Many of us are familiar with the most famous moments in history, no matter what specifics we were taught in school. But it doesn’t always occur to us that there may be photographic evidence of some of history’s most eye-opening events and situations. This is particularly so given that we often tend to associate great on-the-spot photography with the current era of instant cameras and smartphones. Here are some remarkable pictures of historical scenes – frozen in time and captured forever.
20. The S.S. Normandie keels over
On February 9, 1942, the S.S. Normandie caught fire and then capsized at Pier 88 in New York. Originally constructed in France, the ocean liner was among the most powerful and largest ever built. But after being seized by the U.S. during World War II, she ultimately met a fate that was less than glamorous. You see, the Normandie was salvaged – but then it was thought that restoring her would be too expensive. She was eventually scrapped in 1946.
19. Fishermen blow their own belugas
You will notice from this eye-opening photo that it’s no normal catch in which these Russian fishermen are taking an immense pride. No, these whoppers are belugas – the biggest freshwater fish in the world, famed for being a prime source of caviar. This particular haul was brought ashore and photographed for posterity – lest any other angler disbelieved in the catch – on the Volga River in 1924.
18. Surf’s up in the Roaring Twenties
Surfing wasn’t always as glamorous as it is now. Evidently, back in the early 1920s, square wooden boards and bathing suits made from wool – probably to act as protection from splinters – were all the rage. You would think as much, anyway, judging by this picture taken in 1922. And these adventurous surfers are shot on a beach not in California but the seaside town of Perranporth in Cornwall, England.
17. Boy pictures the future
While these days we struggle to turn our heads without encountering a screen of some sort, back in the late 1940s, television sets were only just beginning to find their way into people’s homes. It’s little wonder, then, that this young boy is so transfixed by seeing a TV in a shop window in 1948. We can’t make out which Kardashian is on screen and reflected in the inside of the shop’s window, mind you.
16. James Naismith gives birth to basketball
It is not often that a sport can be attributed to one single person. The collective roots of soccer, for instance, can be traced all the way back to ancient civilizations. But the credit for the birth of basketball can certainly be claimed by one individual. In 1891 a then-30-year-old James Naismith literally wrote the rulebook for the sport – before going on to found a basketball program at the University of Kansas. Here he is teaching his wife the rudiments of his game in 1928.
15. How Margaret Hamilton climbed to the Moon
Technology has come a heck of a long way since the 1960s. The Apollo rocket that sent men to the Moon, for example, was no more powerful than a pocket calculator. Nevertheless, it did require an extensive and ingenious guidance program. And here the program is, pictured towering alongside its author, lead NASA software engineer Margaret Hamilton, in 1969 – the same year in which Neil Armstrong and crew made history with their momentous landing.
14. Hockey players lensed looking for a lens
Spot the puck? No, but few displays of true sportsmanship can match this scene from 1962. You see, players from the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks halted this game during no less than the Stanley Cup Finals. And it was all so that both teams could search for a player’s lost contact lens. Even the referee got involved.
13. Animal antics alleviate anxiety
Back in the 1950s, Michigan’s University Hospital had a special program for its sick children: animal therapy. Indeed, by the time it was pictured here in 1956, the initiative had already been a success for 30 years. The animals helped the hospital’s child patients recover, assisting the minors by alleviating their anxiety, stress and pain.
12. Giving bulletproof vests a shot
If standing in the street taking turns to shoot at one other sounds like an odd way to spend your time, that’s because it is. Yet that’s exactly what some hardy men had to do in the 1920s. This is when the first bulletproof vests were designed. And, after all, the invention had to be tested somehow. Here are two brave testers taking a vested interest in 1923. We’re just glad that the personal armor items worked…
11. Original Ronald McDonald scares up some customers
McDonald’s’ mascot may not be as terrifying as Pennywise the Clown, but there is still something decidedly creepy about Willard Scott’s creation. And the original 1960s version of Ronald McDonald, pictured here, is truly unnerving. The clown would surely have shaken the milk out of terrified kids rather than persuaded them to consume McDonald’s milkshakes.
