These days, everyone carries a smartphone equipped with a high-resolution camera with them at all times. But not so long ago cameras were a rarity, which explains why photos of historical events from decades ago are so rare and special. This is what turns snapshots of history, like the set of photographs featured here, into an extremely important, and absolutely fascinating glimpse into our past. Check them out, and prepare to be amazed.
We love this set of photographs from 1890, of a couple giggling between frames - mainly because of how rare it is to see 'outtakes' of historical photographs. Unlike today where advances in technology allow for tens of photos to be snapped in mere seconds (most of which are later deleted,), in the Victorian era and the dawn of portrait photography, each photo taken was precious. Not only are these photos incredibly rare, but just as rare is the Victorian portrait where someone is smiling at the camera!
In 1890 when this couple was captured, the camera itself took an exceptionally long time - sometimes as long as fifteen minutes, and holding a smile for that long would definitely be physically challenging! So instead, somber or unsmiling portraits were the mainstay of the day.
In 1944, Walter and Werner were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps during World War II, where over 1.1 million men, women, and children lost their lives. Auschwitz was the only camp to tattoo Jewish prisoners as they arrived. Incredibly, Walter and Werner arrived on the same day and were tattooed just ten numbers apart: A1828 and A1838, but despite being in the camp at the same time, they had never met until this reunion, seventy years later.
The third man in this truly incredible photo is also a Holocaust survivor who was sent to Auschwitz, and was brought together with Werner and Walter by the Last Eye Witness Project which is dedicated to preserving and sharing the stories of Holocaust survivors.
The beautiful thing about this casual but stunning photo of David Bowie and Iman, is that it reflects one of the rarest things in the world of celebrity and fame: authenticity. The musician and model kept their relationship and marriage extremely private. "I fell in love with David Jones," Iman told The Guardian newspaper in 2014, "I did not fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a persona.".
Bowie and Iman were set up on a blind date by his hairstylist, back in the 1990s! They married just two years later, going on to have a 26-year relationship until Bowie's untimely death in 2016.
First Woman to the Moon
Margaret Hamilton, featured in this rare historical photo from 1969, is the software engineer that history forgot to make into a household name, like Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. Hamilton led the NASA software team that landed the Apollo astronauts on the moon. She was a 'software engineer' before anybody even knew of the term, and in the photo featured, is standing next to what is believed to be the code or program listings for the successful Apollo space mission.
“She was a pioneer when it came to development of software engineering and...a pioneer as a woman in the workplace contributing to this type of program, taking on this type of role.” - said Dr. Teasel Muir-Harmony, the curator of the Project Apollo collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The Italian Way
Sophia Loren, award-winning Italian actress of the 1950s-1970s, is as famous for her talent as her curves. Loren was hailed as an "Italian Marilyn Monroe" when she burst onto the Hollywood scene in 1957, famous for her quote "I'd rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0". Her beauty and her famous silhouette may have overshadowed her talent, but her long career is a testament to her dedication to her career.
Sophia Loren won an academy award for Best Actress for her role in 'Two Women' and went on to win countless awards and nominations during her career, including no less than five Golden Globes.
Bernie and Birmingham
Snapped here at a protest in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, Bernie Sanders would go on to become a US senator and eventually run for the office of President of the United States. In this rarely seen photo a young Sanders is hauled off by policemen for taking part in a nonviolent protest; which began in Birmingham in the early 1960s backed by Dr. Martin Luther King, when the city was still largely racially divided.
Through marches, boycotts, sit-ins and the involvement of the international media, Dr. King and the nonviolent direct action campaign eventually forced desegregation in Birmingham.
Spiky on the Outside, Soft in the Middle
Punks are people too! Reminding us that the "hard-as-nails" reputation of punk rockers is just a front, a punk kneels down at the request of a little boy who just wanted to feel the spikes on his jacket! Snapped at a Pride event in 2009, we love this photo for all the obvious reasons - the little boy's excited expression, and the look of amusement and ease on the seemingly tough man's face.
With a leather jacket, boots, black clothes, and a mohawk all accounted for, this punk is living his best life and proving that our outsides are just that - surface only.
Under the Radar
This genuinely rare photo appears in a book by Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell, published in 2020, entitled 'A Photographic History of Men In Love, 1850s-1950s'. The book is a collection of moving photos - some taken secretly - of couples throughout that specific period in history, when male partnerships were illegal. The photos reflect men and couples from all walks of life, and are a rare glimpse into private worlds, kept secret and hidden from society.
‘...These photos had stood the test of time for somewhere between 70 and 170 years, and we were now the custodians of these unlikely survivors of a world that is only just beginning to catch up,’ the book says.
