The Most Incredible Rare Historical Photos You'll Ever See
Ever heard of the "Astrochimp?" When do you think the world's first selfie was taken? (Hint: it was WAY before Kim Kardashian!). Maybe you have wondered about what Robin Williams or Arnold Schwarzenegger were like before they were famous? If you love learning fun tidbits and curious facts about history, you'll love this huge compilation of weird and wonderful historical images. Just click ‘next page’ to start flicking through this gallery of awesome pictures and even cooler backstories!
The Hindenburg Disaster
Some readers may remember this horrific event, which happened in 1937 over New Jersey in the United States of America. Airships and zeppelins were popular throughout the first half of the twentieth century, but this disaster, alongside a few others, saw the end of this era. The Hindenburg disaster may be the most well-known airship tragedy in Western history. The German zeppelin caught fire while it was trying to dock. Sadly, nearly half of those on board perished in the accident: 13 passengers, 22 crew and 1 ground worker. Nowadays, Airships and blimps are generally used more for aerial photography and advertising.
This breathtaking image of a woman from the Spanish Philippines was taken in Manila by Francisco Van Camp in 1875. The title of the photo, “Mestiza de Sangley,” is now an outdated and derogatory term referring to people of Chinese ancestry. The term was used throughout the 16th century up until the 19th century in the Spanish-occupied Philippines. Photo historian John Silva says that: “the photograph is unusual because the woman exhibits a subtle and alluring look in stark contrast to photos of women, mostly modest-looking of that period. Her hair glistens with coconut oil and her fan, half-open means she is single.”
The Curious Tale of Olive Ann Oatman
Olive Ann Oatman is pictured here and has a very curious history indeed. She was one of seven children in the Oatman family. While traveling one day a Western Yavapais tribe killed her entire family, sacrificing only Olive and her sister Mary Ann. They were taken and sold to a Mohave tribe. Oatman became the first white American woman with a tattoo after she was assimilated to the tribe. The young woman was given a Mohave clan name and stayed with the tribe until she was 19.
Fighting for Civil Rights
Pictured here is the mugshot of Joan Trumpauer Mullholland, who was a notable civil rights activist throughout the mid-twentieth century. She joined the freedom rides and was among the first white women to go to a black college. Mullholland’s family was not so pleased. Her parents even tried to bribe her out of her activism with a trip to Europe! This clever activist took them up on the bribe, returning to her usual activism as soon as she returned. Joan Trumpauer Mullholland is still alive and well today, and she spends her time educating youth about activism and the Civil Rights movement.
Do you remember the first computer you ever used? If you were born before 1990, it might have looked a little something like these monstrous machines! In 1980, video game giant held the first-ever National Space Invaders Championship. The game won Game of the Year, and the tournament solidified Space Invaders in gaming and e-sports history. Rebecca Heineman won this initial tournament, which was an enormous contest of over 10,000 gamers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Invaders. The game was only released two years prior to the tournament, in 1978, so you can see how quickly people fell in love with it!
James Dean’s Final Hours
James Dean was the quintessential American ‘cool guy,’ and is famous for his roles in East of Eden and Rebel Without a Cause. What younger readers might not know is that he died tragically at age 24 in a high-speed car accident. This image captures the young Hollywood heart-throb on the day of his passing. Dean was on his way to a car race when he was involved in a near head-on collision with another vehicle. They were both traveling at very high speeds, and eyewitnesses say that he seemed to have died instantaneously.
Abe Lincoln’s Before and After
The time difference between these two images is a mere four years. Are you wondering what it was that aged this president so rapidly? Try being president of the United States during the Civil War, and maybe you’ll see how stressed you feel! Poor old Abraham Lincoln. Elected at age 52, his four-year term certainly did a number on this fondly-remembered leader. During his term he managed to outlaw slavery with the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution, issuing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and supervising the civil war effort from the North. Lincoln was famously shot by actor John Wilkes Booth, which ultimately led to the president’s death.
In 1953 the US Army performed eleven nuclear tests using a free airdrop technique from a gun-deployed tower in Nevada. The Army had a test site there about 65 miles west of Las Vegas, and this particular test involved over 21,000 soldiers. Uh… wait a second, they were testing nuclear weapons stronger than Hiroshima less than an hour’s drive from Vegas? That’s right. The test site itself is still radioactive, including the groundwater, which poses a threat to people in the area. Eek!
