The Most Powerful Historical Pictures

Tricky Brick / March, 19, 2024

We all like to see glimpses into forgotten periods of history and to imagine for ourselves what it may have been like during certain golden eras of time. Thanks to the magic of photography we still have images and snapshots of some of the most iconic moments of the past—and through history lessons and memories there is always so much for us to learn.

But once in a while you see a photo from the past that can truly shock and surprise you—as it just doesn’t make sense in today’s world. Let’s take a look at some of the most amazing photos from the past that you would never see today.

1 Floating House, 1920

We know what you are thinking. Is this a scene from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz? But no! This is a real-life image of something that happened. In a particularly huge flood in 1920 this house slid down the embankment and right into the water.

We are not sure how this was possible but perhaps houses built in those days didn’t have as strong foundations to keep them rooted to the spot in case of extreme weather conditions.

However it happened it makes for a truly astonishing photo.

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

3 The Mattress

People were getting into all sorts of trouble back in the 1800s. We're not sure what's going on in this picture or why we're seeing a group of women holding up a mattress that seems to be covered in some kind of unidentified stain.

Lucky that the picture is immortalized in black and white so we'll probably never know whether this was the result of childbirth or someone eating some bad Mexican food.

4 Billy Rose’s “Aquabelles”, 1939

Theatrical showman Billy Rose was a famous staple of the New York entertainment scene for decades spanning across World War II and in 1939 he staged one of his most popular and famous shows of all a fashion parade featuring his “Aquabelles”.

Here we can see the Aquabelles showing off bathing suits from the past and present—as well as modeling styles they project for the future! Isn’t it crazy to see what they predicted the styles of today would look like—they weren’t far off were they?

5 Mount Rushmore, 1935

The faces of Mount Rushmore are some of the most famous and iconic sights in American history and we have all seen them either face to face or in pictures. But not many people have seen the legendary sculpture up close and personal in the way that these two fellows have being the sculptors themselves Gutzon Borglum and his son Lincoln.

Aboard the Mount Rushmore tramway the two men get an incredibly close look at the cliffside sculpture as it begins to take shape. A great view for them—and an iconic photo for us.

6 Unknown soldiers in Vietnam, 1965

Vietnam December 9 1965 - 'a Navy Corpsman Carries A Wounded Marine Through Jungled Area Near The Village Of Qu Son.'

7 Carving Eye On Mount Rushmore, 1930s.

8 Penny Lane, 1967

What a time to be alive! The Beatles’ song “Penny Lane” became an instant hit when it was first released in 1967 at the peak of the mega-successful and globally adored rock band’s fame. The impact of their hit can be seen in this brilliant photo showing two girls unscrewing a road sign from the road itself most likely to take home as a priceless souvenir.

Since the 1960s the Penny Lane sign has been stolen so many times that the city started painting the road name on the wall instead before eventually installing theft-proof signs in 2007.

9 Christian Dior Hat Show, 1963

The 1960s was truly an iconic decade in more ways than one. As well as the revolutionary “peace and love” way of living there was also a huge amount of change and innovation in all types of creative outlets from music and art to even the fashion world.

Here we can see iconic fashion designer Christian Dior’s new and innovative styles of hats being showcased by models of the moment Oonagh Dunne Nena Dubois and Anne Milling. What we wouldn’t give to be a fly on that wall!

10 André Courrèges Fashion Models, 1965

Here we have a selection of models showcasing some of the iconic fashions and styles from the chicest decade of all time the swinging sixties.

Fashion designer André Courrèges created these leather skirts shaped like barrels and held up by bold suspenders. Coupled with another stylistic feature of the era the cowl-necked blouse these looks defined the revolutionary vibe of the decade and continue to influence fashion to this day.

The bold lines and styles are so evocative of the sixties it remind us of the original meaning of chic.

11 Swimsuits in Skegness, 1975

Many a Brit will know and recognize the name of Butlins the famous and popular holiday resort dotted all over the U.K. It’s not known for being the classiest or fanciest destination but families all over the country still love it and flock to it every summer.

So it may come as a surprise to many to see this super stylish arrangement of women walking along and rocking their swimwear at the resort. It’s certainly not the sort of fashion we’d see today!

12 Lake Placid, 1923

Is there anything more classy and glamorous than this picture? Here we can see three fabulous young women taking in a spot of tea atop a beautiful ski table placed beautifully on top of an idyllic frozen lake.