Dolly and Dean
Ever heard of Dolly Parton's husband? Neither had we! So rare is a photograph or sighting of them together, it used to have some believing he didn't exist! But he does, and his name is Carl Dean. The couple is extremely private, which may just be the secret to their long-lasting marriage, currently going on 56 years. They met when Dolly was just 18, got married two years later. They have been together ever since!
On their 50th wedding anniversary, Dolly and Carl renewed their vows with Dolly quoted as saying, "I'm dragging him kicking and screaming into the next fifty years!".
The Ways We Remember
Seen here are sixty pairs of iron shoes line the banks of the Danube river, a memorial to the Jews of Budapest, Hungary, who were murdered during WWII. When the nationalist-socialist political party Arrow Cross took power in 1944, they aligned themselves with the Antisemitic stance of Hitler's Nazi party, and began deporting thousands of Jews to concentration camps. Within days of them taking power, 600 Jews were murdered - with many rounded up and shot on the banks of the Danube.
In total, over 100,000 Jews from Budapest perished during the Holocaust i.e. over 50% of the Jewish community was eradicated. The shoes stand as a monument to those who were murdered simply because of their religion.
At the Hour of Our Death
This moving, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo was taken by Héctor Rondón during a rebellion that took place over five days in 1962 in the South American country, Venezuela. In the photo, chaplain Luis María Padilla holds a wounded soldier who was seriously injured in the infamous El Porteñazo anti-government rebellion. He was among 700 people injured during the short-lived rebellion, which also left 400 people dead. The uprising was ultimately unsuccessful in overthrowing the government.
Rondon's photo 'Aid from the Padre' won the 1962 World Press Photo of the Year, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in 1963.
Anne and Margot Frank
Two sisters happily, innocently playing in the sand in 1940 in Zandvoort, a beach resort in the Netherlands. Horrifically, just two years later, the lives of these two Jewish girls in Holland would be drastically altered. In 1942, regulations regarding Jews came into place in Holland with the enforcement of the yellow star, restrictions on movement, Jews fired from public positions and places of employment, and Jewish children barred from public schools. To escape deportment, the Frank family went into hiding in a secret annex behind her father's offices in Amsterdam.
The Frank family hid in the annex for two years, along with two other families, with their whereabouts eventually reported they were sent to Westerbork and then onto Auschwitz where their mother died of starvation. The girls' eventual deaths were recorded in Bergen-Belsen in 1944.
Love of My Life
Freddie Mercury is a legend in the rock music world, remembered forever as lead singer and songwriter for the band Queen and for his larger-than-life stage personality. Today, more than 30 years since his death; he is regarded as a gay icon, but prior to coming out Freddie Mercury was engaged to a woman, Mary Austin, pictured here. Despite their relationship ending in 1976, they remained close friends until Mercury's death from AIDS in 1994.
Mercury lead a particularly private 'private' life, refusing to acknowledge to the public that he had contracted AIDS up until days before his death.
This photo of two sweet-looking children speaks to a dark and horrific period of American history. Following Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and suspecting an invasion, President Roosevelt ordered the internment of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, regardless of whether they were US citizens or not. This photo; entitled 'Lunch Hour', was taken by Dorothea Lange at the Raphael Weill School in San Francisco - she captured the children together moments before the Japanese American population of the school was evacuated from the neighborhood.
In all, over 112,000 Japanese Americans were forced out of their homes and transferred to internment camps - where some spent as long as three years, enduring dehumanizing conditions, and the loss of their homes, jobs, and lives.
An Electrifying Kiss
One can never know when those CPR skills will be needed! This incredible photo, entitled "Kiss of Life", features two coworkers, Randall G. Champion and J.D. Thomspon, utility workers out performing maintenance on electricity lines in 1967. Champion accidentally brushed against a low voltage line and went unconscious. His harness kept him from falling off the pole, while his quick-thinking coworker below him climbed up and gave him mouth-to-mouth. It was the photographer, Rocco Marabito who had been driving past, who called for an ambulance!
Thompson saved Champion's life that day, and Rocco Morabito won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography for “The Kiss of Life” in 1968.
Starving in Uganda
In the photo, a Catholic missionary holds the hand of a starving Ugandan child thought to be around four years old. 60% of children in the Karamoja region of Uganda died during the famine of 1980. Although Mike Wells won the World Press Photo of the Year award for the photo, he says he's ashamed that he took it, and that a newspaper sat on it for five months without publishing it - eventually only submitting it for the award.
