Rare Historical Photos You Probably Haven't Seen Yet

Entertainment | By Harriet King | September 21, 2019

In the modern world, whenever something exciting happens, you can almost guarantee that we'll have photo and video evidence of it happening. Almost everybody has a smartphone, and so we have the means to record everything we see and hear on a regular basis. It's like we've all become photojournalists.

This hasn't always been the case. There are now more photos taken every day than there were in all of the 19th century. Some might say that we've become a little too trigger-happy and vain with the camera, but at least we never miss anything. We always capture the moment.

Because there were so few cameras around one hundred years ago or more, we have a literally incomplete picture of some truly remarkable historical events - the sorts of things there would be thousands of pictures of if they happened now. That doesn't mean there are no pictures at all, though!

1. The Eiffel Stump

The Eiffel Tower has been the definitive symbol of Paris in France for as long as anyone reading this has been alive. If you went back to the time of your great-great-grandparents, though, they'd probably remember the excitement about it being built.

The French monument opened to the public in April 1889 after years of construction work. Here's a rare picture of it in its half-built state from early 1888, after the first floor had been completed. It still had a long way to go!

2. Lunch With A View

You've probably seen this picture before. It goes viral every few years on social media when a new generation of kids sees if for the first time. Nowadays, the kids probably dismiss it as Photoshop fake. It isn't.

This is a real picture of construction workers taking a break from working on the GE Building on Rockefeller Plaza, New York, during 1932. The beam they're all sitting on is 840 feet above street level. We can only assume that nobody there had a fear of heights.

3. Going Underground

If you've ever used the subways of New York - or any other major city - you probably wish the air conditioning was a little better. They can feel very cramped and sweaty during peak time. The people in this picture might have the opposite problem, though.

The photo, taken on October 27th, 1904, shows the first-ever passengers boarding New York's first-ever subway, ready to be driven 9 miles by then-major George McClellan. We're not sure we'd want to make the journey without a roof over our heads.

4. One Large Step

You rarely see a circus act involving live animals anymore. Years of concerns about the ethical (or unethical) treatment of animals by circuses has seen the practice fall out of fashion. People didn't have those concerns a century ago, and the animals were the stars of the show.

Wherever a large circus went, excitement would follow. Here, crowds have gathered to watch an elephant from the Ringling Brothers Circus step off the train in the Bronx in April 1963. It looks like it's waving!

5. Landing In Style

Could any picture better sum up the glamorous life of the legendary Frank Sinatra than this? Here, the founder of the Rat Pack is disembarking from his private helicopter, in a full suit and hat, with a whiskey in his hand.

According to his doctors, Sinatra drank a bottle of whiskey every day. By modern standards, he'd be classed as a functioning alcoholic. It never affected his voice, though - he'd impose a smoking and drinking ban on himself for a month before he recorded any music.

6. The Start Of The Strip

You have to squint a little to make out the detail in this picture, but the building in the foreground is one you've all seen before. It's the Stardust Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, as seen shortly after it opened in 1958.

What's now the Las Vegas strip around it looks largely empty - and that's because most of it hadn't been built yet! The Stardust set the tone for what was to come in the years that followed, boasting 16,000 square feet of casino game and one thousand hotel rooms.

7. High Risk Selfie

Here in the 21st century, we occasionally hear that some like-chasing social media star has fallen off a building while trying to take a daredevil selfie. When we hear such news, we write it off as the idiocy of the modern age - but it isn't.

Performing high-risk daredevil stunts for the camera has been going on for as long as there have been cameras. Here are some acrobats showing us their skills right at the top of the Empire State Building. The year? 1934!

8. The Great Blizzard

New York gets a little snow every year. It's especially likely to happen around Christmas, and it can make the city look beautiful. You can have too much of a good thing though, and New York City got precisely that in 1947.

As seen in this picture, the Great New York Blizzard of that year buried the city under piles of the white stuff. More than two feet fell in just 24 hours, and trapped cars had to be abandoned in the streets.

9. Carson's Muse

If you don't recognize who's in this picture, ask your parents. If they're still stuck, ask your grandparents instead! It's Carol Wayne, who's probably the greatest-ever recurring guest on 'The Tonight Show.'

