Shocking Photos of Past Generations Show How Different Life Is Today
By | November 22, 2022
When the USPS Parcel Post service began there were seven instances of people mailing children between 1913 and 1915, beginning with a baby in Ohio.
Some economists claim that it’s the best time to be alive. People have access to everything they want and happiness comes at the push of a button, or more accurately the tap of a touch screen. The economy has been on a 30 year upswing and yet we have the highest rates of child depression and suicide. What’s happening with young people that’s making them so unhappy? And why were people so much happier in the early 20th century?
Let’s take a look back to the old days and see how children actually lived. They endured through hard times and impossible jobs to make ends meet or take care of their families. They lived in tenements, got sick from working in coal mines, and yet they survived. They were happy without having that joy delivered by an app. Keep reading to find out what made them different. Let’s go!
In the early 20th century the United States Postal Service wasn’t the behemoth that it is today. At the time there were a myriad of shipping options that ranged from upstanding to completely lawless. In 1913 the USPS started shipping large parcels on top of just sending letter, and people immediately decided to have some fun with the whole thing.
A lot of parents saw this as a way to cheaply and easily send their kids to visit their grandparents. According to the Smithsonian a couple in Ohio named Jesse and Mathilda Beagle only had to pay 15 cents to mail their 8-month-old son to his grandmother because he weighed less than the 11-pound restriction.
Teaching children to swim in the River Thames in 1906.
Everyone’s been on the receiving end of the ol’ “you’ll either learn to swim or drown trying.” Even though modern parents might think this looks like something that Child Protective Services needs to know about, but it’s really just the best way to learn how to survive in the water. At the very least the dads in this photo are keeping their kids safe ropes tied around their waists.
Learning to swim in front of a bunch of boaters out for the weekend can’t be easy, but it’s not a bad idea. After all, who wants to be embarrassed in front of a bunch of strangers because they can’t swim?
Infants sleeping in the open air after lunch at a maternity hospital in Moscow, 1958.
Today most babies are born in a sterile environment before they’re kept in a hygienic and antiseptic maternity awards, and while it’s totally understandable that parents want to keep their children as safe as possible, it’s also keeping them from getting tough at an early age. Even though it sounds like torture to sleep outside in the cold, it’s actually a treat to sleep outside, bundled in the cool air.
It’s believed that the chilly air was not only good for their health, but that the weather helped the babies nap longer and deeper than they did while sleeping inside. This works even if you're an adult, try sleeping with the windows open tonight.
World War II. Fear and distrust led US authorities to round up and imprison US citizens of Japanese descent. They were placed in prison camps in California.
The internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II followed the bombing of Pearl Harbor when President Franklin gave Executive Order 9066. Thousands of Japanese-Americans were displaced and moved to areas in California, Washington and Oregon; their assets were frozen and their belongings were taken away. Star Trek’s George Takes remembers:
I remembered some people who lived across the street from our home as we were being taken away. When I was a teenager, I had many after-dinner conversations with my father about our internment. He told me that after we were taken away, they came to our house and took everything. We were literally stripped clean.
Children playing with weapons left in the streets of Berlin, 1945.
World War II ravaged every country it touch, and Germany was certainly no exception. Following the Battle of Berlin, when the Soviets pushed their way into the city they overwhelmed the Nazis and left the city in a pile of rubble. As the Nazis surrendered Russians looted the stores before throwing everything they could find into the streets. One woman remembers:
At the ruin across the street from us the first Soviet orders were posted, including a curfew. Suddenly there was a shattering noise outside. Horrified, we watched the Soviets demolish the corner grocery store and throw its contents, shelving and furniture out into the street. Urgently needed bags of flour, sugar and rice were split open and spilled their contents on the bare pavement, while Soviet soldiers stood guard with their rifles so that no one would dare to pick up any of the urgently needed food.
For children to witness this kind of brutality, as well as find weapons in the street seems like something that couldn’t happen today, and if it did people would freak out. However, Germany has become one of the most forward thinking countries in the world, and all of that hard work stems from young people who were subjected to the atrocities of war.
This is how babies used to fly on airplanes.
Flying with a child today takes all of the courage that a passenger can muster. Spending on the size and age of the child parents have to either pay for an adult seat or spend the entirety of the trip carrying their child on their lap, it’s not the best way to travel, not for the parent and not for their fellow passengers.
In the 1950s children rode in overhead cradles that freed up room for adults while giving them space to sleep. Even though the overhead cradle looks like the front of a bulldozer that’s ready to dump the child into the aisle, it’s actually a great idea that allowed children to get a break from their parents while the kids were rocked to sleep by the motion of the plane.
It wasn't until the 1960s that the U.S. began taking smoking's health risks seriously.
Even though big thinkers like Mark Twain and Winston Churchill joked about their addiction to smoking - pipe tobacco for Twain, cigars for Churchill - it wasn’t until the 1960s that people realized smoking was bad for them. Smoking was the American way of life from the time our forefathers first planted tobacco fields in Virginia, and as such it’s not out of the ordinary for people to encourage children to smoke.
In the early 20th century parents assumed that their kids would start smoking at some point, almost everyone was doing it. That doesn’t mean people though smoking was good or healthy, but rather an inevitability of life. Today, smoking is frowned upon by most people and it’s hard to smoke anywhere that’s not your own house. It was only a few decades ago that everything was different.