Food shortages in the Karamoja region of Uganda began around 1980 when the region was at war with all of its neighboring countries. A complete lack of food and supplies brought on the famine, one of the worst in history.
The Long Road to Liberation
This extremely rare photo captures a heartbreaking, exhilarating moment in history, as Allied forces began liberating concentration camps across Poland and Germany when WWII ended. The joy on their faces appears genuine, but survivors of the camps faced a long road of recovery and trauma ahead. Some tried to return home, to find their families, friends had been murdered and their communities wiped out, while their 'neighbors' had taken possession of the Jewish-owned houses. Reparations and recovery were a long, long way away.
The testimonials of Allied soldiers who liberated the camps revealed the full extent of the horrors of the Nazi regime, eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Within the confines of the photobooth, this couple was free just to be, but it's likely that outside of the booth they would not have dared. Sexual activity between men was only decriminalized in Canada in 1969, with many facets of the law around it remaining in place - including a difference in the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals. This law was finally repealed in 2016, while same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005,
In 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a formal apology in a speech to the LGBTQ+ community on behalf of Canada and the Canadian government, and in 2020 the Police also officially apologized for decades of oppression.
A Daily Dose of Good Dairy
Robotic milking machines are a game-changer for farmers, bringing higher milk yields and less workforce costs, but how did cows get milked before there were robotic or mechanical devices? Well, by hand of course! This photo demonstrates a unique part of history to modern audiences - a slower time, when cows were milked by hand, by farmers or traditionally by milkmaids - women who milked the cows and then also made butter and cheese - and other animals, like the cats pictured, interacted on the farm.
By the 1930s, cows were being milked by mechanical pumps which only allowed them to be milked twice a day. Robotic machines mean cows can be milked 5-6 times a day, and we very much doubt cats are allowed anywhere near them!
To Vax - It Wasn't a Question
Two boys, one virus. The child on the left - unvaccinated, and the child on the right - received the vaccine. Before the smallpox virus was eradicated thanks to vaccines, as many as 9 in 10 babies died after contracting it. Smallpox was a life-threatening disease that involved pus-filled blisters all over your body. Smallpox survivors were often left blinded and terribly scarred. Although her name is not widely known, smallpox was eventually eradicated thanks to Lady Mary Montagu.
The vaccine for smallpox began with the idea of inoculation, Mary Montagu, herself a smallpox survivor and the wife of the British ambassador in Constantinople, wrote of the Turkish methods of 'variolation' that she had seen. She had both of her children inoculated, and while eventually, the British medical establishment recognized that this method worked - they gave her absolutely no credit.
Lesser-known celebrity fact: the retired actress Cameron Diaz and the rapper Snoop Dogg went to the same high school, Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California, USA. While it's not completely unusual that two kids from the same high school in California would end up in a Hollywood world of fame and celebrity, it's pretty funny that Diaz revealed she once bought weed from Snoop Dogg when they were teens!
"We went to high school together. He was a year older than me and you know, I remember him there. There were a lot of kids in our school, there’s like 3,500 kids, but I remember him, he was very tall and skinny, wore lots of ponytails in his head.” - Cameron Diaz
Kids of the KKK
A picture that says a thousand words. At a rally of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia in 1992, a policeman looked down to find a small child checking out their reflection in the policeman's shield. The policeman was black, the child white, and dressed like a Klansman. The KKK is a hate organization established around 1915, dedicated to promoting white supremacy and white governance in the southern states of the USA.
In the 1920's, the KKK also had auxiliary organizations for teenage boys, girls and children, called the Ku Klux Kiddies.
Tears Dry on Their Own
Amy Winehouse's last concert in Belgrade, Serbia, was called her "worst ever" performance in 2011, but knowing what we know now, how soon she would die following this concert, it seems even more tragic. The musical force of nature that was Amy Winehouse burst onto the music scene in 2006, she won numerous awards and the press hounded her incessantly. She battled alcohol and drug addiction, eventually dying of alcohol poisoning in 2011.
The photo featured is one of the last of Amy ever taken. The audience in Belgrade that night saw her forget the words to lyrics, stop a song halfway through and act bizarrely, causing them to react angrily. But looking at her in this moment captured, it's possible to feel her distress, sadness, and loneliness. In a month she'd be dead.
Running for Her Life
Kathrine Switzer had been training as a runner with men from her college's cross-country team when they decided to run the Boston marathon together in 1967, when women were banned from participating in the 26 mile run. Switzer signed up and all went smoothly until a few miles into the race, when an organizer - furious that she was running - physically accosted her, trying to pull her number off and force her to drop out. Switzer completed the full marathon and went on to become an activist for women in sport.
