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Rare Photos From History: Historical Photos Will Amaze You

Since the invention of the camera, photography has played a pivotal role in capturing and recording our past so later generations can live vicariously through what others witnessed firsthand. As billions of photos have been taken throughout the years, only the smallest fraction of those rare photos from history will ever leave an indelible mark that will never be forgotten. The thing is, sometimes the photos have a deeper story than what we see. Many times, the full backstory is far more intriguing than the actual moment captured in time.

If “a picture’s worth a 1,000 words,” these rare photos from history speak volumes beyond that, and capture some of history’s most famous faces in places you’ve likely never seen them before.

Anne and Margot Frank at the beach

What looks like two young women enjoying a perfect, sunny day at the beach has a far more interesting story. Standing is Margot Frank, next to her sister, Anne Frank, in August 1940. The picture was taken from Anne’s photo album, Zandvoort. It would be just two years later when Anne Frank devastatingly documented her life in hiding during the German occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, from 1942 to 1944. She died some time in February or March of 1945.

A Fun Game of Pinocle?

In this photograph, it seems like Valerie Anders (left) and Sue Borman are reacting to a great card game in the company of friends. But Anders is actually the wife of William Anders, and Borman is the wife of Frank Borman. Both men were astronauts on the Apollo 8 space mission. On December 21, 1968, Anders, Borman, and fellow astronaut James Lovell flew the Apollo 8, which became the first manned spacecraft to leave Low Earth Orbit, reach the moon, orbit it, and return. Valerie and Sue, seen here, are reacting to hearing their husbands’ voices for the first time after a successful liftoff.

Toppling Sacred Monuments?

What is happening here? Are these protesters striking down a sacred monument of some hero? How dare they! Statues are a part of history! This photo was taken on May 23, 1991, but it wasn’t taken in the United States. It’s from Ethiopia, where protesters celebrate the fall of the Soviet Union by bringing down a statue of Russian Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the communist stranglehold on the country was finally overcome, and monuments celebrating the country’s oppressive rule were destroyed.

A Presidential Visit

President Abraham Lincoln visits the famous site of Antietam in the 1860s. He is accompanied by future Head of the U.S. Secret Service Allan Pinkerton and Major General John A. McClellan. What makes this image so remarkable is that just days before, one of the bloodiest and deadliest battles in American history had just occurred. Major General McClellan had secured a decisive victory against General Robert E. Lee at Antietam Creek. An estimated 24,000 soldiers perished on September 17, 1862. Lincoln arrived days later and urged, unsuccessfully, for McClellan to hotly pursue Lee’s retreating army and attempt to end the war. McClellan had lost his opportunity to do so and was removed from his position soon after.

Witnesses to Devastation

On Jan. 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. Five astronauts, one payload specialist, and a civilian school teacher were on board. The cause was a failed joint in its right solid rocket booster that caused the shuttle to disintegrate. Witnesses on the ground react to watching the heartbreaking scene.

Movie Special Effects?

If you’re trying to figure out what classic movie this is from, we can say you’re way off base on this one. No, it’s not Godzilla about to come over the bluff of Mount Fuji. The sparkling lights in the foreground are in the city of Naples, Italy, not far from the base of Mount Vesuvius. In the early days of March 1944, small eruptions of the active volcano took place, culminating in a catastrophic eruption on March 18, 1944. They destroyed the villages of San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, Massa di Somma, and Ottaviano, as well as part of San Girogio a Cremano. The eruption caused an intense electrical discharge that resulted in volcanic lightning, which can be common in powerful volcanic eruptions.

Time for Tap Dancing Class?