These days we’d be slipping about all over the place before heading off to a cheap and cheerful café round the corner. Just as much fun but not with the same kind of panache and effortless style that these ladies are so easily pulling off. What a time to be alive.

13 A grotto in an iceberg as seen during the British Antarctic Expedition, January 5, 1911.

14 Nikola Tesla Sitting In His Laboratory With His “Magnifying Transmitter”

15 Macy’s Day Parade, 1931

The Macy’s Day Parade has become one of the best-known and most loved traditions associated with Thanksgiving. Can you imagine the holiday without it?! But just look at this picture from back in 1931 when the tradition had been running for less than 10 years.

The pomp and ceremony seen in this photo are just amazing and even though the Parade is still a feast for the eyes nothing can quite capture the magic of these early days of the tradition.

16 Penicillin Plant, 1940s

We often think of today’s era as the most technologically advanced and of course in many ways that is completely true. The innovations and inventions taking place today move at a staggering pace but we must take a moment to remember the life-changing scientific developments of history that enabled all of these amazing discoveries.

This amazing photo shows the experimental plant for extracting penicillin as used by the research team at England’s Oxford University. Penicillin is of course one of the greatest medical developments in history and this photo shows a truly pivotal moment in those advancements.

17 1927: President Calvin Coolidge Becomes An Honorary Member Of The Sioux Tribe

18 Ocean Empress and Deep Sea Diver, 1800s

In the 1800s the world was on the cusp of unlocking the mysteries hidden beneath the ocean's surface and scuba diving took a daring turn with the emergence of hard hat diving suits.

They don't look anything like the advanced equipment we have these days but this was a major upgrade compared to what they had before. So much so that this man was posing next to his wife in his.

19 A Group Of Men Posing In Front Of Lynch’s Slave Market, St. Louis, Missouri, 1852

20 Gus Lessis, 1926

Goodness me! Now each to his own but some hobbies are extremely strange. Here we can see Greek strongman Gus Lessis bending over backwards with an 800-pound rock on top of his chest. Next to him is a man readying himself to smash said rock with a hammer. Now this is a very impressive feat of strength but we just have to ask ourselves—why would anyone do this?

We’d rather stay home with a cup of tea—and we don’t see this picture being recreated anytime soon.

21 Artificial legs, UK, ca. 1890

22 Jerrie Cobb, 1960

People often think of astronauts as being overwhelmingly men but did you know that women have been part of the global space travel effort for many decades even though they’ve had to fight through various glass ceilings to make their way through?

Here we can see Jerrie Cobb in her astronaut training learning how to control the spin of a tumbling spacecraft as it moves through space. Cobb made history when she was the first woman to pass all three phases of the Mercury Astronaut Program. Out of this world!

23 Disposing of Liquor, 1921

When we think of the 1920s we usually think of flapper girls and fabulous parties all the glitz and glamor of the roaring twenties. But in reality a lot of the party scene that took place in this iconic decade was actually secret and behind closed doors—because of the prohibition laws that were in effect throughout the country.

Here we can see New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach who has just conducted a raid in New York City. And you can see that he has found a big barrel of liquor—and has ordered it to be poured right into the sewers. An astonishing sight!

24 Airplane Wing, 1942

During WWII Americans from all walks of life stepped up to contribute to the war effort helping in any way they could to support the U.S. military and their troops.

Here we can see an especially beautiful example where a civil service walker has been captured painting the America insignia on the wing of a US Navy airplane. This stunning snap was taken at the Naval Air Base in Corpus Christi Texas in 1942 and this hand-painted painstaking work is surely something we wouldn’t see today.

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

26 Union Boss Jimmy Hoffa Gives Attorney Robert Kennedy A Sly Bird

27 Harriet Tubman At 89 Years Old

Harriet Tubman (c.1820-1913) African-American born in slavery escaped 1849 and became a leading Abolitionist. Active as a 'conductor' in the Underground Railroad. Photograph as an old woman.

28 John Glenn Returning From Space, 1962

John Glenn made history in 1962 when he became the first American to orbit the Earth. He set off in the Friendship 7 mission circling the Earth three times before making a stunning landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Here we can see members of the U.S. Navy surrounding the waterborne aircraft waiting for the famous astronaut to disembark the vessel. From the wilds of outer space to the ravages of the ocean—this photo is truly a glimpse into one of the most momentous and iconic moments of history.