The children had to cross the river using pulleys on their way to school in the outskirts of Modena, Italy. (1959)
No matter when you grew up you must have heard the old chestnut, “When I was your age I had to walk to school uphill both ways.” Grandpas and great uncles loved chastising us with that claim, but no matter what they had to go through to get to school they didn’t have to take a pulley system over a river to get to class.
This wouldn’t happen now, no way. At the mere mention of inclement weather kids are kept home and tucked in with an iPad, but these girls wanted to go to school badly enough that they invented an extreme sport in order to learn the three Rs.
This photograph from the Vietnam War shows an American soldier risking his life to save two Vietnamese children during a gun battle.
More so than any other modern war, the fight in Vietnam exploded around women and children who were stuck in the middle, unable to escape their terrible fate. U.S. soldiers did what they could to save the Vietnamese children, but it wasn’t easy to keep them out of the fray. Things were so horrific for the children that President Gerald Ford put a plan in place to evacuate 2,000 orphans called “Operation Babylift.” The first flight of the operation crashed outside of Saigon, killing 144 people. Nguyen Thi Phuong Thuy, who was one of the orphans on the flight said:
I remember that flight, the one that crashed. I was about 6, and I'd been playing in the trash near the orphanage. I remember holding the nun's hand and crying when we heard. It was like we were all born under a dark star.
Baby car seat in the 1950s.
When you think about it, car seats have been one of the most reworked and refined pieces of technology of the 20th century. This constant updating shows that researchers and parents are always thinking about how to keep their children safe. Whether its with a large diaper-like holder that attaches to the back of a seat, or like the seat pictured, a seat that featured a metal frame surrounded by a buckle.
Even with the steering wheel attached to the front of the frame this seat is similar to what kids are sitting in today. Sure, there are cup holders, things to keep the baby interested, and probably even a phone charger, but the seat and the buckle haven’t really changed.
A trip to the dentist in 1892.
If you want you can pick up the phone right now and call up a dentist. You can schedule a cleaning or take care of a problem by a professional who’s trained to make you not only feel safe but make sure your trip is as hygienic as possible, but in the late 19th century dentists were still getting into the groove so to speak.
At the time dentists weren’t fresh faced doctors, they were barbers. That’s right, if our grandparents needed to get a tooth pulled they went to the same guy who cut their hair. This is vaguely troubling, mostly because it sounds like a painful day, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to maximize their time then there’s nothing wrong with getting a hair cut and a cavity filled.
These baby cages were used to ensure that children get enough sunlight and fresh air when living in an apartment building, ca. 1937.
City living isn’t easy for a kid. There’s no space to run around and play, and if a child is growing up in an apartment the best they can hope for is sitting near an open window. However, starting in the late 19th century parenting books began popularizing the idea of “airing” a child. This concept continued into the 1930s that peaked with the production of “baby cages,” metal contraptions that allowed kids to get some air without falling out a window.
Even though these cages seem like a particularly cruel form of punishment, at the time it was believed that they were the best thing to keep children healthy in areas where it was impossible for them to go out and play. Dr. Luther Emmett Holt explained why these cages were important in his book The Care and Feeding of Children by writing:
Fresh air is required to renew and purify the blood, and this is just as necessary for health and growth as proper food. The appetite is improved, the digestion is better, the cheeks become red, and all signs of health are seen.
English children huddle in a trench during a German air raid, 1940.
Everyone alive in London during World War II had to live through the Nazi bombing siege that destroyed the city and sent people underground. Men, women, and children had to steel themselves to live through the attacks, and everyone who survived the war never forgot how close they came to being burned to ash. It’s a life that creates hard people, but in a way that makes complete sense. War correspondent Ernie Pyle described the feeling of being in the blitz:
Shortly after the sirens wailed you could hear the Germans grinding overhead. In my room, with its black curtains drawn across the windows, you could feel the shake from the guns. You could hear the boom, crump, crump, crump, of heavy bombs at their work of tearing buildings apart. They were not too far away… The closest fires were near enough for us to hear the crackling flames and the yells of firemen. Little fires grew into big ones even as we watched. Big ones died down under the firemen's valor, only to break out again later. About every two minutes a new wave of planes would be over. The motors seemed to grind rather than roar, and to have an angry pulsation, like a bee buzzing in blind fury.
A Los Angeles police officer looks after an abandoned baby in her desk drawer in 1971.
Baby cabinets have been around since the 1950s, and even though this looks like a holder that would send modern mothers into a fury, these were actually a fairly normal occurrence for a couple of decades. It’s unfortunate that this child was abandoned, but he looks like he’s doing just fine in this blanketed cabinet.
Anyone who’s ever slept in a covered bed - whether on a tour bus or in a sensory deprivation-like tank - knows how nice it is to cut yourself off from the world in a blankety soft personal bed. Should we bring these back? Kids might love them, adults definitely would.
In the Victorian Era these baby bottles had a nickname murder bottles.
Why would anyone sell something called a “murder bottle?” At the time of their release they hadn’t yet earned their reputation as death bringers, and for a while they were helpful modern inventions. Initially just called “Feeding Bottles,” these newly developed bottles were a glass banjo-shaped design outfitted with a rubber tube and a nozzle that allowed children to feed themselves.