These certainly look like shoes that famous dancer Fred Astaire might wear during one of his performances, but the truth is much more criminal … literally! These are what are known as “cow shoes.” If you look close, you’ll see that the two small platforms are actually strapped to the upper part of the shoe. But why would someone need to wear these? Is it Tom Cruise just trying to be taller again?! Nope. These were often worn by bootleggers during Prohibition. Since it was illegal to make, sell, or purchase alcohol during Prohibition, bootleggers would often set up their distilleries or breweries in secluded areas outside major urban areas. To avoid detection, the bootleggers would wear “cow shoes” to make it look like their footsteps were just that of innocent animals wandering the countryside. Authorities soon became wise to the bootleggers’ tactics.

Children's Gas Mask From World War II

A children’s gas mask shaped in the likeness of popular Disney cartoon character Mickey Mouse seen here on display at a museum. With the United States and the U.S.S.R. locked in a contentious Cold War from 1946 to 1991, the threat of nuclear annihilation was never far from the minds of the civilians in each country. Further images of the times often show children huddled beneath their school desks during “Duck and Cover” drills.

A Grand Visit

Famous German theoretical physicist Albert Einstein is seen here with his wife (front) and a group of their friends. The German-born theoretical physicist is perhaps best known for developing the theory of relativity, one of the two main pillars of modern physics. Most people today widely recognize his formula E=mc², the mass-energy equivalent formula. Einstein was awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Performance Bombed

Sometimes when you’re up on a mountain, you just want to express how beautiful it is. That’s what dancer Gene Nelson is doing on top of a cliff overlooking Frenchman’s Flat in the desert of Nevada. What makes the photo so remarkable is the small cloud in the sky below Nelson’s left thigh. That’s no ordinary cloud; it’s actually a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb detonation some 40 miles away. Nelson named his dance routine the “Atom Antic.”

The Hindenburg Flies Over the 1936 Olympic Games

The propeller and lower shell of the Hindenburg Zeppelin are seen soaring above Berlin stadium during the 1936 Summer Olympic Games. Less than a year later, at Lakehurst Maxfield Field (then known as Naval Air Station Lakehurst) in Manchester Township, New Jersey, the aircraft caught fire and was destroyed in an attempt to dock with its mooring mast, bringing an abrupt end to the age of airship travel.

General Eisenhower, Patton Examine Stolen Artwork in a Nazi Mine (1945)

Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower is accompanied by General Omar N. Bradley and General George S. Patton, Jr., as they inspect stolen art hidden in a German salt mine by Nazi soldiers. Eisenhower was a Five-Star General in the U.S. Army and was responsible for planning and executing the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch between 1942 and 1943, as well as the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1994 to 1945. On January 20, 1953, Eisenhower was inaugurated as the 34th president of the United States, where he served until 1961.

"G.I. Blues"

On March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was drafted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee. A media frenzy swarmed the celebrity’s recruitment. Here Presley operates a gun in the back of a jeep. Presley stayed in the Army until 1960. After serving in the Army, Presley mostly concentrated his focus on films. After numerous flops in film and music, Presley famously made his comeback with a televised special on NBC in 1968, his first live performance since 1961.

A President Speaks

A crowd listens to President Abraham Lincoln giving his famous Gettysburg Address, a speech given at the dedication of the Civil War cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863. The address begins with the famous line, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Medal Ceremony

On August 8, 1936, Jesse Owens set an Olympic record in the long jump competition at the Summer Olympics to take home the gold medal. Owens proudly stood atop the medal podium with a military-style salute as German Luz Long gave a Nazi salute with his arm extended. It was a pivotal moment as Hitler’s Nazi Party in Germany was fomenting the erroneous belief that the white Aryan was superior to other races.

John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams was an American statesman, the sixth president of the United States and later became a member of the House of Representatives. Here, Adams sits in a chair for a photograph in the later stages of his life in 1843, five years before his death. Adams was born in Braintree, Massachusetts, where he was encouraged by his father to educate himself of works by Thucydides, Hugo Grotius, Virgil, Horace, Plutarch, and Aristotle.