29 Albert Einstein, 1939

It’s strange to see any picture of Albert Einstein looking like a regular person doing regular things. His eccentric looks and demeanor coupled with his truly legendary abilities and mathematical legacies make him feel truly like the stuff of mythology rather than a regular guy let alone a husband and father.

But here he is in 1939 looking like just a regular dad albeit with a wacky hairdo as his daughter sits on his lap while they both attend the opening of the Jewish Pavilion in Queens New York.

30 Dr. Wernher von Braun with 5 F-1 Engines

Dr. Wernher von Braun an aerospace engineer that was a leading figure in Nazi German rocket technology and then United States rocket technology photographed standing in front of five F-1 rocket engines circa 1969

31 Pierino Gamba, 1940s

This may look like a game or a photo of a child merely playing along at being a sort of conductor while in front of a classical orchestra but that’s not the case. This is Pierino Gamba who was famous in the 1940s as a child prodigy in the world of music.

Before he was even 10 years old Gamba was conducting orchestras and he went on to become one of the most famous conductors in the world. Here he is at some point in the 1940s conducting a powerful musical moment despite his tiny stature.

32 Hindenburg Disaster, May 6, 1937

33 Joan Crawford and Dorothy Sebastian, 1929

Though we truly adore the showbiz stars of today there’s no denying that the Hollywood Golden Age was a true era of brilliance glitz and glamor that we can never hope to reach those same levels again. And here we have a photo from back in 1929 of Hollywood legends Joan Crawford and Dorothy Sebastian posing alongside a portable phonograph.

What could capture the dreamy moments of that legendary time more than a photo of these two stars and a long-forgotten piece of musical equipment? Truly a taste of times gone by.

34 The Mission Art Company, 1921

This looks like an image of some super tiny miniature people! But actually this is just a real-life photo of regular-sized people standing next to their cameras in 1921. Yes that’s right—this picture shows the photographers from the Mission Art Company and their device—a camera built into a large truck.

This camera is so enormous that it looks like a joke or some sort of trick! But this is actually what it looked like in those days—certainly not something you could carry around in your pocket for selfies.

35 Stocking Up, 1940

We all know about the importance and usefulness of “upcycling” one of the more popular trends on the internet today. But did you know that this actually has been a vital concept for many years going back as far as the 1940s during the war?

Here we can see a woman at the Du Pont Research Laboratory working hard as she recycles a pair of nylon leggings to use the new nylon material for military uses. How ingenious—and stylish!

36 Stars on the Big Dipper, 1954

What a wild ride! Here we have classic musical theater superstars Elizabeth Larner and Shani Wallis having the time of their lives as they zoom down the super speedy Big Dipper ride at Festival Gardens. Behind them you can also see fellow stars Sybil Summers and Gail Kennedy also known for their work across the stage.

What we wouldn’t give to hear all of their dulcet tones crying out in excitement and joy as they plunge to the bottom of this ride!

37 Alexandria, Egypt, 1953

This scene looks like a pretty idyllic holiday resort and actually is. What is so unusual about this photo showing a young woman relaxing on a vacation in Alexandria Egypt?

The reason you would never see this photo today is because it was actually sent from Jeddah Saudi Arabia. While a common sight at the time these days the religious laws in Saudi strictly forbid women from revealing their bare legs meaning an image like this would be considered unacceptable.

38 The original Ronald McDonald, 1963

39 Office Heatwave, 1951

These days when your local area is hit by a heatwave it often actually makes it a little easier for you to get to work—because everyone wants to get to somewhere where there’s a/c!

But back in the 1950s the women working at Bardwell & McAlister Electronic Plant in Burbank had no such luxury. That’s why you can see them all heading to work in super short shorts—to try and stay cool during the working day.

Though in many ways office attire has relaxed a lot since these days it’s still a pretty iconic shot even by modern standards.

40 Surfing USA, 1930

Did you know that before surfing became the sort of cool-dude sport it is thought of today it used to be something of a dorky or questionable pursuit? That’s why it’s even more amazing to see this photo of six young women holding their surfboards before heading out to catch some waves in Southern California around 1930.

These days you might well see keen surfers assembled on the beach but they certainly wouldn’t be rocking this amazing vintage style.

41 The Monkey Trial, 1923

At first glance this may just look like a silly joke pic where someone has put some headphones on a monkey and got them to sit still. But if you know your history you will know that 1923 saw an incredibly significant movement and trial regarding both monkeys and humans—or rather the legality of teaching the theory of evolution rather than creationism in schools.