As great as all this sounds, doctors claimed that they didn’t have to be washed often, which made the bottles the perfect place to gather bacteria. In the Victorian era the child mortality rate was high and two out of every ten infants passed away before their second birthday. “Murder Bottles” really were a great name for these contraptions
$29.50, the cost of having a baby in 1943.
America was still in the midst of World War II in 1943, but as soldiers returned home for leave they left a piece of themselves behind and the baby boom was born. Even though the boom technically started in ’46, the New York Times reports that the birthrate among military wives on West Coast bases spiked wildly in ’43, and that was probably the same in Pennsylvania. Luckily births were cheap, or at least inexpensive, at the time.
Due to inflation $29.50 is about $436.78 today, which is still pretty cheap for child birth. Today a hospital birth costs on average $32,000, which is absolutely crazy. No wonder helicopter parents want to make sure their kids are safe at all hours of the day, they’re not just children they’re an investment.
The Nanny Dog was often in charge of babysitting the children the late 1800s to early 1900s in America.
Even if families could afford a real live nanny in the 19th century it’s likely that they had a secondary defense measure for their children - a nanny dog. More often than not these dogs were pitbull terriers, an animal that makes for a good watch dog because it’s friendly, loyal and stable.
These dogs want to keep their owners happy and they’re very protective of the children in their charge. These nanny dogs kept their children safe no matter where they were, and while it might seem odd to leave a child alone with nothing but a dog to protect it, but anyone who’s ever had a connection with a pet that they love knows how important these kinds of animals are.
London orphanage, they look like they're window shopping for a baby brother or sister.
It doesn’t matter what era in which someone was born, it’s never been easy to be an orphan. However, in the 19th century and the early 20th century the hardest part about growing up in an orphanage was staying out of trouble. The living conditions were harsh, and many young children had to grow up in homes with dozens of other children, if not more, with only a few adults to take care of them.
Orphans could be picked from the home where they were being kept, but more often than not they were taught trades and placed in lower class educational institutions. Unfortunately these institutions didn’t provide a great experience for everyone.
A mother and child sit among rubble and burnt trees four months after the atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima, Japan, 1945. (Photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt.)
No child should grow up in the midst of battle. They should know peace and a halcyon existence, but that’s not the way life is. Children growing up in Japan during World War II had no idea what their government was doing, and many of them lost their lives on August 6, 1945 (as well as in the following bombing in Nagasaki on August 9). The survivors grew up understanding the price of war, and the meaning of loss. Yasujiro Tanaka told Time Magazine about their experience surviving the bombing in Hiroshima:
I was three years old at the time of the bombing. I don’t remember much, but I do recall that my surroundings turned blindingly white, like a million camera flashes going off at once. Then, pitch darkness. I was buried alive under the house, I’ve been told. When my uncle finally found me and pulled my tiny three year old body out from under the debris, I was unconscious. My face was misshapen. He was certain that I was dead… I have seen a lot of pain in my long years, but truthfully, I have lived a good life. As a firsthand witness to this atrocity, my only desire is to live a full life, hopefully in a world where people are kind to each other, and to themselves.
First day of school for children living in Texas during The Dust Bowl in 1936. Prevention of sand pneumonia
When a decade long drought hit the southern plains in 1931 it was as if a bomb went off. The land was ravaged, animals consumed anything that they could eat and the rain refused to fall. It was impossible to farm and the land seemingly fought against the very people who needed it to survive. Still, life had to continue.
Children growing up during the dust bowl had to keep going to school and working for their parents, they weren’t allowed to simply lay down and die because life was hard. To keep from getting sand in their lungs and eyes they wore mostly home made masks that covered their faces, keeping them as safe as possible from the elements. Growing up in this time made the children strong, and it’s why so many of our grandparents had a joie de vivre when it came to the more minor struggles of the modern era.
A German soldier helping a young boy cross the newly formed Berlin wall (1961)
Following World War II Germany was in disarray. Destroyed by war and broken up by the allies, a plan was put in place to separate Berlin with a wall. The communist controlled section would lie to the east, and the more capitalist leaning section of Germany sat to the west. Once the wall was erected no one would be able to enter or leave.
One of the most famous photos from the Cold War shows an East German soldier helping a little boy cross barbed wire and pass through the Berlin Wall. No one knows who the soldier was, but historians do know that the soldier was removed from his post after carrying out this act of decency.
Infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele especially enjoyed experimenting on gypsy children.
Some of the worst atrocities known to man occurred in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Jewish men and women were rounded up as well as anyone who wasn’t considered to be a chosen person. Dr. Josef Mengele, a psychotic Nazi doctor conducted a series of experiments on children, especially those who were twins of the Romani people. According to Vera Alexander, a survivor of Auschwitz, Mengele was obsessed with a pair of Romani twins whom he sewed together. She told a tribunal in 1985:
One pair of twins called Guido and Nina was barely older than four. Mengele picked them up and brought them back mutilated in a perverse way. They had been sewn together at the back like Siamese twins. Mengele had also connected their veins. Their wounds were suppurating, they cried day and night. Their mother, I remember that she was called Stella, had somehow been able to get gold of some morphine and used it to put an end to the suffering of her children.
A seaman meets his baby for the first time after fourteen months at sea, 1940s.