Wayne's act on the show would be considered sexist now, but she was the butt of many of host Johnny Carson's jokes for years. Generally, she was presented as a dumb blonde - but she made a fortune from it, so she can't have been too dumb in real life.

10. Timeless Beauty

Fashions change, and styles come and go, but true beauty is eternal. The figure that Joan Bradshaw displays in this picture made her as popular a sex symbol in her heyday as it would today - and yet she was only 17.

Bradshaw was pre-fame when the photo was taken - she was just walking her dog down Hollywood Boulevard. Shortly afterward she won Miss Texas, and by 1953 she was a pinup on the wall of every teenage boy in America.

11. Birth Of A Classic

You'd struggle to find a bigger name in the history of stylish American can design than Chevrolet. Many people grow up dreaming of owning or driving a Chevy. The Bel Air and the Impala are particularly popular models.

The enduring popularity of the Impala is such that you can still buy brand new models of it today. What you see in this image, though, is one of the originals. It's a photo from a production facility from 1958, and the cars are shiny and new.

12. The Reclusive Pioneer

If you've seen the excellent Leonardo DiCaprio movie 'The Aviator,' you probably already know about the incredible life of the publicity-shy aviation legend and filmmaker Howard Hughes. If you don't, you should really consider watching the film.

Hughes hid away from the camera for most of his life, but he was happy to be captured for this shot. He had good reason to - he'd just broken the landplane speed record by achieving 352 miles per hour in 1935.

13. Where It All Began

This tiny image might not look like much, but it's the birthplace of a legend. There are thousands of McDonald's stores all over the world. This is where it all started - the first-ever McDonald's in the world.

Obviously, the restaurant didn't always look like this, but there's been a McDonald's on this site - Lakewood Boulevard in Downey, California - since August 1953. Who could have known the single site would expand and take over the world?

14. The Naked Dome

Although it's probably not something you stop to think about every day, the dome of the US Capitol isn't really white. It couldn't possibly be - there's no such thing as white steel. The white is a coat of paint, and here's what it looks like underneath.

The picture was taken during maintenance work back in 1959, and shows us that underneath the pristine paint job, the famous dome is rusting away just as surely as anything else made from iron. The work included a fresh coating of rust-proofing material.

15. No Trains Here

Bombing was a nightly problem for the citizens of London during the Second World War. German planes flew overhead every night, and bombs fell regularly. Houses weren't safe, and so the people hid out underground.

The safest place to be during a bombardment was inside the city's subway system. One station -Aldwych - was even semi-permanently converted into a large bomb shelter, with toilets and bedding available. People would stay overnight and emerge in the morning, hoping to find their house still standing.

16. Halfway To Hell

The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge was a difficult engineering process. Nobody knew that more than the workers tasked with building it. The men who were on duty at the halfway stage - which is what we see here - were known as the 'Halfway to Hell' shift.

With the bridge half-built, a special safety net had to be hung over the water to catch workers when they slipped and fell. During 1935 - the year this picture was taken - the net saved 19 lives.

17. A Big Cleaning Job

This picture is the equivalent of all of New York waking up with a hangover - but they'd still have reason to be cheerful. This is the morning of August 14th, 1945. The Japanese had surrendered the day before, and the Second World War was over.

At the news of the war's end, crowds of people ran out onto the streets with ticker tape and streamers. By the next morning, the debris was ankle deep. It might have been the greatest victory party of all time.

18. A Little Confusion

Most countries drive on the right-hand side of the road. Others, like Great Britain, drive on the left. In the middle we have countries like Sweden, who can't make their minds up. That results in confusing scenes like the one we see here.

The day before this picture was taken - September 3rd, 1967 - Sweden changed its driving laws. People were now required to drive on the right instead of the left. Not everybody got the memo, and there were a lot of crashes and near-misses that day.

19. The Man In Black

Country music legend Johnny Cash was fond of singing songs about prison, and often found himself in scrapes with the law. This is one such example. The location is Texas, the year is 1965, and the police have raided his plane in the hope of finding Cash's stash of heroin.

Cash didn't have any heroin, but he was hiding large amounts of amphetamines in his guitar case. He was arrested on suspicion of smuggling drugs with the intent to supply, but managed to get off the charge with the help of a good lawyer.