Nikita Khrushchev and Indonesian President Sukarno Share a Cigarette (1960)

In this famous photograph, leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev uses his own cigarette to light the cigarette of Indonesian President Sukarno, the first president of the nation, serving from 1945 to 1967. Khryshchev led the Soviet Union during part of the Cold War as First Secretary of the Communist Party from 1953 to 1964. He was removed from power after continued failed policies.

A Veteran Mourns

Joseph Ambrose, a World War I veteran, sits at the official dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C., in November 1982. Ambrose holds the American flag that covered the coffin of his son who died in the Korean War in 1951.

Chinese Ancestry

A Sangley is an archaic term that was used in the Philippines, beginning after the Spanish Colonial Period, to classify a person of pure Chinese ancestry. A mestizo de sangley (pictured) refers to a person of mixed Chinese and indigenous Indio/Filipino ancestry. This image was taken in 1875 by Francisco Van Camp.


Vladmir Ilyich Lenin sits beside Joseph Stalin near Moscow, USSR, sometime around 1922. Lenin founded the Soviet state and was succeeded by Stalin, who would reign with a more dictatorial method of governance. Stalin ruled as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1953 when he died.

Tesla's Lab

Famed and often under-appreciated inventor Nikola Tesla sits amidst his lab as his magnifying transmitter high voltage generator emits bolts of electricity in December 1899. At least 278 patents worldwide are attributed to Tesla, with many scholars saying other inventions are not properly attributed to Tesla, or that Tesla never took credit for their creation.

Four-Year-Old Bill Clinton (1950)

Former President Bill Clinton is seen here in these early photos from his childhood. In the image with the pony, Clinton is just 4 to 5 years old. The other image was taken during the 1950s. Clinton would go on to become governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1981, then again from 1983 to 1992. On January 20, 1993, Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd president of the United States.

Beard-less Abe

The photo on the left was taken in Beardstown, Illinois, (that’s not a joke) in 1858 and shows the famous 16th president of the United States before he grew out his signature beard. Lincoln joined the Republican Party in 1858 and was elected president two years later. The image on the right shows Lincoln still without his beard in 1860.

Pipe Before Being Placed Inside The Hoover Dam

Men in suits ride a large, circular portion of pipe to be used in the Hoover Dam. The Hoover Dam began construction in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River in 1931 and was completed in 1936, more than two years ahead of schedule. It took an act of Congress to officially bestow the name “Hoover Dam” to the structure. It had been officially called the Boulder Dam and Boulder Canyon Dam through the years until 1947.

Hitler's Bunker

Experts in the Allied Army examine the remains of German dictator Adolf Hitler’s war bunker in 1945. As Allied troops drew closer, the Nazi leader and his wife committed suicide by simultaneously shooting himself in the head while ingesting a cyanide capsule.

He's Got Jokes

Singer, songwriter, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte cracks a joke that hits home for civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., in this photo from the 1960s. Belafonte became one of the most successful Jamaican-American pop stars in history, popularizing Caribbean music style to international audiences. Most would know his song, “The Banana Boat Song,” with its signature “Day-O” lyric.

Rocky Countenance

Workmen are seen here carving details in the granite of the face of George Washington on the Mount Rushmore monument in Rushmore, South Dakota, in 1932. Along with Washington, there are 60-foot-high sculptures of Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. These four were chosen to represent the nation’s birth, growth, development, and preservation. Construction on the monument ended in October 1941.

Orville Wright Boards His Last Flight(1944)

Orville Wright, one of the inventors of the airplane, boards a plane for his last flight, piloted by Howard Hughes. Along with his brother Wilbur, the Wright brothers are credited with creating, building, and flying the first successful airplane in 1903. The two made the first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, “heavier-than-air” aircraft, according to Wikipedia. The aircraft flew four miles on December 17.

Hitler Amused

Ferdinand Porsche (left) amuses German dictator Adolf Hitler by showing him a model for the Volkswagen car where the engine is in the rear, also known as the “boot.” The Volkswagen company was founded on May 28, 1937 by the German Labour Front, a Nazi labour union. Volkswagen translates to “people’s car” in German.

Stare Down

SS Chief Heinrich Himmler walks through a POW camp for Russian prisoners of war. The man staring down Himmler was reportedly a Jewish man. Himmler was one of the leading member’s of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party and one of the most powerful men in all of Germany. Under Hitler’s orders, Himmler is credited with being a main architect of the Nazi concentration camps and the Holocaust. When it looked clear the war was lost, Himmler attempted to open peace talks with the western Allies without Hitler’s knowledge. Hitler ordered Himmler dismissed from his post and arrested. Himmler was captured and arrested by British forces. He committed suicide while in custody on May 23, 1945.

Crash Landing

The Wright Glider has a bumpy landing and stands upright on the ground at Kitty Hawk in 1911. Orville Wright climbs out of the glider as Alec Ogilvie (left) and Wilbur Wright steady the aircraft. That year, Orville would complete a flight that lasted nine minutes and 45 seconds, a record that would hold for nearly 10 years after.

The Redwoods

Early 1900s loggers hold a 28-foot saw and stand in the cut-out trunk of a massive Redwood tree in California in this hand-colored photograph dated to 1907. The trees’ scientific name is Sequoioideae, a subfamily of coniferous trees. The more widespread sequoia tree is a sister to the massive redwoods. The trees are known to live for thousands of years.

Presidential Pilot

President Theodore Roosevelt became the first president to fly in a plane. Here he sits beside a pilot at the controls before takeoff. This photo was taken in 1910. Roosevelt is sitting beside Archibald Hoxsey, an American aviator who worked for the Wright brothers. Hoxsey held an altitude record of 11,474 feet in 1910 and was one of the “heavenly twins,” along with Ralph Johnstone. The two were dubbed thus because of their dueling altitude record attempts through the years.

Leader Got Jokes

The Russian leader Joseph Stalin goofs around in front of the camera in this collection from the Russian State Film and Photo Archive. Though he’s smiling, Stalin is considered one of the most evil men in human history after carrying out the Great Purge, where he instituted mass imprisonment and the execution of more than 700,000 civilians between 1934 and 1939.

The Sun Sets on Mars

In this file photo from NASA, the sun sets behind the rocky terrain of Earth’s neighboring planet, Mars. The photo was taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover on April 15, 2015. The images were recorded by the Mast Camera attached to the rover. The haze in the air is martian dust still suspended in the atmosphere between dust storms. The blue hue of the image is due to the very fine dust particles being just the right size to allow blue light to penetrate the atmosphere.

Priest Praying Over Titanic Victims

A moving image captures the aftermath of the Titanic disaster as a priest says blessings for victims of the famed “Unsinkable” ship. In the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, the Titanic collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City. More than 1,500 people were killed, of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew. The Titanic was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by White Star Lines.

The Bull Moose

Theodore Roosevelt riding a moose. While the picture itself is real, the contents actually represent one of the first time “Photoshop” was used. This was a cut and paste of Roosevelt to put him on a moose, representing his Progressive Bull Moose presidential party he formed in 1912 after loosing the Republican Party presidential nomination to William Howard Taft. Roosevelt would secure 27.4 percent of the popular vote compared to Taft’s 23.3 percent. But neither could outdo Woodrow Wilson, who gained 41.8 percent and was declared the winner.

Celebrations Begin

A liberated Frenchman lights the cigar of England’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill following the defeat of the German army. Churchill had arrived in Cherbourg on June 10, 1944, a few days before additional Allied forces landed on Normandy beaches as reinforcements to the initial D-Day invasion and liberated the city.

A Killer Among Us

Rodney James Alcala appeared on The Dating Game in 1978. Alcala was sentenced to death for five murders between 1977 and 1979. As recently as 2013, Alcala pled guilty to two additional murders in New York City in the early 1970s. His true victim count remains unknown.


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