Google Earth 5 – Historical Imagery

[UPDATED] Google already had more satellite and aerial imagery available for free than anyone. Now, they’ve added a new feature to new Google Earth 5 that let’s you turn back the clock and see other imagery they have for locations around the world. Click on the little “Clock” icon in the upper middle (or the “View->Historical Imagery” menu item). A time slider appears (see below) showing available imagery. If other imagery is available in your current view, you see little tic marks on the slider. Drag the slider (or click the left/right buttons) to see earlier or (or even newer) imagery.

Historical Time Slider in Google Earth 5

For example, here’s a shot of the famous “Bird’s Nest” stadium from the 2008 Beijing Olympics as it appeared under construction on February 17, 2007:
Historical Image of Beijing Bird's Nest Stadium in Google Earth 5

And, here is a video showing this all in action:

This feature is amazing! The amount of data Google is storing must be immense! Several instances of imagery for millions of square kilometers! You may be able to see how your house changed over the years, or see aerial pictures of cities from decades ago. Expect to see lots of posts on this new feature.
[UPDATE: Google has put up their own post with examples of historical imagery in action.]

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. the new “show historical imagery” feature is awesome!
    in many places i checked there’s footage online more recent than the one shown in default mode! i don;t understand why google would not pack the most recent good footage into the default view within GE???
    for law enforcement it will make it easy to see when & what was going on @ certain locations…
    example: just check out this location:
    this is about the site in mexico (BC) where many people were put into acid by cartel memebers in order to get rid of them. the GE footage clearly shows that all the horror went down within the last 12 months, not earlier! the greyish dots are grave sites! bodies were put into underground acid baths and after 2-3 days taken out, the remains buried on site… (only dentals are left after 2-3 days!)

  2. >”This feature is amazing! The amount of data Google is storing must be immense!”
    Gosh Frank… Yes, google has a lot of data. That’s one of those things that everyone has known for a long time. It’s good to know you continue to be “amazed” by this.

  3. Anderson: i think the reaction is quite common, i think the same way frank does… most companies try to streamline and only deliver the necessary… the step google has taken to make it possible for EVERYBODY to access ALL the available footage to them is quite “frank”ly extraordinary…! i think the same way about street view which is in it’s infancy on a global scale… there’s a well it would be nice to see the historic feature, since google has had already several updates, for example in the bay area region in california.
    and youtube as well, there the video footage is kept in orignal codec, flash codec and h264/mpeg4 codec! only google does that! i hope youtube get the HDTV feature out to everyone and not just to certain channels in time and the “download video” feature is a must as well…

  4. awesome! Frank – i did recorded a quick tour of Centennial Campus in Raleigh, near to where you are. I uploaded the KMZ here
    what tool do you use to screen-scrape or record your sessions directly as videos?
    It would be awesome if Google Earth would allow you to record and export videos directly….

  5. I think Google is collecting more data than it originally stored and collected for Google Earth.
    For instance, I was able to view an area of San Francisco from 1948 onward. I highly doubt Google started using this imagery the very first time it covered the area. I wouldn’t be surprised if Google is collecting historical aerial data throughout the 20th century. Note to Google: I recommend Natural Resources Canada as a resource for historical imagery of almost all of Canada that dates back to the 20s. They take aerial photos every couple of years throughout the country. They are like a Canadian version of USGS maybe. This is a good resource!
    Better than Digital Globe anyway.

  6. @Joe L.: When I play back your Centennial Campus tour all it does is fly me over the campus. Did you tour around? It’s not playing back for me.

  7. Joe L.: only GE pro can record video of tours…
    there are tools to record your desktop, for mac there’s iShowU, a very good tool that is capable of recording HD resolution and the system source audio, or you can add a voice over if you wish;-)
    there are apps like iShowU (mac only) for PC/Windose… even though they won;t be as slick;-)

  8. Potentially fascinating – but two observations
    – not all previous imagery appears to be available, for example I was hoping to recapture the excellent high resolution imagery of London more recently replaced by grainy mid winter images with lots of shadow, but they are not there. Is this because the slider has a standard four section calibration?
    – dates of imagery seem to have gone from the bottom bar, not accurately replaced by the slider information, thus losing a very useful recent addition.