Things were a little different in the 1960s. Being an air hostess or member of the cabin crew in the twenty-first century is still considered a relatively glamorous career. But back in the 60s and 70s, they took this glamour to a whole new level. To work 10,000 feet in the air as a stewardess for one of the major airlines in those days, you needed to be aged 20-27, be between 5”2 and 5”9 in height, to weigh less than 140lbs and to be unmarried without children. Phew! Of course, this ruled out a lot of would-be women from becoming flight attendants. The ones that met this rigid criterion were usually pretty fun-loving and bubbly young women whose dreams of seeing the world came true every day at work. Of course, the selection measures are a lot more egalitarian now, which makes the occupation more accessible.
A 15-Year-Old Civil Rights Activist
In 1957, four black students were enrolled at otherwise all-white North Carolina schools for the first time in history. A fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts was among these four students. Her dad and a family friend dropped her off at Harry Harding High School for her first day, but the car was blocked from getting closer to the entrance. Her father told her to hold her head high, and she did. The young student endured the white kids around her spitting and throwing rocks. It must have taken tremendous strength to walk those steps towards the school. Four days later, she was forced to leave school because of the constant bullying and racial harassment from other students.
The 1930s “Face Beat”
In 2019, having a “beat face” is usually a good thing for makeup lovers and feminine folks. But these boxers in the 1930s might not interpret the phrase the same way! This image was taken on the rooftop of the Ball Building in Hollywood and was featured in Sports Illustrated. The building is famous for being one of the Big Five studios throughout the Golden Age of Hollywood and has a rich history. There have even been reports of ghosts! In his book “Haunted Hollywood," Tom Ogden tells a chilling tale about the building: "a female phantom passed by two employees working late one night on the second floor. They didn't recognize her, so when the men turned to ask the stranger who she was, the spirit had disappeared." Spooky stuff!
The Giant of Illinois
This image will have you rubbing your eyes in amazement! Robert Wadlow, otherwise known as “The Giant of Illinois,” was the tallest man in the whole world. He was born in 1918 and died sadly at the young age of 22. Wadlow’s unusual height was due to hyperplasia of the pituitary gland. This meant that his body produced more human growth hormone than the average person, and so he never stopped growing. By age five he was already 5”6. Wadlow’s death was caused by an infection on his ankle. He was 8”11, or 2.72m tall when he passed away.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Burned Cross
Everyone knows that Martin Luther King Jr. for his incredible activism and leadership as a Civil Rights hero. But this image might leave you scratching your head. What is he removing from the ground? It turns out in April 1960 the Klu Klux Klan intimidatingly burned a cross on his front lawn. His house was bombed only four years prior to this event, but luckily his wife and children were not hurt in the event. Perhaps this is why he appears so casual about removing this horrific symbol of hatred from his garden. Sadly, King was used to being targeted for his activism, but that’s what made it all the more important
Pop Culture Icon Brigitte Bardot
Alongside Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot is the quintessential Hollywood sex symbol. In the 1950s and 60s people all over the world knew her name, and most people still do today. In this image a young Bardot is on a Cannes beach enjoying the sun. She shied away from the spotlight in the 1970s, but remains an outspoken animal rights activist and overall, a controversial figure. In 1989 Bardot was taken to court by a neighbour for castrating their donkey. The poor creature was supposedly harassing her own donkey! She was also in the spotlight in the 2000s for inciting racial hatred… turns out she’s not as relaxed and carefree as we might have thought!
A Break from Death Row
Is this gentleman making an unusual break from prison? Perhaps he’s a circus performer? Or maybe this is even a roller coaster test? Nope - this image shows a prisoner testing a safety net in 1958. Nowadays we have crash test dummies and computer modeling to figure out what will happen when a person falls or crashes. But back in the 1950s, they didn’t have this kind of technology. We suppose that if you were on death row waiting for the chair this would be a much more entertaining way to pass your time.
Traveling by Hippo
You’ve seen people riding horses and elephants, but how about hippos? This hefty fellow was a circus hippo and pulled the cart along as a part of a performance. It is a little known fact that the hippopotamus is a rather fast animal, and can run at 14mph. Who knows - in the age of climate change, hippos might just be the answer to all our climate change woes! After all, you wouldn’t have to fill them up with gas, although your fruit and vegetable bill might be a little expensive! We’re not sure that this guy is so happy about pulling this cart though, so on second thought…
The Bill Gates of Paper Towers
Have you ever seen a stack of paper this high? Neither. Turns out it was so tall it took Bill Gates himself to climb it! While Microsoft had been launching software on CD-ROM since 1987, the CD-R recordable disk wasn’t on the market until the early 1990s. The DVD came along in 1995, and the CD was suddenly the most popular method of software and video game distribution. In 1994, Microsoft released this advertisement to show the home PC user how much information they could store on these CD-R recordable disks. Can you imagine how tall the paper stack would have been when they released external hard drives?!
