About the SFMTA Photo Dept. & Archive

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Research San Francisco transportation photos back to 1903 on the SFMTA Photo webpage. 
Read about our city's transportation history on our History in Motion blog.  
Explore Muni ephemera and motion picture films from SFMTA Photo digitized through the CA State Library.


Department History

The SFMTA Photography Department traces its origins back to 1903 and the hiring of a photographer by the United Railroads of San Francisco Company to document the company’s assets and operations. Beginning at that moment, a lineage of photographers has been employed by San Francisco transit agencies to present day.

Photographers working for United Railroads Co., Market Street Railway Co., the SF Municipal Railway (Muni), and the SFMTA have captured images of transportation in San Francisco from streets and intersections to vehicles, facilities and people. As the years progressed and staff photographers retired or transit agencies merged, each photographer's work was passed on to the next, creating one of the largest collections of images focused on transportation in San Francisco.


Preservation Work

Through the years, staff photographers performed some treatments to ensure the long-term survival of previous generations of photo work. Since the department was a working photo lab generating new materials daily, most of these early interventions were stop-gap measures to prevent major damage to the collection.

By the early 2000s, it was clear that this one-hundred-year-old collection was in need of more substantial archival treatment and staff photographers identified goals and funding to begin preservation work and create the SFMTA Photo Archive. As of 2018, over 95% of the images taken between 1903 and 1978 have been digitized and moved to improved long-term storage conditions. Today the SFMTA has an ongoing commitment to preserving our historic photo resources and archiving and preservation work continues.

For further information about the SFMTA Photo Archive program see the SFMTA Photo Use & Search Tips document, which contains more on the content and origins of the collections, performing research, obtaining digital copies of images, and materials that still remain to-be-digitized.


Using Images

Before using images please review the full image use policy: SFMTA Photo Use & Search Tips

  • SFMTA Staff, Other Gov. Agencies & Non-Profits: SFMTA Photo images are available for use by any SFMTA staff member for work purposes. Employees of other SF City and County departments, government agencies, and non-profit organizations are also welcome to use images for their work. Please Contact Us to inquire about signing up for a staff account to access photos.
  • General Public: Free copies of digitized historic photos from the archives are available upon request for non-profit uses at a maximum size of 1200 pixels along the long edge at 300 ppi. Images are available for non-commercial use and should not be sold, merchandised, or used for advertising or endorsement. More information about our image use policy can be found in the document SFMTA Photo Use & Search Tips.
  • Media: SFMTA Media Relations handles all media inquiries, including stories requesting to use SFMTA photographs. Visit the SFMTA Press Center to contact Media Relations.

Crediting Images

When used outside of SFMTA work, please cite all images with:

SFMTA Photo | SFMTA.com/Photo


How to Search for Images

The online photo collection at SFMTA.com/Photo has a keyword search function available by selecting ‘Search for Photos’ from the top page navigation bar and then entering keywords in the search field, marked by a magnifying glass symbol. SFMTA staff should be logged in with their accounts to get full use of the search. 

If you are having difficulty locating photos through the keyword search, try reviewing the search tips in the SFMTA Photo Use & Search Tips document.


Thank you!

SFMTA Photo could not have established its archival digitization and preservation practices without the help of many people over the years. Immeasurable gratitude is due to the SF Historic Preservation Fund Commission, the Bland Foundation, the Western Railway Museum / Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, the SF Railway Museum / Market Street Railway, Western Neighborhoods Project / OpenSFHistory, the SF Public Library; photographers Carmen Magana, Heather Moran, and Katherine Du Tiel; and long-time friends and dedicated volunteers Emiliano Echeverria, Grant Ute, Bob Callwell, and Angelo Figone.


A collage of several views of San Francisco transit over the years, including modern streetcars and historic scenes of downtown and the cable car barn.