Five years later, women were officially permitted to enter the Boston marathon. "I knew if I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward." - Kathrine Switzer
By now, we all know how Barack and Michelle Obama met and fell in love which appears in a chapter of Michelle's book, Becoming. If that hasn't reached your bedside table book pile yet, Michelle was Barack's advisor when he joined her Chicago law firm as a summer associate. But photos of the actual wedding - now those we haven't seen! Their first dance was to Stevie Wonder's "You and I". Swoon.
In this photo, Barack can be seen to be doing what we think is the traditional removal of the bridal garter! That, or a foot massage. Either way, they are still going strong thirty years later.
After one look at this photo, the story just has to be told. This astonishing episode is not an urban legend or folk tale - a man really did perform an appendectomy on himself, in less than optimal conditions. While on a Soviet Antarctic expedition, surgeon Leonid Rogozov began to feel unwell and, as a doctor, understood his symptoms where those of acute appendicitis. With no hope of an airlift out of Antarctica, Rogozov decided to perform the surgery. On himself. Without general anesthetic.
He made sure assistants were on hand, that equipment was sterilized and a back-up plan of what to do should he pass out in the middle. It took almost two hours, but Rogozov did it. Back home in Russia, he was hailed as the pinnacle of Society fortitude and perseverance.
Life Down Under
Steve Irwin was an exceptional Australian zookeeper and conservationist, someone who was born into the world of animal care and rehabilitation, and spent the rest of his life working with animals. Together with his wife Terri, children Bindi and Robert, the Irwins became renowned around the world for their work at the Australia Zoo. Pictured here, Steve and a very little Bindi, with a very little crocodile!
Sadly, Steve Irwin was killed by a sudden stingray attack while filming a documentary about Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Today, both of his children continue his wildlife conservation work.
In this rare family photo, a young Barack Obama plays with his grandfather on the beach in 1966. They look like they're having a grand time, and the photo speaks mountains about their relationship. Former President of the United States Obama has often spoken of the fact that it was his grandparents who raised him in Hawaii from the age of 10, not his mother, who was studying in Indonesia.
Interestingly, Obama's grandfather pictured here, Stanley Dunham, was also raised by his own grandparents as a child after his mother died by suicide and his father sent him and his brother away.
Sometimes a photo gives a glimpse into the past, while talking directly to us here in the future. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1959 was ten years into the civil rights movement in the USA. Desegregation of the US army had taken place in 1955, but Emmett Till was killed for whistling at a white woman that same year. These couples were photographed in a public place in Pittsburgh where they clearly felt safe - but in other parts of America, such as Mississipi, the retaliation against the civil rights was still raging.
The photo was taken by Charles 'Teenie' Harris, an African American photographer who used his hometown of Pittsburgh as inspiration and muse for all of his work.
The Backless Number
Vikki Dougan may not spring to mind when thinking of the 1950's, Old Hollywood "bombshells" such as Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield, but Dougan had her 15 minutes of fame around 1956. An aspiring model and actress, after appearing on the cover of Life magazine she began to garner interest and in 1957, Ralph Crane snapped this iconic photograph of her in a backless dress - from then on she appeared everywhere in backless dresses and simply became known as The Back. But unlike other successful models of the period, her acting career never took off and she never made it 'big' in Hollywood.
“It wasn’t really me. I was playing a part. I didn’t even think there was anything even sexy about showing a back. It just didn’t occur to me.” - Vikki Dougan on said of The Back.
I Feel Pretty, Oh so Pretty
Two darlings of their day! Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, both born in 1929, followed their rising stars to Hollywood where each pursued a very different but very successful acting career. A lot of people wonder if they ever crossed paths, as there are little to no photos of them together. They never starred in a film together, but given how famous they both were at their peak, they must have met - and here is the evidence!
This super rare photo was taken backstage at the Oscars in 1956, where both actresses were presenting awards. Hepburn and Kelly had each previously won an Oscar themselves, both for Best Actress!
At the time of publishing this photo, the 95 year old woman featured in her hospital bed was the oldest person in Italy to have recovered from Covid-19. However, since then a 101 year old man from Rimini, Italy, has recovered from the virus. In France, the world's second oldest person also survived contracting the coronavirus at an incredible 117 years old. A French nun by the name Sister Andre made a full recovery in 2021.
Italy specifically has suffered greatly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, with over 165,000 deaths across the country.
Bringing Our Boys Home
This unbelievable photo is of the RMS Queen Elizabeth ship pulling into New York harbor in 1945, packed with US soldiers returning from Europe. The ship left Scotland on August 6th, 1945, and arrived in New York on August 11th, 1945. The ship looks absolutely packed which might be attributed to all of the soldiers coming up top for the arrival into NY, or it might be because Eisenhower opted to get more soldiers home all at once, rather than more ships with fewer soldiers on.