Hold on baby, this soldier has to smooch the woman he’s been thinking about for the last 14 months. Coming home from battle was an adjustment to every soldier in World War II whether they had families or not. They were each profoundly changed by their time overseas and for many men it was a struggle to realign their brains to the “normal” way of life.
Luckily, this soldier has a good a base to return to. His wife is obviously happy to see him, and his baby looks fairly laid back with being held sideways. Honestly that’s just the way it was for kids in the middle of the century, you just had to get used to being pushed to the side while your parents locked lips.
Liverpool children, 1942.
Throughout most of World War II major cities in England were major targets for air raids by the Nazis, turning normal life into something filled with death. Rather than lie down and give up, the English carried on with their lives and adjusted to the attacks. Patricia Negin Berger, who was six when blitz occurred, described being evacuated from the city with nothing but some clothing and gas masks. She told the Telegraph:
I remember being in the school yard, then crossing a bridge with my twin brother and older brother aged 8. He carried a duffle bag with our belongings and we had gas masks… After a short time we returned to London and were sent to a boarding school in Essex where the bombs came fast and furious. We wore "siren suits", and when there was a raid we went to the school basement, slept on mattresses and sang patriotic songs. We were taught that if there was a raid and we were in a field, to lie down flat until the all-clear went or go to someone's house for safety.
A Vietnamese woman carries her children and possessions on bamboo pole as she tries to escape fierce fighting in Saigon during the Vietnam War in May 1968.
Throughout the Vietnam War Saigon was never safe. It had the air of a city, and certainly wasn’t as dangerous as life in the villages ensconced in the jungle, but there was always the threat of death. In 1968 when the North Vietnamese troops and the Viet Cong launched the biggest battle of the war. The First Offensive, also known as the Battle of Saigon, pushed civilians out of the city with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Children had to shield themselves from gunfire and run for cover however they could. It was a nightmare that, thankfully, children don’t have to deal with today.
Cocaine toothache drops for children, 1885.
Today children are given all manner for medication for every illness you can imagine. Sometimes it can seem like there’s a new ailment every day, and if they’ve got a toothache? Forget about it, an emergency dentist visit is called in and their parents drop everything. In the late 19th century there’s no way that was going to happen.
If a kid had a toothache they were given a cocaine tooth drop and sent out to play. At the time cocaine was used as anesthesia, and it certainly wasn’t given out in Scarface amounts. At the time it was a revolutionary practice that kept costs down, and helped dentist perform invasive surgery when they needed to.
A young girl is hired as a domestic servant by a middle-class woman at a hiring fair in Greenmarket, Carlisle in 1895.
We most often think of domestic servants in the terms of shows like Downton Abbey, where they live a life below the stairs. By the mid 20th century there were schools in England designed to teach young men and women how to be the best domestic servants they could be, however in the 19th century these workers were still being hired off the streets - most often at hiring fairs.
At the time, after going to work for an employer the 1.5 million people who worked as domestic servants in Britain would move in with their employers and made sure to take care of their every need. Dr Lucy Delap, director of studies in history at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, the low status of the servants was even enforced during meals:
There would be a strict order of coming in to eat and strict rules about where different ranks of servants sit, and you might also have rules such as no speaking unless you were addressed by one of the senior servants. The senior servants had a great deal of power, so the butler for example in some households would put down his knife and fork, and everyone else had to fit in whether you had finished or not. So servants had to learn to be fast eaters.
Today it would be considered abuse for a young person to work as a laborer for a wealthy family. However, it’s been stressed by many domestic servants of the early 20th century that they learned proper manners and how to be an upstanding person by working in the domestic field.
A young girl poses with a doll of Krampus, the half-goat, half-demon anti-Santa who takes bad children to hell in European folklore.
Today children expect to receive whatever gifts they ask for on their holiday list, be it a new electronic bauble, a car, or whatever their hearts desire. That wasn’t the case for children growing up in Europe prior to the 19th century, especially when the Krampus was around. The Krampus is a demon-like half-goat who punishes naughty children by beating them with switches before stuffing them in his bag and taking them to his lair.
Krampus dates back to pagan winter solstice celebrations and he worked with St. Nicholas to judge children and determine if they deserved to be rewarded for their behavior. It’s a far cry from what happens during the modern era of the holidays, and to be honest kids today could use a little Krampus in their lives.
Charlie Ross - first missing child in America - 1874 in Germantown, PA
It’s unfortunate and horrific that there are people in the world who are comfortable reaching out and snatching children from the safety of their homes. Kidnapping has been occurring for centuries, but the first documented case of a kidnapping attached to a ransom occurred in 1874 when a man in a wagon offered Ross and his brother Walter a piece of candy before grabbing them and driving away.
What followed was a manhunt of the likes had never occurred. The men who kidnapped Charlie sent his father letters asking for $20,000 to ensure the boy’s return, and Charlie’s father answered them via newspaper ads. Finally, the police shot and killed the two perpetrators during a break in, although Charlie was never found.
Charlie's story is likely where young people today learn not to take candy from strangers, although now the strangers have moved from wagons to the digital realm.
An elongated head was an ideal of beauty among the Mangbetu people, 1930.
