1Houston, Texas (U.S.)
This 1856 shot of the 300 block of Main St. in Houston is the oldest known photograph in the city's Metropolitan Research Center archive. The wooden storefronts were not long for this world by the time the photo was taken—fire soon claimed them, and 1866, the were replaced by substantial brick edifices, some of which still stand today.
The photo above dates back to the early 1840s and shows a well-known London view, looking from Gracechurch Street down Fish Street Hill towards the Monument. The photographer is thought to be either Antoine Claudet, a student of Daguerre (originator of the daguerreotype), or Richard Beard, who had the patent to undertake the process and had a studio near the Monument.
Only three other London street scenes from this era survive—daguerrotype views of the city are incredibly rare, as early photographers tended to focus on taking portraits, which were much more profitable than city scenes.
3Boston, Massachusetts (U.S.)
This photograph of Boston is not only the earliest surviving photo of the city, but the world's first aerial photo captured from 2,000 feet above it.
“Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It” was taken by James Wallace Black in 1860. The photo, taken from a hot air balloon (the Wright Brothers weren't even born yet and wouldn't invent flight for another 43 years), is currently in the caring hands of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.
4San Francisco, California (U.S.)
The oldest known photo of San Francisco dates back to 1850 and shows hundreds of ships abandoned in the bay. The wood from the ships was used to plank the dirt roads that ran through the city at that time. Unfortunately, these wooden roads would become fuel for the six separate fires that ravaged San Francisco from 1849 until 1851.
The oldest photos of the city of Jerusalem were taken by French photographer Joseph-Philibert Girault de Prangey in 1844. Girault de Prangey toured the Middle East, Italy, and the countries of the eastern Mediterranean between 1841 and 1844, producing over 900 photographs reflecting his travels. The photos weren't discovered until the 1920s in a store room on the photographer's estate.
6Toronto, Ontario (Canada)
In 1856, a photographer standing on the roof of a hotel at King St W., and York St. in Toronto captured what might be the first photograph of the city. The City of Toronto Archives believes the shot might have been used to pitch Toronto to the British Colonial Office as the future capital of Canada (which obviously didn't work, despite it being a decent photo).
The panorama starts on the west corner of King St W., and moves clockwise, capturing a north-looking view of York Street, an east view of King St., and ending with a southerly look south down York St. where Front Street used to meet Lake Ontario.
The image above is just a small section of a much larger photo. To see the full cityscape in detail, click the source link.
An Italian-British photographer, Felice Beato, took this panorama photo of Tokyo in either 1865 or 1866 when it was known as Edo. Beato's position atop the modest 25.7-meter (84.3-foot)-high hill called Atagoyama, situated in what's now Tokyo's Minato Ward, gave him a vantage point with a view over the entire city. For a full view of the photo click here.
8Chicago, Illinois (U.S.)
Alexander Hesler is best remembered for photographing a beardless Abraham Lincoln, but he also took this 1855 daguerreotype of the Cook County Court House and City Hall, now the oldest known image of the city of Chicago. The building, which "stood in the center of the block bounded by Randolph, Clark, Washington and LaSalle streets," was destroyed in the Chicago fire of 1871. The image shows the northwest corner of the building at Randolph and LaSalle.
9New York, New York (U.S.)
Manhattan was not always the concrete jungle we know and love today—this half-plate daguerreotype, identified on the back as on "the main road called a continuation of Broadway," was taken in what is now the Upper West Side in 1848.
The photo shows a farmhouse sitting at the top of a rise while Broadway, then an unpaved track, runs below. The road was likely Bloomingdale Road which became Broadway in 1899.
The photo sold for $62,500 at auction a few years ago.
Photographer Robert Hunt shot some of the first photos of Sydney. This stereograph of St. James Parsonage on Macquarie St. was taken in 1855 from the Mint Building, itself the oldest public building in the Sydney Central Business District (built 1811). It remains one of the earliest surviving outdoor stereo photographs of New South Wales.
11Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (U.S.)
This 1839 daguerreotype shot by Joseph Saxton is not only the oldest photo of the city of Philadelphia but the earliest surviving image made in the United States. It shows Central High School at Walnut and Juniper sitting next to the Philadelphia Armory, taken from what was the U.S. Mint at the time, where Saxton worked. His "camera" was composed primarily of a lens and a cigar box. The image is part of the collection of Lee Arnold, director of the library and collections at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
12Los Angeles, California (U.S.)
The above photo of Los Angeles looking toward what is now downtown was shot in approximately 1860.
The Plaza Church, constructed in 1822 (and pretty much the only building in the photo still standing today), appears in the bottom-left. of the shot. In the middle of the plaza is a brick reservoir, built in 1858 as part of the city's first domestic water works system. On the right is the José Antonio Carrillo adobe, and directly behind that is the house of Pío Pico, the last governor of Mexican California. Opposite the Carrillo and Pico adobes, just outside the left frame of the photograph, is Vine Street, an alley that became Olvera Street. On the east side of the plaza, directly opposite the viewer, is the two-story Lugo House. Built sometime before 1840, the house served as the first home of St. Vincent's College and later became a part of Chinatown. It fell to the wrecking ball in 1951, razed to create an on-ramp for the 101 freeway.
The photo of the Boulevard du Temple in Paris dates back to 1838 and was taken by Louis Daguerre (inventor of the daguerreotype process of photography) himself.
To achieve the image, Daguerre exposed a chemically treated metal plate for ten minutes. There are other people in the photo, but they were walking or riding in carriages down that busy street that day. Because they were in movement, they didn't show up. The man in the lower left corner stood still long enough to leave an image and is now known as the first human ever photographed.