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The Corbis Cave: Searching for Never Seen Photos Under the Iron Mountain

By Edited Sep 9, 2015 4 8

Iorn Mountain Storage Facility
Credit: esquire

Something lies under a big mountain down to Butler County, Pennsylvania. What lies there is a treasure. It sounds just like the old times when people were desperately searching for gold and other resources, I know! We’re not dealing with gold here though; nor oil. What is stored in Pennsylvania is data, information. Inside an old limestone mine where people used to extract wealth a century ago lies a huge collection of archives. It is stored and preserved by Iron Mountain, the leading company on records management.


Information is Sensitive

Inside the Iron Mountain
Credit: boston.com

The world is driven by information; this is no secret. As a matter of fact, all knowledge derives from information. The one that holds it is rich by default, most of the times at least! Inside the old limestone of Pennsylvania are stored plenty of sensitive data. Government agencies and banks keep their confidential data there; documents from security clearance proceedings are also carefully kept there.  And no one wants these documents in the wrong hands, right!? All these explain the maximum security on the site. Whomever journalist has ever visited the site agreed on this: this old limestone mine is one of the most well protected places in the whole U.S. The US government has classified Iron Mountain’s facility only one level below Pentagon. In fact, one journalist even went on to say that it’s easier to enter the White House than inside Iron Mountain’s storage facility!

Apart from confidential documents that trigger the imagination classified as they are, there are plenty of other documents kept there and I mean significant ones, in a whole different way though. What better example one can bring other than one of the world’s largest photographic archives?

The Corbis Bettmann Photographic Archive

The photographic archive consists of over 20 million items!
Credit: esquire

It was in the 90s when Bill Gates, the owner of the vast Corbin’s Bettmann photographic collection, decided to move his collection to Iron Mountain’s site. And we are talking about an enormous database of photos; it is a collection of twenty million images! Some criticized Gate’s move; they thought that with the collection stored there the public would have lost easy access to a unique cultural treasure. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that a vast collection such as this one could have been preserved and exhibited in a room or two! Not to mention the fact that with the collection stored at Iron Mountain’s facility we can be sure of one thing at least: these photos are going to live forever!

Iron Mountain knows from data protection; over 2.000 companies worldwide trust their services. It is said that the collection of Corbin Bettmann photos can survive for up to five thousand years. I repeat: five thousand years! Experts on preservation of digital color photographs worked for what it seems to be a colossal achievement. The secret after all was to store the collection at four degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It makes you wonder; if only this world of ours could preserve all of its cultural treasures just like that! Just think of it; we would have been so much richer culturally speaking. All of those fires that burned valuable files in so many libraries and all of the looting that took place in the past during wars and periods of turmoil… all these devastations could now be history! Did I mention that the site is also protected from earthquakes!?

Photos that Reveal Modern History

Albert Einstein's iconic photo
Credit: Travis Dove for The Boston Globe

So now it’s about time to talk about the photos of the collection. Let me ask you one question: have you ever seen a photo of a guy with messy white hair sticking his tongue out? Yes, I’m talking about Albert Einstein’s most famous photo… well, it’s there! Do you remember how sweetly Marilyn Monroe sung to JFK’s birthday? That photo is also kept there. Iconic photos like these ones are one part of the story though.

Air Force One - JFK
Credit: esquire

A journalist of Esquire wrote recently a piece about the splendid Corbis collection (a well written and researched article that inspired this post) in his quest to discover photos that have never been published before. Of course, as he admitted himself, you can’t expect to do miracles giving the fact of the size of the collection. Among the photos he discovered though, photos that he praised as his personal favorites, was one of the Air Force One with the President’s face on the window and Muhammad Ali demonstrating his skills on driving a bus. More icons of the 20th century in iconic photos are yet to be discovered and I hope many journalists will do the same trip!

Muhammad Ali on a bus
Credit: esquire


Apr 3, 2013 4:48pm
Very nice post. Never saw Ali driving a bus before :)
This photographic collection could reveal even more miracles if someone digs in more! Thanks for sharing...
Apr 4, 2013 2:24am
Thank you mikerobbers, some photos are great indeed! Glad you enjoyed my article ;)
Apr 4, 2013 12:40pm
Awesome article, I never even thought that there would be photographs there. I just thought it was for data/file storage.
Apr 4, 2013 12:50pm
Who knows what other stuff one can find in there!? :)
Apr 8, 2013 5:05pm
What a fascinating true story! Boy would I love to have a peek in those archives.
Apr 9, 2013 1:06am
This comment has been deleted.
Apr 9, 2013 1:07am
Me too! Tell you the truth though, I don't think I will make it there so I hope some other researcher-journalist will share with us his findings. Thanks you for your comment Imprimatur.
Apr 9, 2013 6:40pm
Very interesting, I would love to have a peek in there too.
Apr 10, 2013 3:31am
Me too! Kind of impossible to happen though :)
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