  9. Joe’s kml tour works for me, I opened it up while in Historic Imagery mode and started the tour.

  10. imagery date now shows at left in status bar as in: “Imagery Date: Jun 17, 2004”. Before it was just a date displayed between middle and right edge.

  11. This is teriffic! I am over the moon with this. This has been on the top of my most wanted list for new features in GE for a long time. And as a added bonus for me, I can see newer imagery of Melbourne now. The default imagery layer is super-high res plane flown imagery taken in February 06, but now I can access satellite obtained high quality imagery from January 2008! So it is a huge benefit to me this feature. Thanks Google!

  12. Matt – when you open my KMZ, does it include audio too?
    Frank – I recorded a “tour through time”, by focusing on Centennial Campus and changing the historical timer from 1993 to the present, but not changing the location or zoom.
    When I open the KMZ from my own website, it plays the audio and time just like it does when I play it locally.
    I created another for the Raleigh area, and one of the World Trade Center

  13. I concur with Chris. Browsing around Novosibirsk, Russia, I wasn’t able to access some of the imagery that used to be in Google Earth prior to an old update a while back. This is a cool feature but it either isn’t fully up and running or it does have some major drawbacks.

  14. before there was NO or the wrong date displayed, maybe in the Pro version it was different, but in the reg. or plus version the year/date was in most cases misleading…
    now the date/year is very precise and seems to be correct info!

  15. example:
    4.3 on my hometown: year 2009, footage really is from 2000:
    5.0 on same location:

  16. @Sean O’Connor et al
    Occasiaonly imagry is withdrawn because of (for example) licensing issues. Or Google drops one imagery provider where it can get overall better data elsewhere (but possibly at the expense of some of the data) etc. So only data it still has a licence to display will be available in the time machine -not nesserially all data that was available at some point.
    Your arrow is pointing at the copyright year, which in most cases is just current year. Its the same in v5, its not meant to be correct.
    Note in your screenshot the ‘2000’ between elevation and Eye Alt, that was the imagry date!!!!

  17. Barry: Your observation that smokeonit missed the actual imagery date ’cause it was just “2000” on the status bar, points to why they now display “Imagery date:” and the full date. It was easy to miss before. I know I had at one point.

  18. Two comments:
    For those who think imagery is missing: Before you make a judgement, make sure you go check the slider fully. Although no marks may show up, you might still be able to back up. LONDON, in fact, has quite a lot of imagery available. In fact there’s two good aerial sets from 1999 and 2003, although the 1999 set is not complete. Sometimes it helps to see the marks if you pull back a little in altitude.
    Second comment:
    IMPORTANT, PLACEMARKS REMEMBER THE HISTORICAL IMAGE. I have not seen this mentioned ANYWHERE. Any placemark created on the ‘default’ of the most current image will just stick with that. However, set the historical image and do a snapshot. Voila! HERE IS SOMETHING IMPORTANT, THOUGH! Google Earth tracks how far zoomed you are. If you are zoomed in too far when you go to the placemark you’ll see the slider locate the right date, but the image won’t update. If this happens try pulling back in altitude and taking a new snapshot and try it again.
    Also, as a post-script, absolutely there’s new imagery and plenty of it. Las Vegas in 1977 was rather amusing. πŸ™‚ There are also other areas I’ve found with a new older satellite image that was never in the database previously.

  19. Barry Hunter: thank you for pointing that out to me!!! i really appreciate it!
    i use/d GE quite a bit, and even today i missed it!!! i think many people overlooked it!

  20. Date of imagery – thanks Ernie, yes, it does appear in a new position on the left hand side of the status bar, but seems to be less stable than previously, often not displaying after zooming within the bounds of a particular set of imagery.
    LONDON – thanks Munden, yes there are five sets of imagery for all or part of London, but not the second most recent very high resolution imagery, and its absence must be explained by the loss of a licence. No problem with tracking changes, just disappointed not to be able to recapture the best imagery.

  21. I have a problem with GE5, it seems to mix tiles from various zoom levels.
    Look here:
    Anyone else experiencing this?
    It was a fresh install of 5 as I only just formatted and reinstalled Windows the other day.