What’s beautiful to you may not be beautiful to someone else. Case in point, the elongated heads of the Mangbetu people. What looks like a skull deformity to the western culture is actually a sign of beauty, prestige and power to this tribe. In order to make sure that their children cultivated this cranial deformity women wrapped their children’s heads with tight cloths soon after they were born.
The act of warping a child’s skull is known as Lipombo and it goes on for years after birth, only ending with the child has the skull shape that the tribespeople are looking for. Lipombo is still practiced today by the Mangbetu tribespeople, although it was outlawed in 1950 by European colonists. Is it child abuse, or simply tradition?
At the turn of the 20th century some families had no choice but to send children off to work in bad conditions.
During the Second Industrial Revolution that occurred between 1870 and 1914 business was booming and every industry needed people to fill the labor force. At the end the of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th there were jobs for everyone willing to put themselves in danger. If a boy could wear a helmet and drag coal then they could get a job to help provide for their families.
While this may seem like a misuse of children, it was a two sided coin. Industrial jobs shouldn’t have been hiring kids, but the children who took these jobs were coming from poor families who needed every cent they could get. While many of these children continued to work in the mines into adulthood, you have to think that some of them were inspired by their desperate surroundings and sought better work and a better life. It’s a far cry from today when children are kept from the work force for as along as possible.
Black children watching as white children play in a whites only park, 1956.
People who grew up in the era of segregation have not forgot this gross time in our nation’s history. Even after the country came together to fight World War II we were still obeying a ridiculous law made in the 18th and 19th-centuries that posited that black and white people were incapable of coexisting. Segregation effected our schools, where people could eat and where children could play.
Growing up in the segregated south inspired many people to stand up and work to make sure that their children didn’t have to deal with the same issues, and to ensure that their children would live a life where they had friends of every color.
Children and adults share a blanket while sleeping at their bomb shelter in southwest London. (1940)
Surviving in London during the blitzkrieg meant pulling together as a community to ensure the safety the men, women, and children staying in the city. Some families slept in underground railway stations, others had bomb shelters that housed themselves and their neighbors. The shelters brought everyone closer and made them realize what they were fighting for. Len Phillips, now in his 80s, remembers what it was like to spend his nights sleeping in the bomb shelters of London:
It was cold and there was always the fear that if they burst a water main we might get flooded. They were the early days, so the spirit was quite good. We got on fairly well together and mucked in together… People did various things. The kids used to play. There was a photo of me putting up Christmas decorations where we had the bunks. I think we had a little party at the end of the platform that one year. It probably would have been Christmas Day. It wasn't long after that I was evacuated. I was getting very fragile round the edges. I kept thinking: ‘Is it ever going to end?’
Children are strapped to a radiator in a mental hospital in 1982.
1982 wasn’t even that long ago. It’s amazing to think that the treatment of mental patients has improved in leaps and bounds in the three decades since this photo was taken at the psychiatric hospital at Deir el Qamar, Lebanon. Even as recently in the ‘80s doctors didn’t know how to handle children suffering from mental illness, and rather than work with them the children were confined.
This would never fly today, and it shouldn’t have back then. Today, up to date psychiatric hospitals exist to help patients recover from their illnesses the best they can, or at the very least keep someone comfortable, and that goes double for children.
Photographed in 1880, Myrtle Corbin was born a dipygus having two separately functioning pelvises and four legs.
Josephine Myrtle Corbin was born a happy, healthy girl, and aside from being momentarily in breech when she was born there was nothing interesting about her at all - except for the fact that she had four legs. Two of her legs were run of the mill getaway sticks like everyone has, her second pair were smaller and received less use.
Initially doctors weren’t sure why she was born with four legs, although they’d later determine that Corbin was born with dipygus, a condition that causes the body’s axis to split as it develops. The condition gave her two pelvises, two legs, and a career. When she was 13 she started working for sideshows as “The Four-Legged Girl From Texas” where pamphlets described her as having “as gentle of disposition as the summer sunshine and as happy as the day is long.”
Corbin was incredibly popular on the sideshow circuit and she retired at the age of 18, and married a doctor one year later. She passed away in 1928 from a streptococcal skin infection.
Raising a baby used to mean boiling diapers. (1943)
Today, new parents can always pop out to the store and pick up a bushel of disposable diapers that can be tossed and forgot as soon as a new one is pinned to their child. But in the 1940s that wasn’t an option for parents. Not only was there a war on, which meant that everyone was rationing, but disposable diapers weren’t in the mainstream yet (they were invented in 1942).
In order to keep their homes smelling fresh mothers boiled their cloth diapers to make sure that they got out every drop of bacteria that seems to come out of a baby. Some women who were working didn’t have time to boil their own diapers so they started using a diaper laundry service that delivered clean and sterilized diapers to the home on a weekly basis.
Children eating carrots on a stick during the 1940s, when rationing was in full force.
Picture this, you’re walking through a London promenade on a gorgeous summer day in 1942. You decide to stop at a cart for a snack. You hand over a quid to the man with the cart and he hands you a big, orange carrot. That was the way of life for everyone in England during World War II thanks to rationing. At the time there were only 8 ounces of sugar allowed per adult per week, and that’s not enough to make ice cream.
Rather than get down in the dumps the English came up with a genius plan, they turned carrots on a stick into the must have snack. Carrots were plentiful during the war so it wasn’t an issue to sell them all day long. Oddly enough, children born during the war didn’t even find out about ice cream until rationing ended.
Infant car seat in 1952.
There’s no way that this high sitting car seat would fly today. There are so many rules with how a child can be placed in a car, where they can sit, and which way they can be facing that parents have to stay constantly updated. In the 1950s this definitely wasn’t the case. Car seats were seen more of a comfort issue than a safety issue.
For instance, this child’s seat is sat up high in the air so they can see out the window, that’s not safe but it should keep a baby busy for a little while. This may not be the safest seat, but this mom is doing what she can to get through her day.
A coal miner's wife with three of their children in a company house, West Virginia. (1938)
Company towns don’t exist anymore, or at least not the way they used to where a corporation provided housing and a store where people could shop as long as they were employed by the company. The homes were hastily built and the families were made up of immigrants and families looking put their noses to the grindstone to make some money.
One of the terrors of living in a mining community is how fast it could all go away. One community was drenched in ash in 1916 when gas ignited in a mine, causing an explosion. It was a simple yet dangerous life, something that children today simply don't have to think about.
A couple holds up their newborn babies for their grandparents to see on the other side of the Berlin Wall, 1961
When the Berlin Wall went up in 1961 no one was able to pass across the barrier, it didn’t matter if they had friends or loved ones in the area, and it didn’t even matter if their children were stuck on the other side. Sigrid Paul gave birth to a boy in 1961 in East Berlin, but she lived in the West Initially it was okay for her to travel back an forth, but in August of that year no one was allowed to cross the wall and for five years she was without her son. Paul told The Guardian:
Every day I went from one authority to another to try to get permission to see him, even for an hour or two. It was futile. Every application was rejected. The uncertainty about whether we would see Torsten again was unbearable.
Paul attempted to get her son back through legal and illegal means, and even ended up in prison for a short amount of time, but when her son was five he was well enough to travel and allowed to return home.
Children learn to swim in the schoolyard in England, 1920s.
Nothing beats learning to swim in the water. After all, that’s where 100 percent of swimming takes place. However, if you were grew up in a landlocked area or in a place where the water wasn’t all that great then the best way to learn to swim was to get the basics down before taking the plunge in an uncontrolled environment.
These boys are learning the dos and don’t of swimming, along with the necessary paddles and techniques to keep themselves afloat when they finally get the chance to take a dive. You’d be hard pressed to find a kid today who learned to swim this way today.
Temple’s famous curly locks caused her a lot of pain with a grueling nightly ritual of twisting and pinning and weekly vinegar rinses that often burned her eyes.
We may not remember all of her movies, but everyone remembers Shirley’s Temple’s curly blonde locks. Even though she was presented as just a regular girl, those locks came about through a little movie magic and a lot of pain. Every night Temple had to have her hair set with 56 curls so her locks would be perfectly springy. She also underwent a weekly vinegar rinse that burned like at the Dickens.
Child actors definitely don’t have it this tough today. There are safety checks in place to make sure no one’s being hair pinned to death, and a kid today probably wouldn’t be able to sit still long enough to even get this mop top do.
A family posing for the camera with their 16 children. (circa 1960)
Families were bigger in the ‘60s but this is just outrageous. Can you imagine being one of 16? If you’re the youngest you’re definitely spending your entire adolescence in hand me downs and there’s no way you’d have your own room. However there are definitely some upsides. You’d always have someone to play with, and it’s likely that your parents would be too tired from raising (and presumably making) all those kids to discipline anyone.
Families like this just don’t exist anymore, or if they do they’re a part of some weird cult, and it’s probably for the best. While this family looks like a great group of people, where do you even put them all?
A group of kids having their first experience with ice in front of a NYC grocery store in 1912!
For a lot of people it’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t just walk to the freezer and pop a few ice cubes into your drink, but in the early 20th century transportable ice - not to mention ice that was just in your house all the time - was almost magical. When Frederic and William Tudor first attempted to sell blocks of ice in the 1800s people weren’t interested.
By the 1820s Tudor managed to convince barkeeps, diners, and doctors that they needed ice. While people initially scoffed at the prospect it became somewhat of a fascination with people. They couldn’t believe that it stayed cold even in the heat. This summer remember to make sure the young people in your life say thanks to the Tudor brothers before giving them a cold drink.
An illustration of Krampus, the mythical half-goat, half-demon that punishes children who have misbehaved during the Christmas season.
When the winter solstice comes boys and girls should think their lucky stars if they’ve been bad and they don’t hear the hooves of Krampus outside their window. When St. Nicholas shows up to reward the children of Austria for being good he’s joined by the Krampus on Krampusnacht, or “Krampus night.” It’s believed that this is when the demon shows up to punish bad little children, but in reality it’s just when adults dress up to scare their kids into being good.
Krampusnacht couldn’t happen in America. Kids would be calling the police on their parents for terrifying them, and the lawyers would come out in droves to sue the Krampus as he punished children for their misdeeds. As scary as it sounds, maybe young people need a visit from the Krampus every once in a while.
Child laborers in Port Royal, South Carolina in 1912. These kids would go to school a half day, but shuck oysters both before and after. Photo by Lewis Hine.