10. The Berlin Wall as a building sight
For 28 years, the Berlin Wall divided the now-German capital along ideological lines: the communist East and the capitalist West. And the structure’s fall in 1989 is one of the major historical events of the late 20th century. Pictured here is its hasty construction in August 1961 by the German Democratic Republic. The regime claimed to have planned the wall as an anti-fascist measure to keep out conspirators in West Berlin.
9. Making time for war literature
The eight months and five days during which London endured intensified bombing from the Nazis in 1940 and 1941 became known as the Blitz. Luftwaffe air raids destroyed and damaged countless buildings in England’s capital. And among those was a bookstore, pictured here in October 1940, where a boy sat in the debris enjoying a free read. Ironically, the title he is reading is The History of London.
8. Really spraying something
In some ways, the past was more advanced than the present. Just look at this suntan vending machine, for instance, which could be found as far back as 1949. Nowadays, you’d have to visit a tanning salon or resort to fake tan in a bottle. Surely that’s the opposite of progress. Sadly, though, with this customer having been shot in black and white, we can’t judge how orange she actually is.
7. Martin Luther King roots out evil
Given that he was the figurehead of the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., it’s little surprise that Martin Luther King Jr. was targeted by the evil of the Ku Klux Klan. On one such occasion in April 1960, the white supremacist group shamefully burned crosses outside the homes of black Atlanta citizens, including MLK’s. A pressman was on hand to photograph this powerful image – as King removes the offending object while his son watches on.
6. Putting Victorian-era prosthetics through their paces
You might think artificial or prosthetic limbs are a modern invention, dreamt up in science fiction and only realized in the past decade or two. But as far back as the late 19th century, craftsmen such as Englishman James Gillingham were beginning to see the potential in artificial limbs. In this shot, taken circa 1890, a child recipient strikes a pose. And in fact, Gillingham had built prosthetics for a whopping 15,000 patients by 1910.
5. The shameful face of post-war poverty
It is little wonder that this Chicago mother felt so ashamed that she hid her face from the camera’s lens. Reportedly, she had just put her children up for sale. Perhaps more astonishingly, this heartbreaking scene happened as recently as 1948, pointing to the abject misery and poverty that many American citizens endured at this time.
4. Spectacular results from atomic bomb test
Atomic bomb testing was still being conducted in the Nevada desert in 1953. Here, a mother and son innocently watch the awesome but terrible sight of a mushroom cloud in the distance. Presumably, if they hang around long enough, they’ll also get to see Indiana Jones hurtling through the sky in a fridge.
3. High times in the Middle East
Prior to its hardline Islamic revolution of 1979, Iran was a surprisingly forward-thinking and modern place in which to live. In the 1960s and ’70s, mullets, flares, pop music and Western cars were hip and trendy with Iranian youth. So too was some very un-conservative and distinctly groovy beachwear – as sported by this carefree young woman in 1960. Sadly, it is impossible to conceive of this image being recreated in the Iran of today.
2. Oldest player in theater of war
From the late 1980s to the mid-’90s, the Nagorno-Karabakh War raged through Azerbaijan, which sits astride Europe and Asia. The fighting represented a war of liberation for ethnic Armenians who lived in the country, and it saw up to 30,000 people die. Here, in 1990, a 106-year-old Armenian lady is pictured sitting guard outside her home, determined not to become a statistic.
1. Sad reality behind Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin
Dramatized in the 2017 movie Goodbye Christopher Robin, the true story of the child whose teddy bear inspired Winnie the Pooh is more than a little melancholy. As he grew up, the real-life Christopher came to resent his author father, A.A. Milne, for – as the son saw it – exploiting his history. Pictured here in the late 1920s are Christopher and Pooh sharing an innocent moment.