The famous Scopes “Monkey” Trial saw a teacher taken to court for teaching evolution to his students and this amazing snap shows a monkey called Jock listening in to the verdict over the radio.

42 Testing of a bulletproof vest, 1923

43 Jean Cocteau, 1961

French playwright Jean Cocteau was a creative master of many trades excelling as a poet playwright novelist designer filmmaker visual artist and critic throughout his long and varied career.

Here he can be seen at a cocktail party he threw in Paris in 1961 posing inside a giant bird cage. The party was in honor of his new play Théâtre Forain just one of the many masterpieces this creative genius gave to the world of French theater. Oo la la!

44 A utility worker gives mouth-to-mouth to a co-worker after he was electrocuted, 1967.

45 Bison skulls to be used for fertilizer, 1870.

46 Penny Edwards Wearing a Barrel, 1945

This iconic picture shows Broadway stage star Penny Edwards walking down a New York City street wearing nothing but a barrel!

The barrel has a sign on it reading “I did my bit did you?” What Edwards had done was donate the clothes she was wearing to the United National Clothing Drive collecting clothes for the war destitute of Europe.

Along with Edwards many stars and showbiz greats contributed to this brilliant effort. What a feat of both fashion and kindness!

47 Armenian Woman Tattooed in Aleppo, 1920s

The Armenian Genocide took place between 1915 and 1923 and was a systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I driven by religious political and ethnic factors.

Under the rule of the Young Turks Armenians were taken into captivity and tribal tattoos that covered faces and body signified assimilation into Muslim Bedouin and Kurdish households. This woman shows a powerful symbol of lived trauma and survival.

48 The Amphicar, 1964

Nowadays we can travel all over the world using a huge variety of modern and efficient modes of transport be it planes cars trains or boats. But does anyone remember the iconic launch of the Amphicar? This was an “amphibious car” meaning it could operate on both land and water. So if you’re driving along the road and see an interesting-looking stream you can just bound right in and sail through it!

People still own amphibians to this day but they’re not hugely popular. This was one of the first outings of the iconic vehicle floating along the Regent’s Canal in London England in 1964.

49 Wimbledon, 1964

Everyone knows that the Wimbledon tennis tournament is the epitome of British style and class. Is it the stereotypical poise is it the stiff upper lip is it the ever-fresh strawberries and cream served at every event to this day? We are not sure but probably the crisp white tennis fashions have something to do with it—a tradition that the tournament’s been rocking since the 60s.

Here we can see a truly iconic moment during the pre-Wimbledon fashion show some stunning models show off the impeccable style that’s now become a staple of tennis fashion.

50 Wojtek, c. 1944

This bear isn’t any ordinary bear his name is Wojtek which means “Joyful Warrior” and he took part in combat during World War II becoming a war hero.

Polish II Corps stumbled upon the orphaned bear cub in Iran and to provide for his rations and transportation he was enlisted as a soldier with the rank of private and then he was promoted to corporal. During that time he lifted heavy crates of ammunition on his back and after the war he made the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland his home.

51 IBM Engineer, 1949

Look at this mess! It looks like this computer is broken or somehow unraveled with this massive labyrinthine collection of wires and tubes. But believe it or not this is actually how the first computers actually looked way back before transistors were introduced in the 1950s.

Here we can see an IBM engineer working on one of the first computers in 1949 working his way through the myriad wires and switches. These computers were so complicated that they needed 50 engineers to work on them!

52 The Last Lifeboat Off The Titanic

53 Christmas Toy Set, 1953

These days when Christmas rolls around children always seem to want the most up-to-date iPhone or computer game. Long gone are the days when they longed for old-fashioned and wholesome toys!

And this pic of old-fashioned dolls and toy sets makes us all feel so nostalgic for these long-forgotten and simpler times. This array of potential Christmas presents looks like something out of a movie but really it’s just from a general store in 1953.

Those were the days!

54 Bathing Suit Cop, 1922

We can’t even imagine what we are seeing here in this pic happening on the beach today in modern times. As we know these days people are free to do and wear whatever they like with no one policing standards of dress or modesty regulations.

But in 1922 a man called Bill Norton was known to many as the “Bathing Beach Cop” as he would go around measuring the distance between women’s knees and the bottom of their bathing suits. Can you imagine someone checking this now? They would need extremely long tape measures!

55 Boy in Toy Car, 1900s

Kids these days love to play with cars trains and everything in between. And while the toys have evolved just like the real thing it turns out that this has been a beloved pastime for kids for centuries now.

They became popular in the early to mid-20th century and have since evolved with modern versions made like the Little Tikes red-and-yellow style you might be more used to.

56 Construction of the Berlin wall, 1961

Berlin West Germany: November 30 1961. Construction of the wall separating East Berlin from West Berlin by the East Germans in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

57 About 100 People Participate In A Lottery To Divide A 12 Acre Plot Of Sand Dunes, That Would Later Become The City Of Tel Aviv, 1909

58 Painting The Eiffel Tower, 1932

59 Big Bird, 1977

Though the huge markers of history may come and go and the passage of time is one thing none of us can hope to stop or even slow down there are some things we can count on to maintain throughout the ages. And one of those things is none other than the cultural institution and everlasting television icon—none other than Sesame Street’s Big Bird.

Here is Big Bird (the man inside the costume is Carroll Spinney)—alongside host Bob McGrath as they film a special location episode on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

60 Army Girls, 1932

These military maidens may look all glammed up for a day of fun and frolics by the sea but they are actually taking part in a pretty worthwhile cause. This photo was taken in 1932 at the Army Relief Fete. This was a special event to raise money for the military and strengthen the U.S. troops.

These girls can be seen as they ready themselves to participate in the event which was held at the Army Navy and Marine Corps Country Club in D.C.

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

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

63 Isamu Noguchi, 1940

Here we can see Japanese-American artist and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi surveying what would later become part of the Associated Press Building Plaque an iconic feature installed in the Rockefeller Center and still standing to this day.

At the time this feature was the largest-ever stainless steel casting—it was carved out in plaster and then cast in stainless steel.

Isn’t it astonishing! Whereas nowadays we are used to seeing it installed as part of the building here it is in its earlier form when nothing but a genius idea.

64 Fashion Models, 1954

Look at this astonishing display of style! This looks like an artist’s sketch or a beautiful painting but it is a real-life photo from 1954. This stunning shot features models of the moment—Marla Scarafia Pat Goldsworthy Ann Farrar and June Hatfield—strutting down a street in New York City looking impossibly stylish and cool.

Move over Carrie and pals these gals had the Big Apple in the palm of their hands way before the advent of the TV series—and showed off a sense of style that no one has ever been able to capture since.

65 Giant Checkers Board, 1930

What an iconic pic we have here. Featured in this photo are classic stars from the 1930s Charles Ray and Lillian Bond. Charles Ray was known for his starring roles in a string of hit movies whereas Lillian Bond made her name on the musical comedy circuit.

Here they are playing checkers on a giant outdoor board atop the Hotel Governor Clinton. And if that wasn’t enough the game is being refereed by renowned composer Ted Barorn! Talk about rubbing shoulders with the elite!

66 Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, 1895

The train that has smashed through the side of the station and crashed into the ground.

The train wreck at Montparnasse Station in Paris France on or near the 22nd October 1895.

67 1843: The First Known Image Of President John Quincy Adams

68 A Rare Shot Of A Young Winston Churchill, 1895

69 First Morning After Sweden Changed From Driving On The Left Side To Driving On The Right, 1967

70 Unpacking the head of the Statue of Liberty, 1885

71 Beach Beauties, 1924

This picture was taken around 1924 and brilliantly showcases the old-school seaside fashions that were super popular in the U.S. at that time. Just look at those classic lines and gorgeous sophisticated styles shown off in this variety of what in those days was the epitome of high-fashion swimsuits.

You don’t see bathing suits like this really nowadays except perhaps for athletic competitions or some sort of aqua-based sports training. We are not sure why—it is a strong look!

72 Beetle Pile-In, 1964

This may look like a random and somewhat silly pic but it’s quite a popular thing for young people to try and pull off in front of the camera. In this photo we can see high school students attempting to squeeze themselves into a Volkswagen Beetle seeing how many of them they can fit inside the vehicle.

Over the years people have tried to emulate this spirit and pull off the same feat but this photo remains one of the most amazing ever—as there are no less than 31 teenagers stuffed into this car!

73 Claude Monet

Famous French impressionist painter Claude Monet

Claude Monet (1840-1926). French Landscape Painter. Photographed Not Long Before His Death By Nickolas Muray.