Things have progressed quite quickly in the last few decades. Humans have made all kinds of strides and we’ve made sure that life is far more comfortable today than it was a few centuries ago. But the path to get to where we are now was not always easy. It was a constant battle for survival while trying to improve our living conditions – wars, famine, diseases, but also the triumph of human ingenuity and compassion. These have been captured over time in pictures. Let’s have a look.
The first selfie ever
Today’s life can hardly be imagined without people snapping selfies all the time. You might think it is a rather recent invention, but the first selfie was taken a long time ago – we’re talking about the 1800s, believe it or not. This photo dates back to 1837 when Robert Cornelius probably took the first selfie ever. And, no, it was not taken by a smartphone nor posted on any social media websites.
The bulletproof vest testing
The Protective Garment Corporation of New York must have had a lot of faith in not only their product, the bulletproof vest, but also in the abilities of this man shooting the gun. A live demonstration of their state-of-the-art lightweight police vest was held in 1923, where they shot at the salesman wearing one. We don’t know if they made a pair of bulletproof pants as well, but it wouldn’t be shocking if the assistant needed a new pair after each demonstration.
The seal on Tutankhamen’s Tomb
The tombs of ancient Egyptian pharaohs are amazing wonders that intrigue scientists even today. It is almost unbelievable how ancient civilizations managed to build them, as well as mummify the pharaohs with such limited technology. One of the most famous ones is surely the tomb of Tutankhamen, which was reopened on February 17, 1923. Scientists estimate that the tomb had remained intact for 3,245 years before the seal on the door was broken and the archeologists entered the gravesite of the famous pharaoh.
A 106-year-old warrior
You witness the strangest things in war. People have to fight for their bare lives, so no wonder this 106-year-old Armenian granny was holding an assault rifle. Certainly not what she was hoping to do at that age, nor your typical grandma watching the TV or cooking your favorite food. It’s hard to believe that she was capable of using it, but would you take that chance?
Albert Einstein was surely one of the greatest scientists ever, but he had a funny side, too. Arthur Sasse got to capture this legendary photo of the Nobel prize winner at his birthday party in 1951. It portrays Einstein’s response after he was told to smile for a photo. Also, he might have had one too many beers – but it was his birthday, after all.
Dream of flying
Ever since the legend of Icarus and possibly even before that, man dreamed of flying. And it finally happened in 1903, when the Wright brothers, Orville and Wilbur, flew their wooden plane, the Wright Flyer, in North Carolina. It was the first sustained flight of a heavier-than-air object on its power. They also engineered and built the plane themselves, so that makes the feat even more admirable.
During prohibition, moonshiners used to smuggle the liquor. To avoid the authorities, they used all the tricks they could think of. One of the most famous tricks they used to hide from the cops included wearing “cow shoes”. The moonshiners made metal strips with carved wooden blocks to resemble cow hooves, and they attached them under their shoes to cover up their footprints. Human ingenuity knows no bounds…
The first subway ride
Not much after the first flight in 1903, the US got its first subway in New York 1904. George McClellan, the City’s mayor, opened it and even drove the first passengers on a track that was 9.1 miles long and had 28 stations. At the time, people saw it more as a circus act than a means of transportation. Talk about how times have changed.
Billy the Kid
When you are one of the most famous outlaws, you do anything to stay hidden. That is why there are only a couple of photos of the legendary Henry McCarthy, also known as William H. Bonney and most widely referred to as Billy the Kid. Not to mention that he was only 21 when Sheriff Pat Garret shot him in 1881, so it makes sense why Billy the Kid didn’t live a life long enough to have that many photos. Who would’ve thought that he liked to play croquet?
James Dean and his Porsche
He was the Rebel Without a Cause, one of the first Hollywood hunks that became a cultural icon. James Dean may have played only in 3 movies, but his legacy is huge. This is his last photo before he went on a drive that eventually ended his life at the age of only 24. You could see in his smile that he had a lust for life, especially fast cars, like his beloved “Little Bastard,” a Porsche 550 Spyder.
The famous lion from the MGM opening credits
It is highly unlikely that there is a single person who’s ever watched a movie that is not familiar with the famous roaring lion in the MGM’s opening credits. There were many lions during the years used for the MGM logo. The one in the photo is Jackie, pictured during the sound recording in his cage, while the sound stage was built around it. Not sure how those two guys felt like in a cage with a wild Nubian lion.
The first photo ever
You might not think that this blurry image is a photo, but it is considered to be the oldest surviving photograph in existence. It was made by famous French photography pioneer Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826. It might not be what we call a photograph today, since it’s what you get when you remove the areas of a non-hardened asphalt from a pewter plate exposed to sunlight for eight hours. No wonder he did not take selfies.