  22. Chris, ah! Sorry about that. I misread what you said about the problem. My apologies. πŸ™‚

  23. brendan, that’s a very odd effect. The first thing I would try is going to Tools->Options and on the 3D View tab (first one) swap to use OpenGL if you’re on DirectX or swap to DirectX if you’re using OpenGL and see if that helps. If that doesn’t help, I’d try looking in the support groups for anyone with a similar problem.
    I just checked and could find nothing yet, but it might be worth asking there too anyway.

  24. brendan: looks like a GFX-card problem…

  25. It’s really cool to look at the progress of Boston’s Big Dig project, both the tunnel at the airport and the moving of the Central Artery from above ground level to below ground level. The construction of the new bridge is visible, but what’s MORE amazing is that you can see the deconstruction of the original bridge while still in progress! And with the current imagery, you can see the beautiful result of decades of hard work.
    A lot of the malls around Boston (notably the former Natick Mall, now Natick Collection) can be seen in their original, unexpanded forms, and the former Methuen Mall before it was imploded. It may just be my little shopping geek inside me, but I find it fun using the timeline to document the development and expansion of a mall and the strip malls/superstores popping up around it.
    And the final thing I have to mention is that the oldest image viewable in the new feature the Washington D.C., presumably taken from an airplane, taken in 1949.

  26. Thanks guys!
    Switching the video mode did the trick, not sure why I didn’t try that straight away!

    Chris – you should be able to dive under the sea surface, say, off the Arran Isles, it’s just that GE have put hardly any under sea ‘terrain’ on the shallower parts of the continental shelf, so you just float along in a featureless pale blue world. But hopefully more terrain will come, given its importance to shipping.
    Manchester in the apparently most recent images (2005) seems under a grey blanket, and resolution is poor, so I for one am glad that the older but netter quality images are the default.

  28. I was appalled when touring the new Ocean with my my son. Ocean included information about surf spots in the new Google Ocean. We looked at several places around the world and Google is linking directly to unmoderated profanity. This is not the kind of research I’d like my son doing. I am looking for a way to turn it off. I am sure there are other parents that feel the same way.
    When researching information about the beaches, Google sends him directly to pages containing obscene and ignorant comments that seem almost threatening in some cases.
    I tried google search on the site that Ocean is pointing to ( and found it returned hundreds of pages of vulgar language on its “surf spots” around the world.
    Does anyone know how to disable this section of Google Ocean? Is there a parental control setting?

  29. Finally!
    And with no replies to this, I was beginning to think no one was listening to me πŸ˜‰

  30. That’s maybe the best feature in many months! I think Google Earth will became serious addiction to many of us soon, in extent never seen before! I am already using GE in my business, so time management on web is becoming my nightmare…

  31. “latest” imagery may not in fact be the latest.
    The default imagery you see of my town is in fact 2000, but if you use the “historical imagery” bar you can see the 2005 later imagery.
    It would seem that GE uses the 2000 imagery because it is at a higher resolution then the 2005 pics.

  32. If you pull back to Earth view, it seems the oldest day is Dec 1940 but I can’t figure out where that image actually is.
    Las vegas has a pic going back to 1950…. pretty cool!

  33. I would like to view some oldest satellite image of the earth like 1960.

  34. Nolan Owens says

    For the next edition of Google Earth, they should also add future imagery of what the world would look like in 2011, 2020, 2030, etc. I would appreciate it if they include it into Google Earth.

  35. How do I get the imagery date to show up in the bottom left corner.

  36. i think ive found the oldest image
    in google earth 5.1 you can see it goes WAY back to 1935, omg. Anyway while i was looking for that image, i stumbled across the image in Warsaw, OMG any way heres a link to the picture [img][/img]

  37. (Name not required) says

    I think that I just found the OLDEST IMAGE on google earth. Search Linwood, Ontario. the oldest image date for that is 1930!

  38. The Google Earth history is a great tool to see how cities are developing. I looked at how office towers and condo buildings are building up in Toronto. It makes me cautious of buying a condo for the view. Many times the view from one condo building gets obstructed by another tower that’s built a few years later.

