Google’s Historic Street View Offers a Window Into the Past

Travel back in time

  • Google Maps on iOS and Android now shows Street View pictures back to 2007. 
  • In the future, Street View will become an amazing historical resource. 
  • And yes, we’ll all totally check out the neighborhoods where we played as kids.
Google Street View
Photo © Getty Images

Imagine that you could use Google Street View to travel back and look 50 years into the past. If you're patient, and Google is still around in 35 years, then you'll totally be able to. 

Google Maps on Android and iOS now let you see old Street View images from the past, back to the launch in 2007. This lets you travel back 15 years in time, more or less. It's certainly a neat way to waste a few hours on a Friday afternoon, but imagine how useful this will be in the future. Or how about we imagine that Google Street View has been around for 50 years already. What kinds of things could we use it for?

"Anyone born after 2000 will be able 50 years later to go back and see the streets of their childhood, where they went to school, where they played with their friends," photographer and Google local guide Herve Andrieu told Lifewire via email. "The nostalgic pleasure on its own is already such a great value."

Street View

Street View is perhaps Google's most impressive project so far. It's the perfect application of search to the real world, bringing the streets into a browser or app, putting them t the same level as a website search. We already use it for so much—checking out the neighborhood around a vacation rental or hotel, looking in the window of a restaurant or store in the hope of working out whether we want to visit, or just cruising a neighborhood to see what it looks like. 

And don't forget one of the best uses of Street View: checking out your previous homes, schools, or haunts, to see how they look today. 

It's fair to say that Google's incredibly ambitious project—to take 3D photos of the entire world—really is one of the wonders of the internet age, along with Google's search, which we might fail to appreciate because we're so used to it. 

Apple has its own version of Street View, called Look around. It's more impressive because it maps photos onto 3D models of the streets, so traveling through a city feels more like Grand Theft Auto than Google's clunky click and move setup. But Google's database is way deeper in terms of places mapped and the time period it covers. 

Imagine not only being able to see how your childhood home looks today but also being able to see how it looked when you were a child. Those old storefronts, the wasteland you played on before somebody built yet another parking lot on it, the old-style cars parked in the streets. If you're a lover of those old B&W photos of the local neighborhood that sometimes hang in restaurants and bars, you can easily appreciate how great that would be applied to literally everywhere. 

"We will be able to see how places evolve. In cities like Las Vegas, just go in front of the Arria casino and see it in construction in 2007. Or go to 2955 Las Vegas Blvd where you can currently see an empty parking lot and discover that just a few years ago, the Riviera casino was there," says Andrieu. 

Rob Pacheco with Google Street View Trekker Pololu Valley Big Island
Rob Pacheco, President of Hawaii Forest & Trail, with the Street View Trekker walks the beach at Pololū Valley. Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau

Street View doesn't just map streets, of course. It straps its camera to bikes for mapping out trails or gives them to climbers so they can map El Capitan in Yosemite Valley with vertical Street View. And this means that you can already explore some areas that have since been burned to the ground. 

And there are non-touristy uses too. It won't surprise you that marketing will be one of these.

"Consider the evolution of business areas as 'data' revealing changing trends in local consumer tastes. Before breaking into a new geographical area, business owners can study what types of businesses have done well and which have failed," market researcher Jerry Han told Lifewire via email. "Those that stand the test of time more than likely share certain characteristics."

The web is annoyingly ephemeral compared to the real world, with websites disappearing regularly, only to be found on the amazing Internet Archive. That Google is preserving the real world first seems both fitting and sadly ironic.

Was this page helpful?