John Lennon’s last photo
John Lennon signed an autograph to Mark David Chapman the same day that he later shot him in front of his New York residence. It was captured by amateur photographer Paul Goresh. Chapman planned to murder Lennon for a long time and he finally did it on December 8, 1980. He was angry with Lennon for claiming that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus, as well as for the lyrics to the songs “God” and “Imagine”. Chapman is still alive, serving his 20 years to a life sentence.
Although it is widely thought that this is the photo of a football helmet testing, it is a safety demonstration by British inventor W.T. Warren of a Protective Flight Helmet he invented. At the time, head injuries were the leading cause of pilot deaths in-flight accidents, so he patented a leather-covered, spring-equipped pilot safety helmet, padded well with horsehair to spread the shock over a large area. If only he had a different testing method…
Popeye or Pablo Picasso
This photo of Pablo Picasso as Popeye was shot by famous photographer André Villers, who did portraits of many great artists. He spent almost a decade following Picasso, recording his work, but also moments like this, where he was fooling around. Most ingenious artists were quite eccentric and Picasso was no exception. His look might seem random, but it is quite elaborate since he was wearing a beard, a fake nose, a hat, and holding a rather interesting-looking pipe.
Fidel Castro and the kids
He might have been considered a dictator by some, but in this photo, El Comandante shows off his softer side. All the kids are wearing fake beards to resemble him and he seems to be enjoying it. What’s weirder is that those are American kids! Hard to imagine today, but it happened in 1959 during his visit to New York, just after he took charge of Cuba and before the US sanctions.
This photo from the early 1900s shows lumberjacks cutting down humongous redwoods in the coastal area of northern California. Considering they used only saws and axes, it was impressive how they managed to bring down those giant trees. Furthermore, it is even more impressive how they managed to transport them using just horses and oxen, as well as further process them. But, it was the peak time for logging.
Alfred Eisenstaedt took this photo of Joseph Goebbels, the Third Reich’s propaganda minister, during the League of Nations conference in 1933. The look and posture of the high-ranking Nazi are due to the realization that the photographer was Jewish. The hatred in his stare is palpable. Because Nazis were on the rise in Germany, as well as the antisemitism that they proclaimed, Eisenstaedt emigrated to the US, where he spent the rest of his life as a successful photographer for Life magazine.
Left or right?
On 3. In September 1967, Sweden changed from driving on the left-hand side of the road to the right-hand side. Needless to say, it did not go smoothly, as can be seen in this photo. It even became known as the right-hand traffic diversion day, since quite a few people were late to work that day. It might seem simple enough, but habits are hard to change.
The first McDonald’s store
You wish the price of the burger was ¢15 as it was when the first McDonald’s store opened in San Bernardino, California. Every successful companies starts small, and so did McDonald’s. They’ve come a long way since then, with many restaurants worldwide, drive-throughs, and birthday parties with clown mascit Ronald. Their first restaurant is now a McDonald’s museum!
Salvador Dali’s pet
Another eccentric Spanish artist doing his eccentric thing. He’s walking his pet which is, wait for it – an anteater. Always elegant Dali, all dressed up with a cane in one hand and an anteater in ther other, was a sight to be seen in Paris in 1969. Not sure was it a Spanish thing or an eccentric artist thing, but he could surely cause a stir and drew as much attention with his lifestyle as with his surrealistic artwork.
In the 19th century, photography became popular and many people wanted to take one, especially if their baby children. But, it was easier said than done. Babies don’t like to stand still if they can sit on their own at all, so photographers came up with a clever solution. What you see in the photo is a baby wearing a rather long frock, but what you don’t see is its mother hiding underneath it, holding it still. The lengths they had to go for a photo back then…
This photo looks more like a mug shot than the one with the students of Princeton University in it. But, believe it or not, they were, only just after an annual freshman-sophomore snowball fight of 1893. You might have expected more from the students of one of the more prestigious universities in the US, but certain traditions have to be honored. Why they took this photo is still debated, though.
Landing craft from the inside
War is a terrible thing and it is way better to observe it from the photos than partake. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like getting to the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, here is one view from a landing craft. Believe me, the photos of what came after you do not want to see.
We are all very much familiar with Disney cartoons and the genius of Walt Disney, who started it all. Nowadays, Disney owns many studios and produces feature films, not just cartoons. They have come a long way since their inception, but this photo was taken on the day the first Disney studio opened. Who would’ve thought then that it would grow into such an empire?