20. Overbudget Down Under

In the 21st century, the Sydney Opera House is the source of a great deal of pride for Australians. It's one of the most well-known buildings in the world, and it's come to be a symbol of the whole Australian nation. The Aussies weren't quite as keen on it when it was being built.

Seen here midway through the building process, the Opera House took sixteen years to complete, starting in 1957 and ending in 1973. It was heavily delayed, and fifteen times over budget. Someone definitely got fired for those mistakes.

21. Flies On A Spiderweb

Although this picture looks like flies trapped in a spider's web, it's actually a team of painters working on the Brooklyn Bridge back in 1914. A well as capturing a moment of innovation during the construction of an iconic building, there's a further story behind this picture.

It's the work of Eugene de Salignac, who photographed every major construction project in New York during his lifetime. The only issue was that he didn't tell anybody. His incredible work wasn't discovered until 2007, by which time he'd been dead for sixty years.

22. Got To Start Somewhere

Even the greatest names in entertainment had to start out somewhere. Jack Nicholson and Brad Pitt were once nothing more than lead actors in school plays, for example. Here's another legendary name at the start of his career - it's Robin Williams in Central Park.

Williams possessed an incredible ability to make people laugh, and demonstrated it throughout his life. We assume he was even able to find a way to make a mime act funny, which is what he was attempting here in 1974.

23. Down Goes The Hindenburg

The Hindenburg was supposed to be a demonstration of the future of travel. The idea was that everyone would be amazed by the breathtaking balloon, and everybody would want to take a ride on it. Instead, it ended up disaster and tragedy.

On May 6th, 1937, the Hindenburg took to the skies. As it came back in to dock, a stray spark ignited the hydrogen inside the balloon, and there was an enormous explosion. 36 people were killed, and many more were injured.

24. Ultra Cautious

We've already seen one way the British tried to keep themselves safe during the Second World War - and now here's another! The fear of a gas attack by the Nazis was constantly high, and so people would routinely wear gas masks to go about their daily business.

Fitting a gas mask to a baby was impractical, so somebody came up with the invention of the gas resistant stroller. We imagine it sold thousands of units during the war, and not a single one as soon as the war was over.

25. All That Survives

It's difficult now for us to imagine the scale of the devastation caused by the Second World War, even though many of us have relatives who lived through it. You could wake up one morning and find half your house destroyed, and your neighbors dead.

Here, a young girl sits in the ruins of what had been her family's home hours previously. Miraculously, her doll has somehow survived the inferno. It's all she has left of her belongings.

26. Comfort Ducks

This is a medical technique we still use today! Nobody likes to go through complicated or painful medical procedures, and so it helps to have something else to occupy our minds with when they're happening.

Almost everybody loves animals, and soft, cute ones are particularly popular with young children. Put a little pool full of ducks in front of an infant, and they won't even notice the medical equipment! We're not sure that the ducks would meet hygiene requirements in a modern hospital, though.

27. Hard Separation

It wasn't just Britain that was left dealing with significant physical changes to its land after the Second World War came to an end. Germany had to look itself in the face, and deal with the guilt and pain of loss. Unable to do so, it tore itself in two.

The Berlin Wall was built to separate East Germany from West Germany, and stood for nearly 30 years. Seen here in 1961, it was still being built, and was barely taller than the average man. It would become much higher.

28. The Vietnam Stare

This is another image which has become immortal. While the majority of US military interventions around the world have gone well for the country, Vietnam didn't. It failed spectacularly, and the Americans had to retreat after being humiliated.

If anything could sum up the Vietnam experience for the soldiers who fought there, it's this picture; a young man with piercing eyes, staring at the lens almost accusingly with 'war is Hell' written on his helmet. In many ways, he spoke for his generation without saying a word.

29. Lost For Words

Sticking with the theme of warfare; bombing is an imprecise science. While the targets are usually intended to be military, you can never guarantee where they'll land. In this case, they've landed on a bookstore in London during 1940.

The bookstore has been blown apart and open, and the books have fallen from the shelves. That's provided an opportunity for this young man to do a little free-of-charge reading in the open air. He's making the best of a bad situation.