The Pennhurst Mental Asylum
Of all the different kinds of abandoned places across the world, surely there are few as horrific as the Pennhurst Mental Asylum. This image shows an abandoned room of the reportedly haunted hospital, which was closed down in 1987. Terri Lee Halderman was once a resident of Pennhurst, and would often visit her parents with unexplained bruises. This eventually resulted in a court case, which discovered that patients in the court had suffered inhumane treatment and cruel and unusual punishment. This led to the closure of the asylum, which is now a haunted house attraction.
A Momentous Handshake
In late June of 1913, 53,000 Civil War veterans gathered at Gettysburg for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Of this enormous group of men, only around 9,000 had fought on the side of the Confederates. It was the largest Civil War veteran reunion ever and was particularly impressive because of the advanced age of the men. While organizers had been worried that the two sides might not see eye to eye, it turns out that the reunion was peaceful. At the reunion, President Woodrow Wilson made a speech, saying: "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten—except that we shall not forget the splendid valor."
A Mountain of Barrels
While many of us know about Prohibition in 1920s America, not many people are still alive to remember it today! This image shows a huge stack of liquor barrels. It isn’t clear whether these folks are eagerly waiting for the chance to fill them up, or if they’re about to burn them! Either way, we sure do feel sorry for the people who had to go without their whiskey or beer throughout the earlier part of the twentieth century.
Fidel & Che
Ever heard of a couple of guys named Fidel Castro and Che Guevara? These two political giants were communist and Marxist heroes. Here they are pictured together on a mission to Cuba to overthrow Fulgencio Batista as a wider part of the 26th of July Movement. On the 26th of July, a crew of 82, including Fidel’s brother Raúl, descended upon the Playa Las Coloradas. The landing was anticipated by Batista and only 20 of those that had arrived on the boat survived.
Mt. Pinatubo Eruption
This next image might look like the scene of a natural disaster film, but it is in fact real life! On the 15th of June, 1991, Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines erupted. It was one of the largest eruptions in recent history and occurred at the same time as Typhoon Yunya. Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia all recorded ash falls from the event. Thankfully, tens of thousands of people had been evacuated days before, but 847 people still perished in the disaster. At any rate, you wouldn’t want to be this guy!
We Want Beer!
Prohibition in the United States between 1920-1933 meant that the sale and production of alcohol were outlawed under the eighteenth amendment. Prior to the banning of liquor, the substance had been free-flowing. Paradoxically, prohibition saw the rise of many speakeasies; in some cities, there were more speakeasies than there had been bars during the time of legal drinking! In 1932 citizens took to the streets and made sure that the government would pay attention. It must have done something, because alcohol was finally legalized again in 1933.
Ham the AstroChimp
Did you know that they sent a chimp into space? You’re looking at him right now. This little fellow is Ham the chimp, who was the first hominid in space. He is named after the Holloman Aerospace Medical Center in New Mexico, which prepared the chimp for his big 1961 journey. His trip to outer space was successful, and he had been trained to press certain levers if he saw a blue flashing light. He landed back on earth 16 minutes after takeoff with only a slightly bruised nose as far as injuries go.
Big Jay McNeely’s Blues
Born Cecil James McNeely in Los Angeles, California, Big Jay Mc Neely was sometimes also known as “King of the Honkers” due to his flamboyant and honking saxophone technique. He was a member of The Tenor Saxophone Honkers and wowed audiences with his talent and incredible stage presence. In 1971 he quit music and became a postman, but returned to touring in the 1980s. McNeely has been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame. He passed away recently in 2018 after a battle with prostate cancer.
Hitching a (Bike) Ride
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock is photographed here at the Cannes Film Festival of 1972. Of course, everyone knows Hitchcock as a director and film giant of epic proportions. His suspenseful films are famous for reeling audiences in with his voyeuristic shots, making viewers feel like they’re watching from across the room of the scene. The British filmmaker racked up an impressive 46 Oscar nominations. Of all his films, Psycho, North by Northwest, Vertigo and Window were his most famous.
Four Score and Seven Years Ago…
If you’ve ever heard the famous phrase, you likely know that its origins lie with none other than President Abraham Lincoln. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address The speech was delivered four and a half months after the battle of Gettysburg at the place where it was won against the Confederacy. If you’ve ever wondered what “four score and seven years ago” really means, we’ve got you covered. Lincoln is referencing the signing of the Declaration of Independence! His speech ends in the hope: “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Hitler in Disguise
These iconic images of Hitler’s potential disguises were likely produced by New York artist Eddie Senz. The circumstances behind the image creation are a little dubious, but it is thought that the US Government commissioned or created them to show people how to spot him in disguise. There is, of course, speculation that Hitler never died, and that he may still walk among us. It seems unlikely that he does, but at any rate, there are still Nazi officials hiding out in South America!
