Vintage photos that shine a new light on history
Cringe-worthy, knee slapping, and downright gouge your eyes out images somehow prevent us from looking away, went that’s all we want to do. These historical pictures capture moments that defy belief, and tell stories that are funny, weird, and highly unsettling.
Sophia Lauren throwing shade
A picture may be worth a thousand words but sometimes a look says it all. This 1955 photograph was taken at Sophia Lauren’s unofficial coming out party, and sitting pretty to her left is fellow actress Jayne Mansfield. Years later Lauren commented she was afraid Mansfield’s dress was going to “blow.”
In 1957 Paramount pictures signed their newest talent in Sophia Lauren. To honor her arrival in Hollywood the studio threw a big party at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Lauren later confirmed what her look seems to say, as Maynsfield’s cleavage brought on the stink eye from the Italian actress, and may have stolen the show too.
Next: Baby + tall building + cage = ?
That’s not a baby air-conditioner hanging from the window of an apartment building, it’s actually just a plain ol’ baby. “Baby cages,” as they were called, were the answer to house moms who needed to occupy their baby while cleaning, or just have a means to escape from them for awhile.
The idea for the baby cage originated in London in the 1880s, and came into style in the 1920s. We know things were harder and kids grew up in a tougher world than generations that followed, but you’ll probably think twice about taking parenting advice from your great grandmother anytime soon.
Next: Sexy Stalin?
Josef “Handsome Devil” Stalin
We’d say “Na Zdorovie (cheers) comrade” if it weren’t for the fact that the former Premier of the Soviet Union was also one of histories biggest mass murderers. This photo of the handsome devil was taken in 1901 when Stalin was 23 years old, which means he was still over two decades away from becoming the head of the Soviet Union’s Politburo.
Stalin successfully extended his countries boarders, brought Russia into the industrial and nuclear age, and helped defeat fascism. He also killed hundreds of thousands of his own people collectivizing farming, going after enemies, and sometimes just for the hell of it. With all of that on his resume and his good looks, he’s a real keeper.
Next: Playboy bunny
She looks great, but watch out because that’s a journalist in disguise. This historical photo was taken months before Gloria Steinem wrote “A Bunny’s Tale,” chronicling her time as a Playboy bunny in one of Hugh Heffner’s New York night clubs. Steinem worked as a cocktail waitress in 1963, which was a time when Playboy already had millions of subscribers.
Also during this time Heffner was penning monthly essays that he said were going to be, “the Emancipation Proclamation of the sexual revolution.” Evidently, some women weren’t having it, and Steinem made her name as a journalist by exposing the not so awesome reality of being a bunny in a gentleman’s club. She looks great indeed, but we can only guess what she’s done to those cocktails she’s holding.
Next: Everyone’s favorite green ogre.
Is that Shrek?
Is that Eve coming from the rib of Adam? Well, the man on the right is no Adam, but he was known as The French Angel, and was a two-time world champion wrestler. He is also rumored to have been the inspiration behind the hero ogre in Dreamworks’ Shrek.
Though the studio never substantiated the rumor, the physical comparison is obvious. The French Angel, aka Maurice Tillet had a hormone disorder that caused his bones to grow larger, especially in his face, hands, and feet. Though Shrek saved the Princess Fiona, it doesn’t look like American Supermodel Dorian Leigh is enjoying herself in this 1945 photograph.
Next: Anne Frank like you’ve never seen her.
Anne Frank on the beach
The lovely young lady standing up is Margot, and her slightly more famous sister Anne Frank is the one lying down on the beach. This photograph was taken at Zandvoort, which is a beach town in the Netherlands during the summer.
The German Wehrmacht invaded and occupied the Netherlands just three months earlier, and this photo was taken almost two years before the Frank family went into hiding in the achterhuis (secret annex). On August 1, 1944 she wrote in her diary, “will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?” Unfortunately, three days later she would be interned by the Nazis and died in a concentration camp. She never realized it during her lifetime, but the answer would be “yes,” as today her diary has sold 30 million copies in 70 languages.
Next: President Lincoln before and after the Civil War.
Aged Lincoln, before and after the Civil War
These side by side photos of presidents as they came into office, versus how they left office, reveal just how strenuous the highest office in the land is on the man who occupies it. On the left is a 42-year-old man who had just been elected president. He doesn’t look too happy because before he even took office seven states had already seceded from the union
In just over four years in office, Lincoln only knew 44 days without war. Though he was reelected shortly before he was assassinated, one has to wonder what state he would’ve been in had he completed his second term. That man on the right is only 45 (this is Lincoln’s last-known photo), but he looks more like 65.
Next: Hitler plays with model cars.
In the boot
“Look at that Herman, in ze butt… I mean boot!” Ferdinand Porsche lifts the lid of his new Beetle model Volkswagen, much to the delight of Adolf Hitler and Luftwaffe Chief Herman Goring. The were showing the Fuhrer a model of a national project.
Some will be surprised to learn that “Volkswagen” means “people’s car,” and in the 1930s, Hitler contracted Porsche to build a car for the German people. Hitler and Goring wouldn’t survive the year 1945, but the Beetle is still a popular design. In 1972 it surpassed the Model T as the most mass-produced car in history. Not so cute now, is it?
Next: Reckless testing.
It works better with a person behind it, I swear…
Testing the effectiveness of any invention is important if it intends to take off, but does a person have to be wearing the world’s first bullet proof vest to show it stops bullets?! But that’s how Casmir Zieglan and Jan Szczepanik, the inventors of the bullet-proof vest, successfully marketed their invention.
Zieglan took to inventing a bullet proof vest after Mayor of Chicago Carter Harrison was slayed by an assassin’s bullet. According to reports, Zieglan had an appointment with President William McKinley in an effort to sell it to the high-powered statesman. McKinley missed the appointment, and on September 6, 1901 two bullets from an assassin hit home. Doctors successfully removed one bullet, while the other killed him two weeks later.
Next: Scary clowns.
The original Ronald McDonald
Ronald McDonald may spread good cheer nowadays but the painted freak below isn’t going to make anyone smile. The original Ronald McDonald was played by a man named Willard Scott, who eventually lost the job because he was too heavy and wasn’t energetic enough. His costume featured a paper cup nose, a styrofoam hat with a McDonald’s meal, and cheeseburger that came out of his, ahem… belt.
Willard’s version of Ronald McDonald was certain to make clown phobia a real thing for a generation of people, and was phased out in the early 1960s. After he lost his job Scott is reported to have said, “It was the first time I was really screwed by the mass media.” Well, shucks Mr. Scott, we can’t imagine why.
The Wrong… er, Wright brothers
The man hanging like a monkey is Orville Wright, and he’s trying to get out of his plane after a crash. If you know his name less than his slightly more famous brother, it’s because Orville lost a coin toss to brother Wilbur in December of 1903, thus Wilbur became the first man to fly.
This photograph was taken in 1911, but a crash by Orville Wright three years earlier is the one that made history. While ferrying one of the first passengers ever on an airplane, a piece of Orville’s propeller fell off and the plane plummeted to the earth. The crash killed Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, who was the first passenger to be killed in an plane crash.
Why are they peeling onions?
These British soldiers are making good use of their gas masks as they protect themselves from the natural tear gas produced by onions. This photo was taken in 1941 during WWII, which was a war that employed the use of chemical weapons far less than the previous world war, and that means that gas masks can be used for tertiary duties.
It’s actually nice to see gas masks being used for purposes other than the ones they were designed for. We can just make out what appears to be an irritable eye looking back at the photographer from the soldier on the right, revealing that this onion peeling detail is probably a punishment. However, wearing those masks in the North African heat must be punishment enough.
Next: More swimsuits.
That lawman is not swinging her around because they’re dancing, but rather she’s putting up one heck of a fight as he tries to throw her in a paddy wagon. The reason that’s happening is because she and a few of her friends are wearing “abbreviated swimsuits,” which violated modesty laws of the era.
This photograph was taken in Chicago in 1922, when popular swimwear was typically one piece, less than revealing, and downright unflattering. In Atlantic City, men weren’t even allowed to take their shirts off at the beach because they didn’t want “gorillas on our beaches.”
Next: Meteor hits Earth
Meteor hits a woman!
Ann Hodges is photographed below, and she is worth remembering because she is the only known person in history to be struck by a meteorite. Others probably have been struck, but the odds of surviving a strike from a meteorite has to be astronomically (pun intended) small.
Hodges was napping on her couch when the nine-pound rock smashed through her roof, struck her radio, and ricocheted to hit her in the side. The rock is worth more than its weight in gold, as in 2017 it sold for $7,500 at a public auction.
Next: Pin up girl.
