Long before there was an Internet and social media, there were cat pictures. Here, from 1936, a cat dubbed "Brünnhilde" is photographed wearing a Wagnerian helmet and shield.
A new exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, "Not an Ostrich: And Other Images From America's Library," features pictures culled from the 14 million photographs housed at the Library of Congress, telling the story of America that is historical, cultural, political and whimsical.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Annenberg Space for Photography
Curator Anne Wilkes Tucker spent a year-and-a-half combing through pictures at the Library of Congress, narrowing them down to the approximately 450 images in the exhibit. "I wanted pictures that were engaging as pictures, even if you didn't know the back story, even if you didn't know what it was about," Wilkes Tucker told CBS News' Tracy Smith. "It made you want to ask that question, made you want to get the story."
An 1839 daguerreotype taken by Philadelphia photographer Robert Cornelius, believed to be the very first self-portrait taken in America. This early photographic process required long exposure times (from three to 15 minutes). Hold still!
A daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln, taken when he was a 37-year-old lawyer and Congressman-elect from Illinois. It's the earliest known photograph of the future 16th President of the United States.
A portrait of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, taken by Benjamin Powelson in Auburn, N.Y., after the Civil War. At great risk to herself, Tubman (who had been born into slavery) aided escaped slaves from the South via the Underground Railroad.
Watch Your Step!
The Platt Brothers, who ran a photographic studio in Washington, D.C., captured this perilous bicycle ride down the Capitol's steps in 1884.
A group portrait of lawn tennis players, taken between 1890 and 1910, by Boston photographer Charles Henry Currier.
No, You Hang Up First
In New York City, Alexander Graham Bell speaks into a telephone at the Cortland Street office of AT&T as the first New York-to-Chicago phone line is opened, on October 18, 1892. A cornetist played the "Star Spangled Banner," which was heard 950 miles away thanks to hard-drawn copper wires held up by 42,750 telephone poles. It was also announced that a five-minute call would set you back $9.
A young girl poses on a redwood tree in Felton, Santa Cruz County, Calif., July 26, 1894.
Colonel Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders are pictured at the top of the San Juan Heights, captured in the 1898 Battle of San Juan Hill, during the Spanish-American War. Photograph by war correspondent William Dinwiddie.
Apache Devil Dancers (a.k.a. Crown Dancers), possibly from the Chiricahua band, are seen wearing headdresses, masks and blankets in this 1899 photo by Katherine Taylor Dodge.
A 1902 portrait of Mary Harris Jones, a.k.a. "Mother Jones," a schoolteacher who fought against child labor, and became a prominent union organizer and cofounder of the Industrial Workers of the World. One official called her "the most dangerous woman in America."
The photographer, Bertha Howell, was a teacher who would later run for office in New York State on the Socialist Party ticket.
"First flight: 120 feet in 12 seconds, 10:35 a.m.; Kitty Hawk, North Carolina" – the rather coolly descriptive title of a picture capturing one of the most momentous achievements in human history, when Orville Wright flew in a heavier-than-air craft on December 17, 1903, his brother Wilbur running alongside.
Tied by handcuffs and chains, illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini is photographed shortly before leaping 30 feet into the Charles River in Boston in 1908. According to the Boston Globe, about 20,000 people watched as Houdini emerged from the depths 40 seconds later, holding his bonds in his hands. The feat – intended to promote his upcoming stage appearance – is commemorated today by a plaque on the Harvard Bridge.
The unusual-looking flying contraption is a tetrahedral box kite invented by Alexander Graham Bell (pictured, lower right), who took it out for a spin on July 7, 1908.
A 1913 view of New York's Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, completed 30 years prior.
This Appalachian flute player may not be music to everyone's ears, as depicted in this 1914 photograph by Clarence Purchase.
A night view, illuminated by flashlights, of Ernest Henry Shackleton's 1915 expedition to the Antarctic, where his ship, the Endurance, is stuck fast among blocks of ice in the Weddell Sea.