Store within a store
This photo was taken in London in 1900 and shows what was probably the smallest store in the world ever. It was more like a storefront without the store behind it. But, though times require ingenuity and this man surely did not lack any. He opened a shoe shop in the window of a beverage store. After all, you might need a refreshing lemonade or soda water after trying on some shoes.
Mummies for sale
After Napoleon’s conquest of Egypt, Egyptian historic artifacts were made available to the European market. Mummies could be purchased from street vendors and the European elite used to often throw “The Mummy Unwrapping Parties”. If that wasn’t disgusting enough, the well-preserved remains of the ancient Egyptians were ground into powder and consumed as a medicinal remedy. Demand was so high that it started the counterfeit trade in which the flesh of beggars was passed off as that of Egyptian mummies.
Casualties of war
Apart from the apparent damage war does in human casualties and destroying everything in its path, the aftermath is just as bad. It takes a while for countries to recover and in the meantime, people have to manage to survive. The woman in the photo could not feed her 4 children and the fifth one was on the way, so she put them up for sale. If sources could be trusted, she sold them for two years, including the newborn baby.
The flight attendant is a dream job for many ladies and they often look glamorous in their uniforms. But, in the early days of commercial jet airliners, certain outfits were done in a way that would not necessarily be acceptable by today’s standards. In 1959, SAS Airlines started using interesting rather short uniforms, as can be seen in this photo. The good old days.
Can women compete in the Boston Marathon?
This question might seem strange today, but until 1972, women were not allowed to race in Boston Marathon. It all started in 1967 when Kathrine Switzer enrolled for the marathon, but the race official, the notorious Jock Semple, tried to take her number away during the race, as can be seen in the photo. Her boyfriend, who was racing too, stopped him and she managed to finish the race. It still took another 5 years to finally allow women to race officially.
Eton college during the war
Hitler was planning for a long time to occupy Great Britain, but since it was an island, many things had to happen in order to start the attack. The main problems were Britain’s anti-aircraft defense and naval fleet, so it took a while. But, Britain did not just sit and wait, they were preparing for the attack, too. Even a prestigious college like Eton did regular military drills, as can be seen in this photo. British being British, they were perfect gentlemen even when carrying rifles.
Terrorist on vacation
You surely cannot recognize him in this photo at a young age and without the beard, but it is Osama Bin Laden, once the world’s most wanted terrorist. The photo was taken during a family vacation in Sweden in 1970. How do you get from smiling in front of a pink limousine on a vacation to killing innocent people?
East vs West Germany
It is always hard when the same nations are artificially separated by a border, like in the case of North and South Korea or Germany in the years after World War II. Many families were split by the border and their lives changed forever. This photo shows a German soldier risking his life in order to get the young boy across the barbed wire fence in the hope to find his family. Thankfully, human compassion knows no bounds.
It all started in South Africa, where students in Durban fitted 25 people in a phone booth in order to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. The craze soon traversed to England, where it was called ‘telephone booth squash’, but they managed to fit only 19 students. And then it spread to US and Canada and even got so popular that they had to invent the rules, since some cheated. Just as fast as it took off, it quickly disappeared, with the South African record intact.
USS Oregon Boxing matches
When you spend all your time on board the navy ship, you need to find something to keep you sane. And sailors on the USS Oregon, better known as the Bulldog of the Navy, found just the right thing to shake them up – boxing. You could blow off some steam and the spectators could enjoy themselves just the same and relieve some stress. Just not sure if the superior officers allowed a sick leave to the ones who got badly beaten.
Entertaining the troops
As imagined, war can be rather demoralizing, especially for the troops engaged in close combat, like many US soldiers in Vietnam were. US government tried to find ways to increase the morale and one of the most efficient ones was to invite movie stars to visit the troops. Chris Noel, a Hollywood sex symbol, visited the troops many times and even hosted a popular radio show ‘A date with Chris’. Many Vietnam vets have fond memories of her.
Not sure how would it be treated today, but baby racing used to be rather popular in the 1940s and 1950s. There was even a Diaper Derby, an annual baby racing competition sponsored by the National Institute of Diaper Services. It usually included stuffed animals at the finish line to draw babies’ attention and serve as a prize. Not that it always worked, since babies might decide to stand up (which meant disqualification) and go in the opposite direction, or just fall asleep midway. Like babies cared for rules.
Being an island, it was important for England to teach their children to swim in a timely manner. But, in the 1920s, not every school had a swimming pool, so they had to be resourceful. It is hard to learn the moves laying flat on the ground, so the teacher came up with an ingenious solution – place your tummy across another kid’s back – and you are floating. Now you can learn breaststroke, no problem.
Track and field and hairdos
Sport has changed a lot since the 1960s, just like fashion trends. Nowadays, athletes use any means necessary to improve their results and the looks are reserved for off the track. But in the 1960s, it was not necessarily so – the ladies in the photo seem to care more about their hairdos than the result they’re going to achieve. It must have taken a lot of pins and spray to keep those ‘dos in place.
When Harry L. Bowdoin applied for the patent for his submarine armor in 1914, diving was not much developed. Perhaps he was counting on that and not having much competition, since the reality was rather cruel – it did not have the success that he had hoped for. Perhaps because he was ahead of time and hindered by technology not being up to the task, like lightweight materials, lighting, breathing apparatus, and everything else needed for a successful dive. Typical destiny of an inventor.
Moving swimming pool
A rather nice gesture by New York City authorities in 1967, who created a Swim-Mobile, a swimming pool on wheels. It was towed by a truck to various locations around the city, so the kids could cool down and enjoy themselves. It used water from the hydrants and stayed in one place for a day. Really nice way to bring the community together – kids would relax in a pool and parents had a chance to meet their neighbors and enjoy each other’s company.
Chess is a popular board game, usually played in enclosed spaces. But not in Russia in the mid-1920s. They played it outside, with real people as figures, like in this photo showing a match in St. Petersburg’s Palace Square, with Red Army representing the black pieces and Soviet Navy the white ones. Knights were riding real horses and rooks had miniature cannons. The match was actually played between the two Russian grandmasters who called their moves by telephone.
Fishing at night in Hawaii
Traditional spearfishing in Hawaii was done in shallow waters and at night. Might sound easy now, but in the 1940s they did not have flashlights to attract the fish, so they had to make their own torches. Traditionally, they were kukui-nut torches made of kukui nuts wrapped in leaves or larger lamaku torches, made of coconut leaf midrib with kukui kernels tied to it. If they needed more light, they would light roasted kukui nuts in a hollow piece of bamboo.
In this photo taken in Rukajärvi (Finland) in November 1942, a Soviet spy is laughing at his executioner. It was the act of final defiance, knowing there is nothing he can do to avoid his faith. Such photos were not published at the time, fearing they might be used for propaganda purposes by pro-Soviet elements. The Ministry of Defense of Finland declassified this photo, named “Unknown Soviet intelligence officer before being shot”, in 2006.
Fascist Headquarters In Rome
The infamous Mussolini façade of the Palazzo Braschi in Rome shows the leader’s face and the “SI” (Italian for “yes”), referring to the 1934 Italian general elections with a simple yes/no vote on the Fascist Party list. Mussolini saw Rome as the capital of the fascist empire and wanted to transform the Eternal City into stages of urban development with grandiose buildings whose look would project his achievements and fascist objectives. His execution at the end of WWII ended his dream.
Capturing of John McCain
During a bombing mission over Hanoi as part of Operation Rolling Thunder in October 1967, John McCain was shot down, seriously injured, and captured by the North Vietnamese, as shown in this photo. He was a prisoner of war until 1973, when he was tortured, but refused an out-of-sequence early release before all the American POWs were captured before him. After the war, he turned to politics, until his death in 2018.
Michael Jackson 2000
In 1985, Ebony Magazine published the article “Portraits of the stars – What they may look like in the year 2000’, featuring many celebrities popular at the time. For Michael Jackson, they predicted that he’d age gracefully and increase his fan base tenfold. It is hard to judge the number of fans, but it did keep increasing over time. As for the looks, whether it was due to a skin condition or plastic surgery, it is safe to say they were wrong. Though, you can’t really blame them.
I have a dream
One of the most famous speeches ever held was by Martin Luther King, the leader of the Civil Rights Movement, in front of more than 250,000 civil rights supporters during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on 28. August 1963. The main subject of the speech, which was considered to be the greatest call to end racism in America, was the freedom rights of the black people. He continued the fight for the rights of black people until his assassination in 1968.
Pictured in this photo are Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the United Kingdom, President Franklin D. Roosevelt from the United States, and Premier Joseph Stalin from the Soviet Union, during the famous Yalta Conference. It was held from 4-11. February 1945 near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, to discuss the postwar reorganization of Germany and Europe. As always, it is the winners who write the history.
Titanic was one of the most famous ships in history, although she sank on her maiden voyage. Being one of the most luxurious liners of the time, she tried to set the benchmark for other ships. In an effort to break the speed record for crossing the Atlantic ocean, she hit the iceberg on a foggy night of 14. April 1912 and sank several hours later, taking around 1,500 lives. We have to thank her for having way better regulations when it comes to passenger safety today.