Baby Gas Masks
During the second world war, gas masks were given to families all across Britain to protect them in case of Nazi poison gas attacks. Of course, they didn’t just give out gas masks for adults, but for children and babies too. These particular masks were designed for babies up to two years of age. Even though parents were given lessons on how the masks worked, there was still pushback from British mothers and fathers who were concerned about safety.
The Very First Selfie
Who do you think invented the very first selfie? We’ll give you a clue: it wasn’t Kim Kardashian! You’ve heard of artists painting self-portraits, and with the advent of photographic technology came similar artistic experimentation. Robert Cornelius was a lamp maker, chemist, and amateur photographer, and he took this image of himself in 1839. It just so happens that this may be the very first selfie ever taken! The more you know...
A Very Famous Desk
You may very well be able to guess who sat at this famous desk. We will give you a clue: the image was taken at Princeton by a LIFE photographer on April 18, 1955 hours after the well-known figure had passed away. Of course, it was none other than beloved genius Albert Einstein. When we think of the influential scientist, the equation “E = mc^2” comes to mind. This formula concerns mass-energy equivalence. In 1921 he received a Nobel Prize for his contribution to quantum theory and his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.
British Queen Meets Hollywood Queen
It turns out that Marilyn Monroe, Queen of the Hollywood Golden Age, was the same age as Elizabeth, the Queen of England. Here they are pictured shaking hands in 1956 at the premiere of the Battle of the River Plate at Leicester Square. Monroe was there to support her husband, Arthur Miller. Unfortunately, this would be the only time that the two icons would meet, as Monroe passed away only a few years later.
Ever wondered if there is a solution to crying while peeling onions? We’ve tried chewing gum, washing onions under cold water, and all kinds of other techniques besides. But no technique we’ve seen trumps this guy’s method! This image is sure to bring a smile to your face. The soldiers pictured are clearly trying to make the best out of a bad situation. They seem to have figured out that gas masks will also protect you from the dreaded onion tears! Go figure!
Between 1995 and 1997, President Bill Clinton had a relationship with a 22-year-old White House intern. This young woman went by the name of Monica Lewinsky. When the scandal broke in 1998, Clinton famously told Americans that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." Unfortunately for the President, Lewinksy’s co-worker Linda Tripp had been recording their phone conversations for some time. The rest, as they say, is history!
Not Just Any Bodybuilder
Most readers will immediately recognize that face: it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger! The Austrian-American is now famous for his role in films like Terminator, but before he was an actor, Schwarzenegger was a professional bodybuilder. And a very successful one at that! By the time he was 20 years old, the actor-to-be had already won Mr. Universe. He then won Mr. Olympia seven times and is still considered to be a big name in the bodybuilding world. Schwarzenegger would later become the Governor of California, serving eight years in office
Bond Goes to Jamaica
Filming for the first James Bond film began in 1962. Our favorite Bond, Sean Connery, is pictured here on location in Jamaica where they were making Dr. No. The younger locals clearly seemed to like him, as this little girl is waiting for his autograph on a coconut! Here’s a fun story: can you recall the tarantula scene? They originally got the shot by putting glass between Connery and the tarantula, but it didn’t look quite right when they watched it back. Filming Stuntman Bob Simmons was asked instead to shoot the scene, which he describes as one of the most terrifying in his whole career!
A Serenade for the Ages
Alongside John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong may be one of the biggest names in jazz history. This is why he was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame posthumously in 2017! In this adorable photo, he serenades his last wife Lucille at the pyramids. We wonder what he was playing her? Of course, it would have been pretty romantic! Louis and Lucille were married right up until the trumpeter’s death in 1971.
A Very Famous Mime
You might know one of the guys in this image from films like Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Flubber! Of course, it’s Robin Williams! No one could forget that face. This image was taken in 1974 as he was clowning around in Central Park as a street performer. Photographer Daniel Sorine didn’t know that Williams would become one of the greatest actors of his era, but we’re glad he snapped this shot! Don’t they look like they’re having fun?
This brings us to the end of our massive collection of rare images from the past. Did you learn something new? At any rate, we hope you had fun! If you enjoyed checking these photos out, you're bound to love some of our other articles.