Before she was “Hanoi Jane,” Jane Fonda was “living the good life” and was every American man’s fantasy. This is one of the most iconic images of her protests on the war in Vietnam when she made a trip there following a US bombing of the northern capital, Haiphong. Over the next few years, she would become an advocate for the Black Panthers, Native Americans, and the anti-Vietnam war movement.
Perhaps most egregious, or most impressive (depending on how you look at it), Fonda was arrested at five different US bases, and later traveled to North Vietnam to protest the war. Years later she would apologize for her actions, but at the time it was a radical step to see a former pin-up girl turn anti-war activist.
At times of study, some prefer the outdoors, or perhaps the music of Mozart. But in the case of Nikola Tesla giant bolts of lightning are far more soothing. Those strands of electricity are 22 feet in length, and if he looks unconcerned, it’s because this photo was used to sell his brand.
Tesla’s “magnifying transmitter” was capable of producing millions of volts of electricity, and while in Colorado Springs around the turn of the 20th century, he managed to use similar technology to light up 200 lamps spread over 25 miles without using any wires.
Next: Marilyn Monroe
“Happy Birthday Mr. President”
Okay, so there’s nothing unsettling about the way Marilyn Monroe looks, but singing “so sweetly” to a man you had an affair with while his wife sits next to him is nearly the definition of scandalous. Her beautiful, skin colored dress dazzled the audience at Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1963, and probably had Jackie Kennedy fuming.
In a book that came out after she died, Jackie Kennedy was said to have had a number of “revenge” affairs to get back her husband. Her list of accolades allegedly includes Warren Beatty, Paul Newman, and Frank Sinatra. It’s also rumored that she slept with both brothers Robert and Ted, while Marilyn is said to have hooked up with both Jack and Robert. We’ve heard of keeping it all in the family before, but good grief!
Next: Bond and his ladies.
On the set of Goldfinger
Sean Connery looks right at home playing the part of James Bond while surrounded by beautiful women. The smooth Scotsman was quite the ladies man, but he was also a bit of a bad ass too. Allegedly, he took on and beat five men of the infamous Edinburgh gang single-handed.
On the set of the 1958 film “Another Time, Another Place,” the lead actress, a woman named Lana Turner, was the victim of a jealous, and abusive boyfriend. Her boyfriend, a rising gangster in Hollywood, got so jealous of Connery that he showed up to the set and almost shot him, except Connery took the gun away before a shot could be fired.
Next: Fighting for civil rights.
A young freedom fighter
Joan Trumpauer Mulholland was a young activist and freedom fighter who put aside her own education, family, and life in order to participate in protests and contribute to the causes she believed in. She challenged authorities and society’s standards with free-speech before it was truly acceptable to do so in the US.
Mullholand, born in 1941, participated in many sit-ins and demonstrations for civil rights and in support of African-American students attending the University of Georgia. She spent some time in prison for this, and even spent two months on death row before being released.
Next: The first football helmet.
If this looks dumb, that’s because it is, and the men behind this human missile are enjoying themselves even more than we are. This is one of the world’s first football helmets, and from what we know now of the shortcomings of even the modern helmet, we can deduce that this man is losing brain cells by the millions.
Football was born from the sons of Civil War soldiers, who couldn’t match their father’s bravery on any battlefield in the absence of war, and chose to show their might on the gridiron instead. In its early days, it was an absurdly violent sport, as 45 people died from playing football between 1900 and 1905.
Next: Next level party foul
Cry over spilled beer
Sacrilege, bad form, and a downright party foul are occurring in this devastating photo taken in Prohibition era Detroit. While it looks like someone poked two holes in a fishbowl, Prohibition agents discovered a secret distillery on the third floor of this building and dumped it like tea in Boston Harbor.
Prohibition was especially unpopular in Michigan, as not only were there an estimated 16,000 to 25,000 speakeasies in 1928 Detroit, they were the first state to ratify the repeal of the law. But even that measure cannot bring this wasted booze back. Sigh.
Next: Going out in a blaze of glory
Bonnie and Clyde’s final ride
What could be more romantic than going out in a blaze of glory with your lover? Probably a lot of things, and when it came to the most famous crime couple in American history, the photograph below reveals that their end was anything but glorious.
The two young lovers Bonnie and Clyde died in their mid-20s, but not before they went on a crime spree that saw them rob about a dozen banks and countless small grocers and gas stations. The duo also killed at least nine police officers. When law enforcement got word Bonnie and Clyde were coming around, they didn’t even attempt to arrest them, opting instead for a machine gun firing ambush that killed them both.