The original was taken in black and white, although it's not clear how or from where the birdseye view photograph was captured. This color version of the photo is credited to Royston Leonard.
The Aussie Spirit
Clearly posed for photographers; five gaunt, skeletal liberated Australian prisoners of war read the paper and drink cups of tea. This remarkable photo reflects the testimonies given later by surviving POW's, of inhumane conditions and callous treatment - starvation, routine beatings, abuse and forced labor. Over 8,000 soldiers died at the hands of their Japanese captors while in captivity across southeast Asia. Mostly all captured Australian soldiers were sent to Changi, Singapore and from there onto other work camps.
During World War II, Japan captured around 22,000 Australian prisoners of war from across southeast Asia. They were sent to work camps across the region, from Singapore to Thailand, Burma and Korea and were forced to labor constructing railways, roads and more to be used by Japanese forces.
'Measuring the full value of a teacher goes well beyond their impact on test scores. Teachers who improve students’ noncognitive skills also improve long-term outcomes that include their odds of graduating from high school.' - Edutopia. This teacher from 1970 clearly chose the right profession - just look at the passion he's bringing to this class on the physics of surfing! Although there are no details on who this awesome teacher is or what was actually happening here, we can imagine the impact his classes had on his students - just look at their faces!
Some teachers make more of an impression than others. An important take-home: when compared to every other aspect of schooling, it's teachers that have the biggest impact on student achievement!
Yes, we're also reaching for the tissues. This heart-wrenching photo of Major Terri Gurrola and her daughter Gaby became famous during the early years of the war in Iraq. This beautiful moment of reunion between Gurrola, a military doctor, and her toddler, was caught at Atlanta airport in 2007. Gurrola was arriving home for a two-week break from a seven month stint in Iraq, where she ended up being stationed for two years.
"Even now, looking at the picture brings tears to my eyes. It shows the true emotion of what we military parents go through." - Gurrola, 2014
The Universe in a Nutshell
Although he was, and still is, recognized the world over for his work in astrophysics and his struggle with Motor Neurone disease, Stephen Hawking's primary caregiver, wife and mother to his children, Jane, i.e. the glue holding it all together, went largely unrecognized. The couple were married in 1965, very soon after receiving Hawking's diagnosis, they had three children together and went on to have a thirty year marriage. “The truth was, there were four partners in our marriage... Stephen and me, motor neuron disease, and physics.” - Jane Hawking.
Throughout this tumultuous time, caring for her children and deterioriorating husband - who refused any other carer, as well as refusing to talk about his disease - while he pursued his work, Jane pursued a Ph.D. of her own, which took twelve years to accomplish. They divorced in 1995, with both of them shortly remarrying.
What's in a Name
From a slightly boring, very conventional 'Davy Jones', the name he was born with, to the legendary, innovative, creative enigmatic popstar: David Bowie. Why did Bowie change his name? It's not unusual in the world of music to perform under another name, but the answer is clear to all of Bowie's diehard fans - he loved theatrics! Bowie invented and reveled in his alter egos; Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, and Aladdin Sane, and often presented in androgynous outfits.
Not only that, but a pop star named Davy Jones already existed - Davy Jones of the Monkees! To avoid stepping on toes, after a brief flirtation with changing his first name to Tom, he eventually settled on Bowie.
Love is love! We love these rare photos from 1900 of a couple cosying up in front of the camera. It's not clear which country the couple was living in, but lesbianism in the United Kingdom was never actually illegal, the law pertained only to male sexuality and homosexual activity. In America, it took until 1973 for homosexulity to be removed from the list of mental health disorders by the American Psychiatric Association.
Lesbianism may have been frowned upon in general society, but it wasn't actually recognized as even existing in Queen Victoria's realm - highlighting the invisibility and misogyny that the lesbian community has had to deal with for decades.
It's a Feline Thing
A rare glimpse into the private life of a very private person. He was a cat person! At one point in time, the world famous musician Freddie Mercury owned over ten cats. In one house he moved to, every cat - Tiffany, Dorothy, Delilah, Goliath, Lily, Miko, Oscar, and Romeo - had a bedroom, emphasizing how important they were to him, how they were like family. Mercury preferred to adopt from shelters, although he did own one thoroughbred cat, given to him by Mary Austin.
Mercury's long-term partner, Jim Hutton, describes the cats as being like Freddie's children, calling to speak to them when away on tour, naming songs after them and more.