Today, cameras are mainly used for selfies and capturing our daily lives, but cameras have also captured history-changing moments. Without these images, historic moments would only be tales passed around by word-of-mouth. While paintings and drawings give a look into life before cameras, they don’t have the same effect.
Cameras have allowed us to see astronauts in space and people’s lives decades before we were alive. From the end of prohibition to the first woman to earn a doctorate in computer science, these extraordinary moments that changed the course of history have been captured for future generations.
An Out-of-This-World Selfie
Buzz Aldrin not only made history for being one of the first men on the moon, but he also took the first space selfie in 1966. During the Gemini 12 mission, Aldrin used extra-vehicular activity (EVA) equipment to capture himself with the pilot’s hatch of the spacecraft open and the Earth in the background.
Astronauts use the EVA equipment during spacewalks. It contains a specially designed camera for photography in outer space. The purpose of the EVA camera is to take pictures of things related to the mission. However, space selfies have become popular with astronauts since Aldrin started the trend.
Mars Rover Selfie
People may be obsessed with selfies, but NASA has shown us that robots are just as inclined to take them. NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover approached a large rock formation, dubbed Mont Mercou, and took a selfie while capturing the discovery. The picture shows the Curiosity in front of Mont Mercou.
The image gave people a unique view of Mars and the rover. The planet is not as red as we imagined, but it is quite dusty. This brilliant historic photograph shows how incredible technology and cameras have become since they were invented. Just look at how crisp that image is.
First NASA Rocket Launch
In July 1950, a new era of space flight began when the first rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Bumper V-2, a two-stage rocket program that topped a V-2 missile base with a WAC Corporal rocket, reached new heights for its time. The upper stage reached altitudes of almost 400 km.
The rocket was launched under the direction of the General Electric Company, primarily for testing rocket systems and researching the upper atmosphere. The Bumper V-2 carried small payloads, allowing researchers to measure air temperature and cosmic ray impacts. Eight years later, the US created NASA to explore space further.
Frozen Niagara Falls
Technically, Niagara Falls has never completely frozen over. However, total freezing was reported on March 29, 1848, due to an ice jam on the river. Partial freezing has occurred, but even that is rare. The photo shows one of the rare times that people were able to play in the snow under the frozen falls.
It’s spectacular that this rare occurrence was caught on camera. Today, there are times when the falls appear frozen because the mist and spray form a crust of ice over the rushing waters during the winter months. The water continues to flow under the sheets of ice.
The First Disneyland Ticket
On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gates for people to enjoy Walt Disney’s metropolis of nostalgia, fantasy, and futurism. The first ticket was sold to Disney’s brother, