These Historical Photos Were Digitally Colorized, And The Results Are Extraordinary
By | April 13, 2022
The stunning colorized photos collected here capture some of the most jaw dropping images that won't be found in history books. Some of these photos date back to the 19th century, but take a closer look and you'll see how the colorization captured more than expected.
By adding color to a photo that was once black and white it takes on a quality that makes it look like it was taken yesterday. What once looked like an archaic part of the past now shows a different side of history that you already know. These people could be someone that you know or that you've seen in passing, it's just that they're from another century.
It's eerie how the past is now brought back to life in such a relatable way thanks to the power of colorization. Look closer and you'll see that life is incredibly similar to the way it was when these pictures were taken.
This article originally appeared on our sister site: colorized.com
When Walt Disney created Mickey Mouse in 1928 he had no way of knowing exactly what kind of cultural contribution he was making. There was no way to know that by simply producing Steamboat Willie that very year that he was changing not only the landscape of animation and filmmaking, but that he was laying the groundwork for a new kind of entertainment that would still be beloved almost 100 years later. It was only a couple of years later that Disney began to license merchandise that had Mickey's face all over it.
Even with the success of Mickey Mouse it would be decades before Disney became one of the most profitable and insanely successful studios of all time. It wasn't until the release of Cinderella in 1950 that the company experienced its first real success. Finally, in the 1960s, Disney was able to parlay that success into a real deal magical kingdom where they could share their creations with the entire world.
Japanese-American college students during their relocation to an internment camp. Sacramento, 1942.
During World War II Americans of Japanese descent were taken from their homes and moved to "Relocation Centers" throughout the west. Most of the centers were in California and they each were like their own little towns. They had schools, post offices, places to work, and farmland where people were allowed to grow their own food.
As idyllic as that sounds, the perimeter of each camp was surrounded with barbed wire and armed guards were waiting to take down escapees.
In spite of the prison-like qualities of these centers the Japanese people inside did their best to remain positive and not lose their sense of self. The last Japanese internment camp shut its doors in March 1946, but it wasn't until 1988 that the United States government officially apologized and awarded $20,000 a piece to more than 80,000 Japanese Americans as a form of reparations.
Anne Frank when she was 12, posing for her school photo in 1941. Lest we forget.
When we think of Anne Frank it's hard not to see her more as a character playing a role in history and not as a living, breathing human. However, when German forces occupied the Netherlands in 1941 she was just a girl attending school. The military forced her to leave public school and attend a strictly Jewish program.
Less than a year after she was forced to change schools the Frank family went into hiding behind Otto Frank's food business. Helped by non-Jewish friends, the Frank family hid in a secret area with four other people for two years. Unfortunately, Frank was never able to grow up. She and her family were discovered by the Gestapo in August 1944.
Cecil J Williams in 1956, drinking from a fountain marked "WHITE ONLY"
At the height of the civil rights movement Cecil J Williams was a young photographer who traveled to the south to photograph this important movement in real time. As a yound man he was burdened with representing a group of people with his photos, but he was also full of the bluster of youth. This photo doesn't just show a young man striking out against racism, it shows a young man risking his life.
Williams' friend and comrade in the civil rights movement Jon Parrish said of his friend:
Cecil and I didn’t dwell on the superficial elements that could have divided us. We were more than a generation apart in age, of different races, representing different fields of humanities expertise and different political affiliations, but we held the same core principles, the same commitment to democracy.
Frances 'Poppy' Northcutt, First Female NASA Engineer in the Apollo Program (1969)
"Poppy" Northcutt was only 25-years-old when she took her place in the NASA control room in 1965 as the Gemini program was transitioning to the Apollo program. At the time she was the only woman on the floor of mission control, something that didn't escape her while she was helping bring a man to the moon. She wasn't expected to be as formidable of an engineer as anyone else she worked with.
Northcutt says that when she first got the job at NASA she had to study harder than she did at school. She explained:
All of the engineers were dudes... I’d take a piece of it home every night and go through the code and come back the next day and start asking questions.
A photo of Joseph Stalin taken at 4:31 am on June 22, 1941. He was just told that Germany had attacked the USSR, starting a war against the Soviet Union. The photographer was asked to destroy the photo but he saved it
Even though Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler were at extreme ideological odds, their countries had sighed a nonaggression pact in 1939 that stated Russia would stand idly by while Germany went full bore into World War II. And that's exactly what they did. Even as Hitler spoke openly about how Russians were a "mass of born slaves who feel the need of a master" Stalin sat by, confident that Germany would keep to the pact that the two countries signed.
This over-trusting of Germany became foolish when Stalin's spies returned from Germany, Japan, and Switzerland with information detailing a Nazi attack on Russia. By the middle of 1941 Stalin was still certain that Germany would keep to their deal in spite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Stalin thought all of this information was just a play by the British, however when the Germans attacked previously agreed upon safe zones on June 21, 1941, Stalin had to be awoken to the news that not only was he pushed into the war whether he wanted to be or not, but that he was caught unawares.
Lizabeth Virginia Scott, known for her smoky voice and being "the most beautiful face of film noir" during the 1940s and 1950s
Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Scott dropped the E from the front of her name when she moved to New York City at the age of 17. She quickly found work on Broadway and hit the road as a touring member of the Hellzapoppin road show for 18 months. She spent years working in the theater, mostly as an understudy, but when she traveled to Hollywood in the 1940s she found work in a series of noir films.
Scott was perfect for the hard boiled detective films of the '40s and during her years at Paramount she earned critical praise although most of that came later. Her natural cool made her a fan favorite, and today she's seen as one of the more important noir character actors of the day. After her film career ended she went on to work in real estate in Los Angeles, but we'll always love her for her time on the silver screen.
German prisoners of war in an American camp, photographed as they’re forced to watch a film about the German concentration camps, 1945.
The men in this photo are members of the German military who have been captured as prisoners of war. One of the many things they were tasked with after they were taken captive by American soldiers was to own up to what the Third Reich was doing to the Jewish people in concentration camps. Known as denazification, showing these men the horrific actions that they were fighting for was meant to squeeze every ounce of Nazi pride out of these soldiers.
Not only were these men forced to watch footage of what they'd done and what they'd fought for, but they had to actually visit concentration camps and look at the bodies of people who lost their lives for simply being different. The footage that these men are watching came from newsreels that were readily available in the united states. These men initially denied or refused to believe that their countrymen were capable of such terror, but they finally admitted the truth.
8-year-old Różyczka Goździewska, the youngest nurse in the Warsaw Uprising. She helped as an assistant in the field hospital by bringing water to the injured, chasing away flies and serving as a source of happiness
Serving as the youngest nurse during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, Różyczka Goździewska was just a child when she was put into the position of caring for people in pain during World War II. When Warsaw was sent into peril on August 1 after the Polish people fought back against the German soldiers everyone had to help out. Goździewska didn't have any training but she did what she could.
Referred to as a nurse because of the way that she made her patients smile. She brought water to people in need and did her best to keep flies away from their wounds. Even though she was growing up in the middle of Europe during World War II she survived and went on to graduate from the Silesian University of Technology.
Flight Sergeant James Hyde with mascot dog "Dingo". He was killed when his Spitfire was shot down by German fighters near Nijmegen, Holland, on September 25, 1944.
Spitfire pilot James Hyde came from San Juan, Trinidad to fight for the Allied Forces in World War II. After arriving in England in 1942 for training he formed a bond with his squadron's mascot, "Dingo," a very furry little doggo who was more than pal, he was a companion in hard times. Dingo kept the men in his squadron company and he was a source of relief in hard times.
As a pilot for the RAF Hyde was joined by many pilots from across the world who flew for the Allied Forces. Men came from the Caribbean, Poland, New Zealand, Canada (just to name a few countries) to help stop the Nazi incursion into Europe. Hyde was shot down in 1944 over the Netherlands in bitter battle with the German air force.
John Quincy Adams, the first president to have his picture taken, 1843
Taken in March 1843, this isn't just a photo of the first president to have his picture taken. It's the first photo to ever be taken of a president although it was taken long after he left the White House. At the time that this photo was taken Adams was 75 years old and serving in the House of Representatives representing Massachusetts, a position he held until he passed away in 1848.
This daguerreotype of President Adams is believed to have taken by Philip Haas at his home in Massachusetts. If anything, this photo shows just how serious Adams was about his craft until his final days. Seeing him in full color this way gives him the look of a very serious grandfather who's always busy but who understands the practical value of pausing for a photo.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her first term as a D.C. Circuit judge (1980)
Long before she was a Supreme Court judge, cultural touchstone or a meme, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Put in the position by Jimmy Carter, Ginsburg served there for 13 years. Carter felt that her work as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU made her the perfect person to take on the job.
After more than a decade on the job as a D.C. circuit judge she was nominated for the Supreme Court. Initially there were some questions as to whether or not she could serve the highest court in the land, but at the end of the day her nomination went through with a nearly unanimous vote. Ginsburg held her position for nearly 30 years.
Family portrait after World War I
World War I was one of the most bloody and destructive wars that the planet has ever seen. Its sheer violence and horrors were only exceeded decades later with World War II. This photo shows just how many lives were claimed, and how normal it was for families to lose their fathers on the front lines.
It's heart breaking to see this young family posing with their lost patriarch's clothing. Not only are they posed in a way that makes it clear that they've lost something important to them, but we can see how much this man meant to them. It's a stark reminder than in war the causalities aren't snuffed out in an instant but over years as memories fade.
Night fishing in Hawaii, 1948
The colorization of this photo shows you exactly what it was like to go night fishing in Hawaii years before it became an official state of the Union. At the time, Hawaiians used spears to catch fish in the shallow part of the ocean or along the more rocky terrain. The kukui-nut torch that this man is using isn't just to light up his evening, it draws in fish to the his position.
In order to get a bright enough torch fishermen would wrap the kukui nut in leaves and attach them to a pole and light them on fire. To make them brighter they wrapped more leaves around the nut and then they would add roasted kukui nuts to a hollow sheath of bamboo and light those on fire as well. Even in the middle of the 20th century this was a way to remain close to nature while taking from the sea.
Dorothea Lange Portrait of Mother and Child during The Great Depression, 1939
Some of the most important photos of the 20th century were taken by Dorothea Lange at the tail end of her time as a photographer for the Resettlement Administration in the 1930s. While driving through California she passed a sign pointing towards a camp for pea pickers. She drove 20 miles down the road and found a mother with her children, she knew she had to photograph them.
When Lange spoke to the mother she heard about the pain of their existence in this work camp. She later recalled:
I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding field and birds that the children killed
A police officer scolds an anti-masker 1918
During the flu pandemic of 1918 and 1919 nearly 50 million people lost their lives across the world, 675,000 of those people were in the United States alone. Local governments sought to stop the spread of the plague through a simple solution - wearing a mask over your nose and mouth. The mask ordinances were mostly adhered to, but there was a small contingent who refused to follow instructions.
Some people claimed that the masks were hard to wear and that they made it impossible to do their jobs. People who refused to wear the masks faced fines, jail time, and even being publicly shamed. The punishments sort of worked, but just like during the outbreak of 2020 there were plenty of people who just didn't follow the rules.
April 18, 1963, Toronto Maple Leafs GM and coach Punch Imlach savors the moment. The sign reads "No Practice Tomorrow"
If there was ever a day to take a break it's after winning the Stanley Cup. George "Punch" Imlach served as the GM and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs from 1958-1969 and in that time he led the team to some of its highest highs. Under his tutelage the Maple Leafs took home the Stanley Cup four times from '62 - '64 and again in '67.
How was he able to lead his team to such vaulted glory? Aside from just having a bunch of great players he was known to be incredibly skilled at motivating his players and using them to the best of their abilities. By 1967, his Maple Leafs had some of the oldest players in the league, showing that you don't need youth on your side to get the job done.
American troops on board a landing craft heading for the beaches at Oran in Algeria during Operation Torch, November 1942
When the Allied forces took to the beaches of French North Africa in November 1942 it was done to draw the Axis away from the Eastern Front in order to give the Soviet military somewhat of a break. From this photo it looks like the young men who were sent into this battle were barely out of high school if that. Many young men jumped at the chance to serve during World War II, a decision that aged them far beyond their years.
The soldiers were bombarded for days. The beach was harder to take hold of than expected and it didn't pull forces away from the area in the way that the Allied Forces hoped. At the end of the day Operation Torch served to show British and American forces just how much work there was to be done internally before the end of the war.
Italian Farmworker in Bridgetown, New Jersey. 1941
Taken in May of 1941, this photo is part and parcel with many other shots in the era. We know that after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, men joined the armed forces with a desire to serve their country and women followed suit by taking up their jobs to make sure that America's economy stayed on track. This photo shows that women were already taking jobs before the United States jumped into the fray of World War II.
Working in the vegetable fields of New Jersey, this woman is making sure that the local economy keeps moving. She's not just one person throwing beans into a basket, she's a part of a community who's helping to feed the people around them. By 1942, she and women liker her made up most of the work force.
Kane Tanaka, born in 1903. At her 118 years old is the only living human that was alive both during Kitty Hawk first flight on Earth and Ingenuity first flight on Mars
Kane Tanaka isn't just the oldest living person in the world, she's a survivor. CNN reports that this long living woman has been through it in her time on Earth. Not only has she survived cancer twice but she had four children with the man she married when she was only 19-years-old and worked in their family store until she turned 103. Not only has she seen the wonders of the technology come and go, but she's watched the world change in front of her eyes.
While speaking with her grandson, Eiji Tanaka, CNN learned that she's still up and kicking. He said:
It's great she reached that age and she can still keep up an active lifestyle -- we want other people to see that and feel inspired, and not to think age is a barrier. I don't remember her talking much about the past ... She's very forward thinking -- she really enjoys living in the present.
A selfie taken by Edvard Munch after admitting himself to a psychiatric clinic in 1908
Best known for "The Scream," one of the most iconic pieces of art ever created, Edvard Munch was in constant peril thanks to his mental state. As his fame grew he was forced to deal with the anxiety and depression of modern life as well as the fact that he was no longer a "struggling" artists but someone who'd made it. In 1908 he suffered a mental breakdown and entered a psychiatric facility.
Munch believed that his depression and anxiety coupled with his drinking was leading him to an early grave. He spent six months in a facility where he dieted and received "electrification" therapy for his nerves. After he left the hospital he was noticeably more relaxed and easy to get along with. It's likely that without this stay in a psychiatric facility he wouldn't have lived to the ripe age of 80-years-old.
Queen Elizabeth, at Buckingham Palace, photograph by Cecil Beaton, 1942
There is perhaps no greater test of a leader than how they handle life during war time. During the second World War England changed drastically and England's Royal Family was left to maintain a sense of normalcy throughout the country. The then-Princess Elizabeth threw herself into her responsibilities, first as a person who could speak to the young people of England, and then as a medical driver in London.
In 1940, Princess Elizabeth began the first of many addresses to the young people of England as a part of the BBC's Children's House. She opened the address by saying:
Thousands of you in this country have had to leave your homes and be separated from your fathers and mothers. My sister Margaret Rose and I feel so much for you, as we know from experience what it means to be away from those you love most of all. To you living in new surroundings, we send a message of true sympathy and at the same time we would like to thank the kind people who have welcomed you to their homes in the country.
American Civil War Veterans drop flowers from the air onto Gettysburg Battlefield to honor fallen comrades, 1938
When the Battle of Gettysburg occurred in the summer of 1863, there's no way that the soldiers fighting on the field thought that they would one day be flying above it in an airplane. It's hard to imagine the amount of technological advancements were made in the years between the Civil War and the early 20th century. How does one get used to so many changes?
These veterans look nothing like what we think of Civil War veterans. They're dressed like gentlemen of the 1930s, and they seem confident taking part in air travel. Hopefully we're all so comfortable with the changes in technology when we're their age.
Joan Crawford, one of the greatest stars of the golden era of Hollywood
Joan Crawford is a star who's impossible to separate from the glamorous days of Hollywood. She was a renaissance woman who could sing, act, and dance all with a ferocious intensity that said "I'm a star." Born in Texas, she made her way to Broadway where she found work as a dancer before appearing in silent films for MGM.
Crawford's success came when she appeared as a lovelorn rich girl in 1928's Our Dancing Daughters. From then on she worked, worked, worked, and rarely took the time to have a personal life. Her workaholic nature finally paid off in the 1930s when she not only was named the top-earning star of the decade but when she won an Academy Award for her work in 1945's Mildred Pierce.
Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point
Henry Ossian Flipper wasn't simply a member of the military or a graduate of West Point, he was a former slave who became the first African American to graduate from West Point. After his graduation he served with the United States Army until 1882 and rose to the rank of second lieutenant. While serving in the military he became the first nonwhite officer to lead buffalo soldiers of the 10th Cavalry.
Flipper was unjustly court martialed in 1882 for embezzling government funds, something that he contested until his final breath. He went on to work as a civil engineer in El Paso, Texas, before entrenching himself in the petroleum industry for the rest of his life. In 1999, President Bill Clinton pardoned Flipper and overturned his discharge.
Eartha Kitt as photographed by Chuck Stewart, circa 1955
While most people know Eartha Kitt as one of the three amazing Catwomen on Batman in the late '60s, she had a lengthy and sultry career prior to her time in the DC universe. In the 1950s, Kitt had a string of hits that made her a star in an era when people of color were still not allowed to eat in the same restaurant as white people. Kitt found a way to cross lines and gain fans from across spectrum.
Kitt was beloved for her demeanor, but it was her voice that was the epicenter for her whole vibe. Her tremolo filled growl of a singing voice made it seem like she was singing directly to the listener, that she had recorded the song just for you. She cooed and whispered, all in the name of making the listener think that she didn't just want to serenade them, but that she wanted to seduce them.
Ann Hodges was just napping on her couch at her home in Alabama on November 30, 1954, when something miraculous happened. In a flash she was awoken to a horrible pain that felt like a bullet smacking into her skin. This was no man made weapon, it was an 8.5 pound meteorite that crashed through her roof, bounced off her radio console and then hit her torso.
According to the Smithsonian, the meteorite that hit Hodges was a piece of a much larger rock that broke in two as it hurdled towards the Earth. The piece that didn't hit Hodges landed a few miles away and now it can be seen in the National Museum of National History. According to Michael Reynolds, an astronomer at the Florida State College, we have a better chance of being hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane at the same time than we do of being hit by a meteorite.
Oda Nobuyoshi, civil right activist and dentist from Japan during the Meiji Era, photo taken in 1880 when he was 20 years old
When the startlingly handsome face of Oda Nobuyoshi appeared online people were shook. Not only is this dentist/activist incredibly good looking, but he's somewhat of a mystery. Born in 1860, he moved to Tokyo to learn dentistry before the age of 20 and was apparently considered to be so popular that he was used in advertisements throughout Japan.
Seeing Nobuyoshi in all of his glory is exactly why it's so cool to colorize vintage photos. Not only do we get to see what it would be like to peer into history with fresh eyes, but we can see that the people of another century weren't all that different from who we are today. In color, Nobuyoshi looks like someone we would see at the coffee shop or the record store.
Bruce Lee with producer Fred Weintraub, on the set of 'Enter the Dragon', in 1973
Enter the Dragon isn't just one of the most important martial arts films ever made, it's Bruce Lee's magnum opus. However, the film almost wasn't made because Lee was in constant battle with the film's producers. He wanted to show American audiences the beautiful of Chinese gung fu, but first he had to convince the film's producers.
Initially, Lee believed that he had total control over the script, but when he discovered that Warner Bros. had no desire to let him make the movie he wanted he just refused to show up on set. He knew that if he didn't do something dire that the film would be ruined so he began a two week standoff with the distributor. After about 14 days Warner Bros. gave up and told Lee to make whatever he wanted.
Harry Houdini (c.1900)
This photo of the greatest escape artist and one of the most amazing showmen known to man was taken just as he was about to take off. After struggling with his craft for ten years he was about to be bathed in the spotlight that he so dearly craved and deserved. All it took was a trip through Europe to cement his status as the most exciting entertainer of his day.
In the summer of 1900, Houdini nabbed a booking at the Alhambra by performing for free for the detectives of Scotland Yard. He was finally given a spot on a show and he was immediately challenged by another performer to escape from a pair of handcuffs. Houdini nailed the challenge and he quickly became a darling of the papers and hit in London. He secured a two month booking at the Alhambra and the rest is history.
16 year old German soldier crying after being captured by the Allies, 1945
One of the most harrowing stories of World War II is the capture of 16-year-old Hans-Georg Henke. In 1944, he was serving as an anti-aircraft soldier and member of Hitler Youth and while it's unclear exactly why he was so upset upon his capture - there are varying stories - the one thing that's apparent is that this boy was thrust into the horrors of war at far too young of an age. Initially it was believed that Henke was weeping because the Russian military put a stop to the Luftwaffe but that may not be the case.
According to American photojournalist John Florea, Henke is weeping from the shock of war following an attack by American forces. Florea believes that Henke changed his story to say that he was defeated by Russians because he joined the Communist Party in East Germany following the war. At the time anyone who surrendered to the Americans was believed to be a member of a "third force." Florea thinks that Henke changed his story to cover his tracks. We'll never know what really happened.
Nicholas II, the last Tzar of Russia, informal photo of him (unknown date)
This shot of Nicholas II does something that biographies and more serious photos can't, it makes him feel much more human. He was crowned Tzar of Russia in 1896 in spite of the fact that he was far less of an intellectual than the rest of his family members, something that made him much more popular among the working class (for a time). He loved the pomp and circumstance of the military and sought to bring that to his time leading the country.
He was charming and easy to get along with, but he preferred to be with his family more than with his subjects or royals from other countries. Presented in full color, this photo shows Nicholas as we've never seen him. He looks curious and relaxed, happy to be in nature and away from the rigors of his job.
Berlin 1961: Escape to the West
When the Berlin Wall went up in its original form on August 13, 1961, East Berlin was shut off from the rest of the world. Following World War II, Germany was split into four occupation zones controlled by different countries. East Berlin became a Soviet State, leading Germans to flee the area en masse.
Two days following the rise of the barb wall version of the wall, 18-year-old East German police officer Conrad Schumann was put on patrol at the corner of Bernauer Strasse and Ruppiner Strasse. He carried an unloaded weapon because of its light weight and at 4pm he jumped over the wall and into a waiting West German police car. He later said:
My nerves were at a breaking point. I was very afraid. I took off, jumped, and into the car… in three, four seconds, it was all over.
Josephine Baker, a performer, French resistance agent, and civil rights activist.
This full color photo of Josephine Baker when she was at the height of her popularity in France during the 1920s. Not just a dancer, Baker worked as a member of the French Resistance during World War II before going on to fight racism in the United States in the civil rights movement throughout the '50s and '60s. Her medical training during World War II made her a necessary member of the both the French Resistance.
In 1963, Baker marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington and even spoke during the day. Finally accepted by her fellow Americans she became the focal point of "Josephine Baker Day" on May 20th thanks to the NAACP. Before she passed in 1975, Baker headlined at Carnegie Hall to a capacity crowd, her most grand performance.
In 1911 the Mona Lisa was returned to Louvre after it was stolen
Everyone knows about the Mona Lisa. Today it's one of the most popular works of art of all time, but prior to 1911 it was just a painting of a woman from the 16th century. That all changed when the painting disappeared when it was being photographed by workers by the Louvre who were attempting to take snapshots of every piece in the museum.
The painting didn't show up for 28 months. It popped up in Florence when Vincenzo Perugia tried to sell it to a dealer in the area. After Perugia tried to pass it off he was caught pretty much immediately. He claimed that the painting was stolen by Napoleon and that he wanted to return it Italy. Today, the Mona Lisa can still be seen at the Louvre.
A British Army soldier handles a homing pigeon at an Air Ministry Pigeon Section loft in England during World War II in April 1941
When we think of the heroes of World War II, our avian friends rarely enter the conversation. However, homing pigeons played a very important part in the war effort throughout the 1940s. So much so that there was a U.S. Army Air Forces manual that explained the use of homing pigeons in combat zones.
Homing pigeons served the Allied Forces by transmitting messages throughout various theaters of war and helped soldiers speak to one another without using radio signals. 32 pigeons received the Dickin Medal during World War II. Created by the British, this medal was given to animals who displayed honor and valor under fire.
Anna May Wong Poses in a Publicity Photo for "The Toll of the Sea" (1922)
With more than 60 movies on her resume, Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American film star to work in Hollywood. Throughout her career she transitioned from silent films to television, and she even appeared in one of the earliest Techinoclor movies ever made. Born in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles in 1905, Wong started visiting film sets in the 1910s and received her first casting in 1919.
Wong dropped out of high school in 1921 to pursue acting full-time. She was only 17-years-old when she earned a role in The Toll of the Sea, a silent film version of Madame Butterfly. Her career didn't really take off until she left Hollywood for Europe. Afterwards, Paramount Studios sought her out for a series of leading roles while she also worked on Broadway.
A British veteran of the Napoleonic wars posing with his wife
Taken in 1850, 35 years following the battle of Waterloo, this photo shows an aging veteran of the Napoleonic wars with his wife. Look closely and you'll notice a medal pinned to the man's jacket that shows he served in the Spanish campaign. It's not totally clear how old this man is, but from the lines on his face it's obvious that time and poverty have been unkind.
The outfits on display in this photo are perfectly aligned with the era. In the 19th century people rarely had photos taken of them, especially if they were just regular people. It's unlikely that a working class person would have more than one photo taken of themselves during this time. That's why this couple is wearing their best outfit, it's how they want to be remembered.
Audrey Hepburn, America's sweetheart even though she was born in England
Everyone knows that Audrey Hepburn was one of the most gracious actors of her era. With starring roles in some of the most important films of the golden age of Hollywood she made many people fall in love with cinema, and she changed the way in which we view stars. She wasn't just an actress, she was a supernova on screen.
However, she almost didn't make it to the silver screen. When she was just a teenager in Holland she almost died of starvation during World War II. In the winter of 1944 and '45 she had to live in her family cellar for weeks at a time because of the German bombing campaign overhead. She later recalled:
I went as long as three days without food and most of the time we existed on starvation rations. For months, breakfast was hot water and one slice of bread, made from brown beans. Broth for lunch was made from one potato and there was no milk, sugar, cereals of any kind.
Charles S.L. Baker (1859-1926) was an American inventor, who patented the friction heater
Taken in 1906, this photo shows the African American inventor Charles S.L. Baker with a man believed to be his brother Peter. The two men are standing behind Baker's heated radiator system, something that took Baker decades to develop. He worked his way up from an apprentice to his father following the Civil War to a legit inventor.
Baker worked for 20 years to come up with the theory of friction heat, something he believed to be more cost effective than the traditional radiator. He patented the system and started a company called The Friction heat & Boiler Company of which he sat on the board of directors. Baker's work may not be known to many, but his system shows what can be accomplished with hard work.
The Graf Zeppelin flies over the 4000 year-old pyramids in Giza, Egypt, 1931
Taken in 1931, this photo shows the way in which the new world and the old world mixed in marvelous detail in the first half of the 20th century. While this photo may seem like a photo editors dream, it's the genuine article. Seeing it in full color gives it the feeling of something we could see today - that is if zeppelins were still flying around.
Karl Henry von Wiegand was aboard the Graf Zeppelin when it flew over Egypt in 1931 and he described that fantastic voyage in the San Francisco Examiner later that year. He writes of the excitement when people aboard the zeppelin saw the pyramids:
'The Pyramids in sight!' came a shout from the bridge. A rush to the windows. In the distance, silhouette-like against the sun, loomed the world’s most ancient monuments. We circled them and the Sphinx and twice over the city of Cairo with the domes and needle-like minarets of the many mosques.
US Soldier with pictures of his girlfriend, Chu Chi base camp, Vietnam 1968
When U.S. soldiers shipped out to Vietnam in the 1960s they left behind their friends, families, and loved ones. With no real assurance that they would be returned in one piece, many of the men who fought in the war brought along as many photos and trinkets as possible to remember their former lives. This photo shows just how important it was for soldiers to a have a piece of home on them at all times.
This soldier isn't alone in placing pictures of his best gal around his helmet. While he couldn't very well just look at pictures of her on his phone he did have the ability to carry a version of her everywhere he went - even in the thick of battle. These photos not only reminded him of his gal, but it showed him that there was something to go home to.
Spanish flu, California 1918
When the population draining flu of 1918 ripped through the west coast it did more than simply make people sick. This strain of the influenza shut down businesses, it separated families, and it completely changed the way that people lived in the beginning of the 20th century. Sound familiar?
For many living in California at the time they did what they could to stay healthy and that meant wearing a mask over their mouths and noses while staying away from large gatherings. Science was nowhere near as good as it is today so people simply had to wait for the flu to burn itself out. It was well into 1920 before life was back to normal and people could about their lives as if nothing had happened.
Pioneers from the 1st Foreign Regiment of French Foreign Legion arrive in Paris just in time for the 1939 Bastille Day Parade
These very cool looking soldiers aren't just any ol' group of military men, they're the Pioneers of the French Foreign Legion. The group is comprised of bearded gentlemen who carry polished axes and wear buffalo leather aprons as they march at the front of Foreign legion detachment during ceremonial parades. There were multiple pioneer groups in the 18th century, but today only one remains.
Created as a group with the specific purpose of clearing obstacles and barriers set down by the enemy, the Pioneers used their axes to smash anything and everything in their way. When they weren't wrecking shop, these guys worked as craftsmen who fixed anything that needed repairing on the battlefield. Today, the pioneers serve an important ceremonial function that reminds the French of their past.
Three men of "The Windrush Generation" migrants from the Caribbean arrive on UK shores, 1948
This little known group from the Caribbean, the Windrush Generation, came to the shores of England between 1948 and 1971. The term "Windrush" comes from the name of the ship that brought many people from the Caribbean islands to the UK, the MV Empire Windrush. Brought to the country as a way to fill labor shortages, many of the people of this group had to take on menial tasks to simply get by.
The tragedy of this group of hard working people is that even though they were given the jobs that kept that kept the country running, they were often seen as illegal immigrants because of their lack of paperwork. Because of the unofficial nature of their stay in the UK no one knows exactly how many of them made a home in England. It's likely that there were at least 500,000 people who came to the country illegally, but that's only an estimate.
Woman standing on the frozen Mississippi River (1905)
We often think of the south as a place of warm climates and an eternal summer, but it can freeze just as easily as places in the northeast and the Midwest. Frozen rivers like this were a huge part of the ice trade throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Long before people were able to use freezers to make their own ice they had to purchase chunks of ice that were cut out of a frozen lake.
The ice trade was located mostly in the northeast and Norway, but freezes like this created a great chance for people to harvest their own ice and either sell it or keep it. At its peak, the ice industry employed thousands of people around American and peaked at $28 million annually. The next time you toss some ice in your drink think about how hard that would be if you had to cut it out of a lake.