40 Must-See Photos From The Past

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” was coined by American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane in 1911. It’s a simple notion that applies to many aspects of our lives, but especially to historical photography. Sometimes, one simple picture can tell you more about history than any story you might read or any document you might analyze.

These photographs all tell stories about the historical figures or events that they represent. Once taken simply to document their present, they now help us witness the past. Many photographs only become iconic shots years later, once we understand their importance and historical context. From historical landmarks and famous people to the basic daily routines of the past, these pictures portray the past in a way that we can empathize with and understand more intimately.

Perhaps the wars, poverty, fights for freedom and little miracles of the past have lessons for us that we can use today?

Woman With A Gas-Resistant Pram, England, 1938


Unpacking the head of the Statue of Liberty, 1885


Elvis in the Army, 1958


Animals being used as part of medical therapy, 1956


Testing of new bulletproof vests, 1923


Charlie Chaplin at age 27, 1916


Hindenburg Disaster, May 6, 1937


Circus hippo pulling a cart, 1924


Annette Kellerman promotes women’s right to wear a fitted one-piece bathing suit, 1907. She was arrested for indecency


Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, 1901


106-year-old Armenian Woman guards home, 1990


Baby cages used to ensure that children get enough sunlight and fresh air when living in an apartment building, ca. 1937


The original Ronald McDonald, 1963


Disneyland Employee Cafeteria in 1961


Advertisement for Atabrine, anti-malaria drug, in Papua, New Guinea during WWII


Soldier shares a banana with a goat during the battle of Saipan, ca. 1944


Little girl with her doll sitting in the ruins of her bombed home, London, 1940


Construction of the Berlin wall, 1961


Unknown soldier in Vietnam, 1965


Bookstore in London ruined by an air raid, 1940


Walter Yeo, one of the first to undergo an advanced plastic surgery and a skin transplant, 1917


Suntan vending machine, 1949


Measuring bathing suits – if they were too short, women would be fined, 1920′s


Martin Luther King with his son removing a burnt cross from their front yard, 1960


Hotel owner pouring acid in the pool while black people swim in it, ca. 1964


Lifeguard on the coast, 1920′s


Artificial legs, UK, ca. 1890


Mom and son watching the mushroom cloud after an atomic test, Las Vegas, 1953


Mother hides her face in shame after putting her children up for sale, Chicago, 1948


Austrian boy receives new shoes during WWII


Hitler’s officers and cadets celebrating Christmas, 1941


Christmas dinner during Great Depression: turnips and cabbage


The real Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, ca. 1927


Last prisoners of Alcatraz leaving, 1963


Melted and damaged mannequins after a fire at Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London, 1930


A space chimp posing to camera after a successful mission to space, 1961


Illegal alcohol being poured out during Prohibition, Detroit, 1929


Princeton students after a freshman vs. sophomores snowball fight, 1893


A beautiful suicide – 23 year-old Evelyn McHale jumped from the 83rd floor of the Empire State Building and landed on a United Nations limousine, 1947


First morning after Sweden changed from driving on the left side to driving on the right, 1967

Via boredpanda

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  • linda martin

    Picture of mass destruction ,hunger death and poverty–thousands of young men killed for our freedom and yet we now have no freedom as our enemies are unknown, they appear on every street corner–violence, stabbings all too common now and man has no respect for their fellow man— those poor young men gave their lives for nothing.

  • Alex Mita

    The old woman guarding her house in 1900 probably went and got a Kalashnikov from the future then.

    • JR_atHome

      You may want to delete that! The Pic says 1990.

      • Joseph Von Zipper

        Seems to me 1990 is the past.These photos are of the “Past”

        • Anand Chand

          You mean 1990 is the present, photos were labelled from the past.

          1990 was just yesterday for most of us.

  • Alex Mita

    And I love my dyslexia. It is 1990. Apologies :)))

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  • Chik Junxiong

    Does anyone else actually see the resemblance between Elvis and the statue of liberty?

    • Claudia Parish


  • Jaderson Cividini

    Politics and War, making life worst for millions, to make few millionaries….

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  • Marty Robinson

    These are neat, but the Hindenburg “photo” is actually a well-known painting 😛

  • Savage Ro

    “The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” was coined by American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane in 1911.”- False. This was Napoleon Bonaparte who coined the phrase

  • disqus_zmjVO4meiO

    Cite your sources!

  • Paul Bauer

    Every picture ever taken is from the past.

  • JustpassNthru

    Looks like racial media propaganda agenda was alive and well in 1964 CA., or at least I don’t believe that the caption reflects what the photographer was trying to portray. It is common to pour acid in a pool to balance pH levels. Notice there is also a white guy swimming with them and a black woman is hugging on him? Oh, the mistreatment and segregation!

    • Malaena Medford

      If you look closer you will see the look of sheer pain on their faces. They are swimming away from the acid and the white guy is just in the way. Pouring the acid in the pool to burn everyone was not the man’s intent, seeing as how acid just dilutes to almost nothing in the water. He poured it directly onto their skin and burned them, this is clear from the looks on their faces. Another thing to note, they did not pour the acid in when people were swimming, they did it when the pool was empty and stirred the water for a while so that it was evenly spread and not a danger to anyone.

  • Lane Blackmer

    I’m wondering what was in those snow balls!! Rocks?

  • The picture of the guy pouring acid in the pool is so disturbing…omg

  • Michelle Buczacz

    That joyous little boy who received new shoes! Heart-rending.