30. Unbowed, Unbroken

Martin Luther King's civil rights campaign in the America of the 1950s and 1960s achieved something most people can only dream of; complete societal change. To do it, he had to endure terrible abuse from utterly evil people.

Here, he's showing his son that we never bow to terrorism or intimidation. He's calmly pulling the remnants of a burning cross out of his lawn. The Ku Klux Klan put it there. A few years later, he won and they lost.

31. The Ugly Face Of Racism

Racism is still an issue in today's society, but we've made progress from where we were in the 1960s. We'd like to believe that we'll never see anything like this ever again.

This is a hotel owner in 1964, who doesn't want black people swimming in his pool. To get them out of there, he's throwing acid into the water. We don't know whether he was arrested for this. We hope he was - the picture should have been enough to send him straight to prison.

32. Another Fine Mess

A little earlier on, we looked at what happened on the streets of Sweden the day after they changed their driving laws. If you remember, they went from driving on the left-hand side of the road to driving on the right.

The previous picture looks positively calm in comparison to this. This was the scene elsewhere in the country, where confusion led to cars being all over the road, and angry drivers jumping out of their cars to remonstrate with each other.

33. A New Future

One of the inevitable consequences of wars is that people die. That means widows and widowers are created. It also means that babies are orphaned. Tragically, during the Vietnam War, the number of babies orphaned ran into the hundreds.

With their parents dead, the Americans decided the kindest and fairest thing to do with the babies was to airlift them out of Vietnam, and take them back to America to start a new life there. Very few people know this happened, but pictures like this are proof.

34. Cultural Issues

Many people reading this will have come up against this issue at least once, but most of us weren't in front of the international media when it happened! It's difficult not to feel a little sympathy for former US President Richard Nixon here.

With the world watching, Nixon has been served a traditional Chinese meal by his hosts during a diplomatic visit in 1972. Along with the meal came a pair of chopsticks to eat it with - but it seems like Nixon has never encountered chopsticks before!

35. Deposing A Dictator

A sure sign of dictatorship is a leader naming streets or monuments after themselves while they're still alive. There were several streets named 'Adolf Hitler Street' in Germany during the Second World War, but the signs were quickly taken down after his defeat.

In this picture, an American soldier is helping with the process. He's taken Hitler's name down, and replaced it with the name of the victorious American President Roosevelt. We're not sure how long the Germans left the new sign up there.

36. Rediscovered Masterpieces

As well as being a dictator and a murderer, Adolf Hitler was something of an art collector. Famously, the Nazis stole fine art from every town and museum they conquered. That led to some of the most popular pieces in the world disappearing from public view.

When the war came to an end, Hitler's private collection was opened up, and the art started making its way back to its rightful owners. In this picture, Manet's 'In the Conservatory' is being loaded up and prepared for its journey home.

37. The Pain Of Principle

During the civil rights struggle in America, not every white person agreed with the idea that black people should be oppressed or segregated. There were many white allies, who supported the struggle and stood side by side with their black peers.

Being a white civil rights activist could sometimes get you in serious trouble. This is James Zwerg, who took part in the Alabama Freedom Rides in 1961, but was set upon by a white racist mob as soon as he left the bus.

38. Not Chemtrails

The internet is never short of a crazy conspiracy theory, and one of the craziest is the theory of chemtrails. Some people believe that the vapor trails left in the sky by planes are actually chemicals, used to control the population. When you point out that the trails have been there for years, they deny it.

They'd have some difficulty denying this. There are the trails of fighter planes in the sky above London, after British pilots have gone head to head with German bombers during World War II.

39. Run Away Fast!

When a volcano erupts, you have a lot more to worry about than just the lava. The lava will do a lot of damage, but so can the ash and the gas that comes along with it. Sometimes, the ash and the gas is the most dangerous part.

When all of the emissions of an erupting volcano come together, they're called a pyroclastic flow. This is a pyroclastic flow enveloping Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines after an eruption in 1991. If you see one of these headed in your direction, run away.

40. The First Astronaut

Who should truly get the credit for being the first astronaut sent into space? Should it be Russian Yuri Gagarin, who flew into space in 1961? Or should it be this cheeky chimpanzee who had Gregarin beaten by several months?