In South Carolina’s low country, children used to spend much of their time working menial jobs in order to help their families get by. Many of them were immigrants whose families split their time between Baltimore, Maryland and southern fish canneries. This nomadic way of life was what the families had to do to survive, and while it would be shunned upon now it was a normal life for many people.
The children spent half their day in school before spending the rest of the time shucking oysters and taking care of the tasks that adults frankly didn’t want to do. These menial jobs are all but gone now, with many of them performed by machines.
Child seat with toddler front of the bike, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1925
If the person riding this bike with their child in the front basket took their kiddo out for a spin today they’d be flogged in public, embarrassed on Facebook, and ridiculed on the evening news. There are contraptions and outfits that are made for parents who want to take their babies on a bike ride, but in the early 20th century that wasn’t the case.
In the 1920s parents who biked had to get creative for how they were going to get their kids around, and this bike basket was a pretty good solution. However, any speed bumps could spell imminent danger for junior.
Children dig through the frozen earth in search of potatoes in the Ukraine.
In 1932 and 1933 Ukrainians experienced famine that they referred to as Holodomor, or “murder through starvation.” The country was being starved out by Joseph Stalin, leading Ukrainians to literally dig for food and eat anything they could to survive while the surrounding countries pretended that nothing was happening. Survivor Oleksa Sonipul was 10 at the time and she recalls soldiers stealing their food and destroying their homes:
In 1933, just before Christmas, brigades came to our village to search for bread. They took everything they could find to eat. That day they found potatoes that we had planted in our grandfather's garden, and because of that they took everything from grandfather and all the seeds that grandmother had gathered for sowing the following autumn. And the next day, the first day of Christmas, they came to us, tore out our windows and doors and took everything to the collective farm.
No one knows how many people died during Holodomor but the numbers stretch into the millions. People died from starvation, and some just killed themselves so they wouldn’t have to live through another hungry day.
Children eating turnips and cabbage for a Holiday dinner during the Great Depression.
When faced with eating turnips and cabbage for dinner, maybe children would turn up their noses until they received something they wanted. If they were asked to ear the same thing for a holiday meal they would revolt. Not during the Great Depression. During the Depression people ate what they had and more often than not they tried to make sure it was nutritious.
Not only were they unsure of when their next meal would be, but if they were lucky enough to have a job it was probably tough, menial labor. Many of the meals that people were eating were made up of what was available rather than something aesthetically pleasing. These were not Instagrammable meals. While speaking with NPR Jane Ziegelman explained the Depression era food pairings:
It's one of the really interesting characteristics of these Depression menus is that the ingredients seem to have nothing to say to one another on an aesthetic or sensory level. They were there to supply certain nutrients. And whatever they taste like together is not particularly relevant to the people planning these menus.
Children take part in a Duck and Cover civil defense drill at their school.
Does everyone remember what Bert the Turtle said? Duck and cover, kids. Today this outdated idea for survival during the Cold War seems silly, but many children are still dealing with similar versions of this practice albeit for different reasons. In the 1950s children were taught to duck and cover not because it would protect them from nuclear blasts, but from the glass that would harm them should a nuclear explosion go off in the area. You know, because everyone’s so worried about the glass in a nuclear explosion. The idea was that if you saw the flash of an atomic blast that you could hide beneath your desk while covering the back of your neck in time to make sure no arteries were hurt.
Circa 1936. Floyd Burroughs and Tengle children, Alabama. the children wearing flour sack dresses. The only material they could afford in those days!
Like it or not but fashion is a major part of a young person’s life today, and it has been since the ‘50s when greasers started wearing leather jackets and doing their hair with the oiliest substance known to man. Throughout the depression children didn’t have the ability to decide what they wanted to wear and often it was function that won out over form.
Flour and feed sack dresses were a thrifty way to make sure someone was covered, and while these dresses were the epitome of “make do and mend” they also showed how creative people can be in the face of adversity. Women sewed up the bags, decorated them, and even turned them into cloths and “linens” when they outlasted their usefulness.
Couple ice skating with their baby, 1937.
Regardless of era parents have always wanted to have their children close to them, to share their experiences, and let them know that they’re loved. Manufacturers have been working for years, a century even, to help parents keep their children close and they’ve only recently nailed down the safest way to bring their children around with them.
This family looks truly happy, and even though this baby sling looks like it’s hard to maneuver they’re making it work in spite of how bored the child looks. Hopefully these two knew how to skate or invested in a helmet for the little one.
Dinner Toters on the streets of Columbus, Ga., 1913
Try to imagine young girls today going out on their own and selling dinners to strangers who were working in factories and mills. There’s no way that anyone in their right mind would allow their kids out on the streets today, but in 1913 it was a way of life, especially in Columbus, Ga. At the time girls would sell these dinners and more often than not they wouldn’t go to school. Photographer Lewis Hine explained:
The Sup[erintendent] of Schools and teachers in Danville said that many children toted dinners and did nothing else, not even attending school.
If someone let their kid walk around town selling food while they were supposed to be in school, they’d be in jail immediately.
February 1937. Children who live in a migrant camp on U.S. Highway No. 31, near Birmingham, Alabama.
Migrant families lived in utter desperation during the Great Depression, people weren’t able to work, so they didn’t have money, meaning they didn’t have cash to pay for a home. Because of that they had to stay in migrant camps made up of tents and home made forts that barely kept them safe from the elements. Families stayed on the road in order to work migrant jobs that barely paid. People sharecropped, they begged, and they did what they could to get by. Today they would be looked at as homeless, but this was how life was in the Great Depression.
