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What The World’s Most Heavily Guarded Photo Archive Looks Like

30 Mar 2023 8:36 AM | Anonymous

If you travel about 51 miles north of Pittsburgh and go 220 feet underground, past armed guards, you’ll find the Bettmann Archive. If you’re somewhat familiar with the world of photojournalism, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of this renowned archive that's managed by Getty Images. Preserving around 11 million images, the archive is a visual record of many of the world’s most important historical events since the invention of the camera in the early 1800s.

The Bettmann Archive was started by Otto Bettmann, a curator living in Nazi-occupied Germany, where he worked as the curator of rare books at the Prussian State Art Library in Berlin. Known to many as “The Picture Man,” Bettmann was dismissed from his position after Adolf Hitler took power and forced Jewish people out of civil service jobs. When he fled Germany for the United States in 1935, Bettmann “virtually invented the image resource business,” according to the archive’s former owner and now-defunct image licensing giant Corbis. When he arrived, he had just two trunks filled with old photo prints, which is what humbly began the now-vast archive that still bears his name. 

Over the next few decades, with his encyclopedic knowledge of historical visuals, Bettmann figured out a cunning business, licensing images he amassed to editorial and advertising clients. Charles Clyde Ebbets’s “Lunch Atop a Skyscraper,” the Apollo 11 moon landing, Malcolm X meeting Martin Luther King Jr., the Hindenburg’s explosion, and a young Queen Elizabeth II (posing with one of her corgis) is only a small taste of the archive’s famous images.

When he was 78, he spoke of his relationship with clients, telling the New York Times, “Instead of visual cliches, I provided them with a graphic shorthand that illuminates the present by revealing the past, preferably with humor.”

You can read more (and view dozens of historic photographs) in the BuzzFeed News web site at:


  • 31 Mar 2023 7:25 PM | Anonymous
    That area of Butler County PA has several underground former limestone mines that are excellent for storage. My former company had records there for years and when records were recalled they were always in excellent shape.
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