  39. A while ago, I had what I thought was the oldest images from 1940 taken right on the border of California. Search South Lake Tahoe, CA, and you can see a small hilly area before it was really developed.

  40. This would be especially nice when watching big projects being build, as it often takes a long time to build them up.

  41. I need to work with Google Earth 5 in a restricted internet domain. I can see the actual imagery, but not the historical imagery.
    Does this new feature use another url in the application to load the historical images?

  42. Definitely one of the coolest results from the Google Earth application. They never cease to amaze me.

  43. Yes, amazing and creepy all at once. As powerful a tool as it is, it’s certainly a little disconcerting to have Google storing all of this data for… whatever use.
    It’s great though to see the changes in Toronto in it’s construction boom of the past few years. Where there were parking lots there are now a lot of condos!
    I never knew about this feature until now – thanks!

  44. Yes, amazing and creepy all at once. As powerful a tool as it is, it’s certainly a little disconcerting to have Google storing all of this data for… whatever use.
    It’s great though to see the changes in Toronto in it’s construction boom of the past few years. Where there were parking lots there are now a lot of condos!
    I never knew about this feature until now – thanks!

  45. Any plan to refresh the data with images from 2011?
    I am building in Panama and was hoping to follow changes using GE.

  46. The oldest aerial photo that I found on Google Earth is around Wellesley, Ontario, Canada and dates back to 1930.

  47. Wow, what an amazing feature. To bad they didn’t have this when they were building the great pyramids.

  48. Does anybody know where the oldest color aerial photographs in Google Earth are located? The oldest one I’ve found is Washington, DC in 1999 (and it’s surprisingly high-quality, even by today’s standards).

  49. Google Earth continues to provide us all with an amazing capability.

  50. David Emme says

    How can you view the dates in historical imagery. It seems it has always been an ideal that bnever works. I can tell if we are in this century or the last when it comes to this-you see a one or two and that is it. Can’t find any type of information in any help section

  51. Oldest image I have found is December 31, 1929, around Kitchener, Ontario. You can also see the entire Niagara Region from 1934 …

  52. Billy Hicks says

    So this really intrigued me, I had a look and maybe I should have realised it’s too good to be true. The data, for my home city of London at least, is completely wrong. Buildings such as 30 St Mary Axe appear in a so-called ‘1999’ photo that clearly is dated several years too early, as they definitely did not exist at the time. Go through the slider and said buildings disappear and reappear, showing photos are in the wrong order. Some are clearly the same photograph twice, as none of the cars (including those mid-travel) change despite claimed to be taken years apart. And the most recent photo available obscures the entire city in a massive white cloud.
    I was hoping it would be a useful tool to see how the city’s changed over recent times, but instead the data is so inaccurate as to be completely useless. Hope there’s no students using it for their social history projects…

  53. Google Earth is going to be a classroom textbook in 50 years, cool to have been there for its birth!

  54. i see my old apartment building! it is an awe for people around the world. but for us, it is just living in dust and noise 24-7 for 3 years…

  55. Dates are shown as 2/25/2015. How is there 25 months in a year?

  56. Looks like Google might be pulling some historical data off of Google Earth. In general it looks like they don’t like to go back before 1990 anymore. I couple of years ago they had old images going back to the 50’s but I’m not able to get the slider to go back as far as it used to. Perhaps this is something they moved off the free version and you have to pay for it now.

    • Timothy Whitehead says

      The time slider depends on the location you are viewing. Try zooming out a bit and look at Europe or the US. The oldest imagery is from 1930. There are no paid for versions of Google Earth – they are all free.

  57. I need images of 2 specific addresses for the last 5 years. Is this possible?

  58. I want to ask If I can request a specific view or a video with specific date and specific hour on google eath ?

    My father has been kidnapped, and I want to see what happened then.

    what should I do for that ?

  59. Robert Deemer says

    here are a couple images to check out on the timeline: twin towers on 9/11, Arc de Triumph in Paris in 1943 (cars circiling the Arc most likely contain German occupiers) and Berlin in 1946. For the last one, go to the city center and you’ll see it all burned out from firebombs from allied bombers. These images from WWII are overlaid bomber images that Google obtained from decassified Army Air Force records from the war.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.