From 1879 to 1918, some 10,000 Native American children were required to attend this school and assimilate into modern American culture.
From 1879 to 1918 U.S. Army officer Richard Henry Pratt operated the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in an attempt to help Native American children assimilate into American culture. Before he was an educator Officer Pratt was a leader of the “Buffalo Soldiers,” but when he saw the sorry state of affairs on Native reservations he decided to help educate their children. He said:
The school at Carlisle is an attempt on the part of the government to do this. Carlisle has always planted treason to the tribe and loyalty to the nation at large. It has preached against colonizing Indians, and in favor of individualizing them...
In 1908, Lewis Hine left his teaching position for a full-time job as an investigative photographer for the National Child Labor Committee.
As the demand for labor grew throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial employers started hiring anyone who could stand on their feet for long hours and perform menial tasks. Children became a major part of America’s economy, but without the proper rules in place many of them came down with illnesses that were caused by their factory work.
Lewis Hine, a New York City schoolteacher and photographer, decided to chronicle the abuse that child workers faced while working in factories in order to help change their working conditions. He explained:
There is work that profits children, and there is work that brings profit only to employers. The object of employing children is not to train them, but to get high profits from their work.
Parkour before parkour, children play on the fire escapes of the inner city
When someone thinks of New York City one of the first things that comes to mind is the Tetris like formations of the outdoor fire escapes that cover etc building in the Burroughs. Most fire escapes were added in the early part of the 20th century, but by 1968 buildings were getting higher and the fire escapes weren’t helpful.
For children in the city fire escapes were just as good as a jungle gym. They could be jumped across, climbed up, and swung around, what’s not to love? Obviously parents don’t want their kids playing on old metal equipment, but these kids look like they’re having an amazing time and isn’t that what’s important?
Nurses give jaundiced babies some sunshine treatment. –undated
No matter what anyone tells you, more often than not the best medicine is good old fashioned sunlight and fresh air. This treatment was most appropriate when it came to treating newborn jaundice, a liver ailment that causes a yellowing in the skin and eyes of a newborn baby. It happens when a child has a high level of bilirubin, a substance that replaces red blood cells.
In the middle of the 20th century doctors treated newborn jaundice by making sure the kids got a little bit of sunshine every day, and even if that sounds like an outmoded way of thinking keep in mind that doctors still believe that filtered sunlight is the best way to keep these boys and girls healthy and happy.
Ronald McDonald posing with a terrified child, circa early '70s.
And people wonder why kids are afraid of clowns. Ronald McDonald got his start in the 1960s as a replacement for Bozo the clown. He was initially played by NBC weatherman Willard Scott for a Washington D.C. McDonald's franchise, but when Ray Kroc decided to take the clown to the national stage he recast the role and even redid the makeup.
Every era has their own Ronald McDonald, and whether you grew up with Scott’s cup nosed version of the more traditional, red afro wearing Ronald, you remember his commercials reminding you to scarf down burgers as quickly as possible. Today, Ronald isn’t as prevalent as he was from the ‘60s through the ‘90s, and it’s a little sad that kids will never know the feeling of trying to eat a burger in peace while a french fry hungry clown stalks a fast food restaurant.
Street children sleep near a grate for warmth on Mulberry Street. Circa 1890-1895.
The Bowery Boys were a group of young homeless children who lived on the streets of New York City in the late 19th century. The boys all had different stories. Some were homeless because they were kicked out of their homes, others were orphans, and some of the children simply had to leave because there was no room for them in the tenements where their families lived. The photo by Jacob Riis is one of many that showed America the way people were living on the streets, for many this was the first they knew of such slums. Riis described the boys in his book, How The Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York:
They are to be found all over the city, these Street Arabs, where the neighborhood offers a chance of picking up a living in the daytime and of ‘turning in’ at night with a promise of security from surprise. In warm weather a truck in the street, a convenient out-house, or a dug-out in a hay-barge at the wharf make good bunks. Two were found making their nest once in the end of a big iron pipe up by the Harlem Bridge, and an old boiler at the East River served as an elegant flat for another couple.
Terrifying Children’s Books - Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series was written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell, 1981.
If you grew up in the ‘80s then you know the strange fear that came every year when the Scholastic book fair. Would there be a new collection of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? What would the cover be? And would it keep you up at night? As scared as many readers were of the amazing art by Stephen Gammell, they had to get their hands on a copy. As frightening as the books were they were also must-read books for every young person.
The books were so spooky that they consistently wound up on the challenged book list through the ‘90s, and finally the art was changed to make the art less gruesome, which is disappointing but sounds exactly like what would happen with modern readers.
The whole force of workers in the cotton mills of Stevenson, Alabama. December 1913
Cotton Mills were used to spin and weave yarn from cotton. It was a necessary industry at a time when the business was exploding. The mills had poor lighting, terrible ventilation, and the roofs were so low that even the young workers had to crouch while attempting to stand upright. They weren’t what you would call adequate working conditions. However, the children working in these mills sucked it up and carried on in order make money for their families. Aside from the back problems workers could get caught in the machines. Accidents happened all the time, which made it a terrible place for children to work.