Next: The final photo of the Beatles
The Beatles call it quits
Just about everyone loves the Beatles, but you’ll be sad to hear that this is the last known photograph of the four men together. It was taken on August 2, 1969, and although they look like a happy bunch, each one of them knew it was over by the time this photo was taken.
Differing views on the direction of the music was the main factor in breaking up the Beatles (shout out to Yoko Ono), but it didn’t help that their manager Brian Epstein died of an overdose two years earlier. Even though the Beatles stopped touring in 1966, Epstein was still able to bring them together afterwards to produce several albums, including “The White Album” and “Yellow Submarine.”
Next: Beware of the military industrial complex.
This nuclear weapons test isn’t the highest yield atomic bomb you’ll ever see, but when your country and adversaries are building nuclear artillery shells, then you know an arms race is in high gear. Though the United States would develop many low-yield, short-range nuclear weapons, this was the only one they tested.
On May 25, 1953 the Upshot–Knothole Grable nuclear weapons test fired an 11-inch projectile that flew for 19 seconds. When it landed, it created a blast radius of about 6.2 miles. This 15-kiloton bomb had roughly the same yield as the “Little Boy” bomb that fell on Hiroshima eight years earlier, except it was a fraction of the size.
Next: The explosion heard ’round the world
What could be so shocking, and so utterly devastating to create these terrible reactions? On January 28, 1986 the unthinkable happened. Seventy-three seconds into the 10th flight of Space Shuttle Challenger, it broke apart and exploded like a nuclear bomb in the sky.
An investigation by NASA revealed that the crew may have been alive for several minutes after the explosion, and made efforts to recover control. Part of that crew was astronaut Christa McAuliffe, who was going to be America’s first teacher in space, after the elementary school educator won a contest over 11,000 other applicants.
Next: A shocked General Patton
General’s Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton are looking at Nazi loot, in this case, several of the world’s most famous paintings, which they collected as their armies gobbled up almost all of Europe. The Nazis collected the works and actually put them on display in two different museums created during WWII.
One museum featured works from Aryan artists, while the works of Picasso and other famous artists were put in a separate museum as an ode to “degenerative art.” The art world got the last laugh though, as up to four times as many people visited the degenerative museum versus the one created to bolster the Nazi regime.
Next: Honest Abe’s finest speech.
The Gettysburg Address
Just to the right of center, we can see Abraham Lincoln delivering his famed Gettysburg Address on the grounds of the cemetery made to honor the fallen. In just over two minutes, President Lincoln managed to sum up the philosophy of the Declaration of Independence, the goals of the Constitution, and why the fight against tyranny is so important.
His speech was very poorly received. The previous speaker had droned on for over two hours and the crowd was dazed from the hot summer sun. After delivering what may have been the greatest speech in American history, no one even clapped, and he is reported to have said, “it fell on the audience like a wet blanket.”
Next: Jesse Owens.
Jesse Owens stands to receive gold
The man, the myth, the legend — Mr. Jesse Owens stands tall on the podium as he receives one of four gold medals he won at the 1936 Olympics. While Owens successfully smashed Hitler’s hopes of showing off his superior Aryan athletes, he shares the podium with future Axis nations, Japan and Germany.
Jesse Owens’ performance in the 1936 Olympics still ranks as one of greatest individual sport’s achievements in history. In the face of a hostile crowd and country, Owens set an Olympic record in the long jump, tied a world record in the 100m dash, and set new world records in the 200m and 4 x 100m races.
Next: The “mad” president.
John Quincy Adams
The dashing young man before you is none other than the unremarkable sixth President of the United States John Quincy Adams. His presidency was so lackluster that among his achievements are being the first president in history to be photographed.
If he looks angry, that’s because he is. Quincy, son of President John Adams, is the only third party candidate to win the presidency, and that only happened because the two primary candidates tied, and a vote in the House of Representatives elected him to his only term. President Grumpy only won 31% of the popular vote.
Next: Khrushchev smokes a cigarette with a friend.
Indonesian President Sukarno receives a light from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The two are chummy in the photograph as Sukarno successfully rid his country of Western Imperial oppression, and was being supported by Russia and China as he steered his country toward the left.
That all changed on the night of September 30, 1965, when communist forces in Indonesia staged a coup. President Sukarno was ousted from power in the struggle that followed, and the backlash against communism was so severe that it is estimated between 500,000 and 3 million people were executed.
Next: Old soldiers never die.
Vietnam War Memorial
“Doughboy Joe” is full of emotion in this photograph, visible in his eyes, and he has a good reason for it. He is 86 years old in this photo, but he is wearing his uniform from when he served as a soldier in WWI.
In November of 1982, Joseph F. Ambrose honored the indoctrination of the Vietnam Memorial by showing up in his full-dress uniform, and adorning the flag that draped over his son’s coffin almost 30 years earlier. Joseph survived WWI, but he showed up in Washington DC to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, just as his son did for his nation in the Korean War.
Next: Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Annie Edson Taylor is one of those that narrowly tows the line between brave and stupid. To her credit, she pulled off something amazing: she was the first to survive the 180-foot fall from the top of Niagara Falls… in a barrel.
Taylor was an astounding 63 years old in October of 1901, when she and her cat (who joined her for company) made the world’s most famous barrel roll. She emerged with nothing but a scratch on her head, and takes her place among a long list of daredevils who defy both logic and sanity.
Next: Space chimp.
Ham the Astrochimp
On March 31, 1961 America’s first surviving astronaut, a chimpanzee named Ham, rocketed into space Hard as a Mother @#$%er and successfully made it back home. He beat Russian Yuri Gagarin by twelve days, and American Alan Shepard by almost two months.
Ham deserves his big, shiny smile, as he wasn’t the first animal to be launched into space. Sputnik II had the world’s first passenger into space, a dog named Laika. Laika didn’t make it, because the Russian’s didn’t even design a reentry feature for the spacecraft.
Next: NASA tests with a cat!
You may have heard that “cat’s always land on their feet,” but if this one doesn’t, we’ll blame gravity for it. Cats, dogs, monkeys, and mice were used extensively by NASA and the Air Force from the 1950s all the way until the the mid-1960s.
Mainly, the animals were used in high-altitude or high-velocity experiments to see how organic matter held up to the rigors of blast off and life in space. In fact, the United States’ first astronaut was a monkey, while the Soviet Union’s was a dog. Research about zero gravity, as this experiment is testing, have told us that this cat will be alright, but probably forever wondering after if the bottom of the earth will fall out from under him all of the sudden.
Next: Prohibition party!
The night is December 5, 1933, and everyone is having a toast to the end of Prohibition. When the United States’ nearly 14-year experiment with drying out the nation was obviously a failure, the booze flowed in major cities like rivers of gold.
According to sources, celebrations at the end of the prohibition were slightly subdued. Prohibition pretty much had the opposite effect of sobering up the nation, as all saloons and speakeasies operated behind closed doors, didn’t adhere to normal liquor laws, and made people like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano very wealthy. So when it was repealed, it was just another reason to drink.
Next: Flying high at Hitler’s secret fortress.
Easy Company taking it easy
The official orders to Easy Company after they took the Eagle’s Nest: “Stand fast.” One of the most decorated and effective combat units in WWII found themselves in Hitler’s hideaway high up in the Alps in the final days of the war, and perhaps it’s not surprising that Hitler wasn’t there, because he was afraid of heights.
The man just to the right of center is Major Dick Winters, who led his company in the 101st Airborne through some of WWII’s most hard-fought battles. He was such an effective leader that he dropped into Normandy without a weapon, then managed to make it through the Battle of the Bulge without firing a shot.
Next: Picket’s charge succeeds at Gettysburg?
Here we are back at the battlefield of Gettysburg, except this time the year is 1913 and it’s the 50th anniversary of the battle. In the photograph below, Union and Confederate soldiers display their mutual respect for one another, after fighting one of the fiercest battles in American history.
Each year, the veterans of the battle participated in a reenactment. In this particular year, as Confederate veterans bore down on Union lines in their effort to recreate Picket’s Charge, Union veterans were said to have jumped from their positions and surrendered to the Confederates. The gesture was well received, as it was a tribute to the bravery of the men in the charge that broke the back of the Confederate army.
Next: A regal meeting before the Great War.
The leaders during WWI
Nine kings pose for this historical photo at the funeral of King Edward VII in May of 1910. Among the key players are Kaisar Wilhelm II (fourth from left) and King George V sitting in the middle. It was the last time they would meet together in peace. Trouble had been brewing for a while.
Tensions were already beginning to flare in Europe during 1910. Assassinations and attempted assassinations saw the deaths of several monarchs, as the world took a turn toward chaos. In 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, which ignited the cataclysm that became WWI.