Here’s a great historic photography archive. PhillyHistory, at http://www.phillyhistory.org/, currently features only 25,000 images of Philadelphia dating back to the 1800s, with more images coming at the rate of 2000 a month.
From the front page you can search by street address or by neighborhood, but not by search term. From the search page you can do a keyword search or narrow it by year. A simple search for billboard found eight results, five to a page. Results include a thumbnail as well as a brief caption and description of the page.
The detail pages are terrific; they have a much larger picture and — this is the neat part — a map of the neighborhood and the place where the picture was taken. On the detail page you also have the option to buy glossies of the pictures — the one I looked at was $10 for a 5×7 and $20 and 8×10. On all the searches I tried I got results that spanned several decades except the search for fire; that one found several pictures of fireworks for one particular year.
I found when I did some simple keyword searching that not all words would get me many results. Results for car and truck were pretty disappointing; factory actually had no results. However street brought over 200 results. Do some experimenting here.
In addition to the archived photographs this site also has a Historic Streets Index (search by name) as well as a nice Philadelphia-oriented link list and a blog. Plenty to see here, but you might have to try several different search terms.
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