. These are the original uncompresed files. They were scanned at 750dpi on a Crosfield Drum scanner. The average file size is approximately 36.5 megabytes for 7x9 inch photos and 47.5 megabytes for 9x9 inch photos. These files require a browser plugin to be viewed online. Many software programs will be able to view the images once they are downloaded. These files have not been georeferneced.

Data Re-Distribution

Please read the license agreement. This link also provides citation information.

View or Download Images

Illinois Historical Aerial Photographs are available free-of-charge via:
a list of counties (102 counties) for data viewing or download of all file formats, or
an interactive map (102 counties) for data viewing or download of all file formats.

If you have any trouble with the interactive map please contact  Dee Lund. Instructions for the map will be added soon.

* The final version of all of the metadata standards will be available soon. Meanwhile here are the 2010 metadata files... contains the following:
  • ilhap_gen, overall metadata for the county aerial photograph collections.
  • ilhap_nav, generic metadata for the county index data layers.
  • l_index, metadata for the schematic (line) indexes.
  • p_index, metadata for the photo mosaic indexes.
Metadata standards: FGDC, Dublin Core, and MARC.

File indexes:
Index data shapefiles and photograph and/or line index images are available for each county.

ExpressView Browser Plugin from LizardTech allows you to view .sid files. Please note Google Chrome does not support this plugin.

File Naming Conventions

Historically, photographs were taken in discreet collections by county. Labels were stamped on each aerial photograph; the annotation information contained film roll number and exposure number. Naming conventions for the digital files include codes for county, film roll number, and exposure number; zeros are used as placeholders. Flight line information is not included in the digital file-naming conventions or the original stamped labels.

Example: The file named 0bwq04063.sid is labeled 4-63 on the photograph.
County Code:0bwqBWQ = Cook County
Roll Number:04Roll 4 of Cook County
Exposure Number:063Exposure 63 of Roll 4

Project Support for Data Distribution

Project funding was contributed by: Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Illinois Department of Transportation, IDNR Office of Resource Conservation, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Library, Illinois Waste Magagement Research Center, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Jo Daviess County Soil and Water Conservation District, Lake County, Illinois, US Army Corps of Engineers, and Winnebago County GIS.