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Finding Copyright-Free Images: Historical Photographs

This guide will help you to identify and use images that are not subject to copyright.


Carlos Delgado, Lynx, 2013, via Wikimedia Commons

Political Cartoons in the Public Domain

The expression "a picture is worth a thousand words" can often be applied to political cartoons.  These sites contain political cartoons in the public domain.

  • Political Cartoons: Seriously funny.  The Library of Congress offers thousands of political cartoons from across centuries of U.S. and European history online. Searching the Library’s Prints and Photographs Catalog is an excellent way to begin.
  • The Opper Project: Using Editorial Cartoons to teach History "The Opper Project, named after Ohioan Frederick Burr Opper, the first great American-born cartoonist, is an on-line collection of historic editorial cartoons. Covering more than one hundred years of American history, the cartoons are organized topically with associated lesson plans."
  • provides lists of editorial cartoonists in several catagories. A collection of cartoons by many of these artists is available and updated daily. You can even send someone an e-greeting card with the cartoon of your choice on it! You can link to the cartoonists' websites and get the email addresses of those without websites. Lesson plans are available in the Teacher's Guide, for using the cartoons in the classroom.

Finding Usable Images

The following sites are great sources of copyright-free  images:

  • Getty Open Content: Public domain art images from Getty collections.

  • Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online: Images from the Library of Congress, now in the public domain.

  • Wikimedia Commons: Historical and contemporary images contributed by participants. Millions of high-resolution images of art, architecture, design, people, historical events, diagrams, maps, and more.

  • World Images: Primarily historical images organized into 18 categories, including Women, Science, Cities, Natural World, Science, and more.

  • NGA Images - National Gallery of Art: Includes more than 20,000 open access digital images, available free of charge for download and use

  • Extensive website containing free eBooks, images, video, audio, and other media to view and download. Also includes the Internet Wayback Machine, for accessing archived, past versions of websites.

  • The Commons by Flickr: Images from archives, museums, libraries and research centers such as the New York Public Library, Smithsonian, Library of Congress and Getty Research Institute. The images have no known copyright restrictions.

  • Photo Graphic Libraries: Public Domain Images: Provides links to public domain and free image collections, film & video available for use in the public domain

  • Yale University Digital Commons: Yale's digital collections, including images from the Peabody Museum, Center for British Art, University Art Gallery, Library Map Collection, and Walpole Library Prints and Drawings. Item records clearly indicate when an object/image is public domain material and available for open access and use without license fees.