The chimp, called Ham, was the final test subject flown into space by NASA, who saw testing on chimps as the final stage before blasting human beings into orbit. Thankfully, Ham returned unharmed from his mission, and so the American space program moved forward.

41. Welcome Home

If this picture could be summed up using a single word, the word would be 'joy.' The man in this picture is Lt. Colonel Robert Stirm, in full military uniform, being greeted by his family. They've been waiting to see him for a long time.

Stirm was captured by Vietnamese forces during the war, and was held for six years. During that time, his young children were growing up without him. Stirm waited a long time for his freedom, and a camera was there to capture this beautiful reunion.

42. Catch Of The Day

We know what you're thinking, but no, we haven't used any Photoshop trickery on this picture. Nor is it a picture of a movie prop, or a fake fish. This is a very real manta ray.

The enormous ray was caught by a fishing boat captained by Al Kahn, pictured next to his record-breaking haul. It measured over twenty feet wing to wing, and weighed five tons. He called it his 'Devil Fish.' It probably had similar thoughts about him.

43. The First Gaming Convention

If you're the sort of person who sees sporting arenas packed with thousands of people to watch esports tournaments and rolls your eyes, you're making a mistake. The idea of 40,000 people coming together to watch expert Fortnite players isn't new. Video game conventions and meetups have been happening forever.

This picture captures one of the first-ever international video gaming competitions. Players are competing to crown the world's greatest Space Invaders player. Admit it - you still enjoy playing that game occasionally today!

44. Another Day At The Office

Babe Ruth broke so many records during his years playing baseball that we could have made a list of fifty photos which only featured him. Instead, we've picked one in particular that was particularly special.

In typical pose, this is Ruth smashing the ball high into the sky, with the players behind him unable to do anything but gaze on in wonder. It was a landmark home run - the 700th of Ruth's long and distinguished career. He was one of a kind.

45. The Face Of Defiance

Every revolution starts somewhere. The family of Dorothy Counts fought long and hard to get their daughter accepted at a previously all-white school, and when they won, it was a first in American history. Getting her accepted by the school was only half the battle.

Counts herself had the hardest battle - gaining acceptance from classmates, every one of whom was white. This was America in 1957. Counts was braver and stronger than every single one of the children behind her put together.

46. You Might Want To Look Up!

The more you read about Nikola Tesla, the more you begin to suspect he might have been a magician instead of a scientist. He certainly had an innate understanding of electricity, and the experiments he performed were years ahead of his time.

In this picture, he's in his lab experimenting with something called a magnifying transmitter. It looks spectacular - but he can't even be bothered to look up from his notes for long enough to watch it. Perhaps he'd seen it all before!

47. The Little Things

We've seen many images from the Second World War, and most of them have driven home something about the losses the war caused - losses of freedom, losses of normality, losses of possessions. In circumstances like that, gaining even the slightest thing back feels like a huge victory.

In this picture, an Austrian boy who has lost his home and all his possessions to a bomb has been given the most basic of gifts - a pair of shoes. It's made him happier than you or we could probably ever imagine.

48. Going Against The Trend

With the benefit of seventy years of hindsight, we now wonder how people could have bought into Adolf Hitler in the first place. We wonder how the average person could have been persuaded to support a cause that was manifestly so evil. The answer is that not everybody did.

It's easy to follow the crowd like a sheep, but some people manage to hold onto their principles. The circle in this picture shows us the only man brave enough not to join in with a Nazi salute in 1936 in Berlin.

49. Outrunning The Sexists

Historical change doesn't just happen; it has to be fought for. Even when something has changed for the better, you'll still find people trying to fight for the ways of the past. This is Kathrine Switzer running the Boston Marathon in 1967.

Before Switzer, no woman had ever completed the race. Some men would rather things stayed that way, because they didn't believe women should be competing. Switzer outran them, finished the race, and made her mark on history.

50. Double Vision

Although there are obvious perks to being the President of the United States of America, there are also drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is that people tend to satirize and mock you. As an example, they make Halloween masks of your face.

President John F. Kennedy seemed to be able to laugh such things off, though. Here he is in 1962, posing for a happy picture with a child wearing one much mask. The child, by the way, is his eldest daughter Caroline!



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