Otto M. Jones photographed this Idaho hunter, laden with ducks, seated on the bumper of a Hudson automobile in 1918.
The Library of Congress' archive has several hundred photographs taken by Jones, who was a journalist, game warden and prize-winning skeet shooter.
Among the most popular attractions of early silent cinema were Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties, who displayed their charms in short films and at promotional events. On April 24, 1918, they were photographed amid confetti by Nelson Frazer Evans.
A precursor to sharing ear buds: Josephine Young, of Riverside, Conn., and J.W. Elwood, of New York, demonstrate a portable radio and headphones enabling them to dance a foxtrot while on board the yacht Elettra, during a voyage to Albany, N.Y., June 26, 1922. Young, the daughter of the founder of the Radio Corporation of America, would become a writer and poet, and the first female director of RCA.
In this scene from the 1920s, hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan assemble within two miles of the U.S. Capitol, as they induct 50 candidates (kneeling in foreground) into their order. After World War I and during the Prohibition Era, membership in the Klan (which espoused nativist rhetoric and promulgated views against blacks, Jews, Catholics and immigrants) grew rapidly.
"It's a chilling picture," said curator Anne Wilkes Tucker. "I wanted all parts of our humanity" in the exhibition.
A c. 1930 photograph of an African-American man holding a violin, by Doris Ulmann, a noted portraitist of the people of Appalachia.
British stage and film actress Isla Bevan holds a prize-winning goose with fluffy, un-gooselike feathers (dubbed the "Floradora Goose") at the 41st annual Poultry Show at Madison Square Garden in New York, January 1930. The New York Times announced nearly 12,000 birds and animals would be on display at the exhibition, including the largest turkey in America, and the champion egg-layer (346 eggs per year!), from Riverside, Ill.
"That is definitely one of the silly photographs," said Wilkes Tucker. "She was not comfortable holding that bird! … Trying to look professional, but worried about that bird!"
Dorothea Lange's iconic 1936 photograph of Florence Thompson, a 32-year-old migrant farm worker and mother of seven, in Nipomo, Calif., is the most downloaded photo in the Library of Congress' archive.
"It's this mother who is exhausted and anxious, with kids literally hanging on her. Who can't identify for that person?" Wilkes Tucker said. "Forces out of her control, a situation that she wishes was otherwise, trying to think it out. It's a universal picture."
Home Away From Home
Tourist cabins imitating Indian teepees are pictured along a highway south of Bardstown, Kentucky, in July 1940.
Photographer Marion Post Wolcott, who'd felt stifled as a newspaper photojournalist being assigned to "women's interest" stories, worked for the Farm Security Administration during and after the Great Depression, capturing scenes of America that could be political, activist, and often humorous.
In 1943 Gordon Parks (who had a fellowship with the Farm Security Administration, and would go on to a successful career as a photographer, writer and filmmaker) photographed fisherman in Gloucester, Massachusetts, part of a portfolio on food production on the home front during World War II. Here, Parks captured four generations of a Gloucester, Mass., family: 97-year-old Mary Machado and her daughter, Isabell Lopez (who both hailed from the Azores Islands), with Isabell's daughter Dorothy and granddaughter Dorothy Jr. Also pictured: Dorothy's sister Irene (standing) and nephew Francis.
Photographer Bernard Gotfryd captured jazz composer and musician Thelonius Monk at the Village Gate in New York City, October 1968.
A 1970s advertisement for the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company features two members of the dance troupe in a costume sharing one leg.
Bernard Gotfryd's portrait of Jim Henson surrounded by some of his "Sesame Street" Muppets, from 1971.
Annenberg Space for Photography
Many of the photos from the Library of Congress are copyright-free, so you can download them from the loc.gov website for yourself. "It's my hope that everybody who comes here finds a picture they love, a picture that engages them, makes them laugh, may alarm them – ingrains itself in them in some way that becomes meaningful," said Wilkes Tucker.
The exhibition "Not an Ostrich: And Other Images From America's Library," will be at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles through Sept. 9, 2018.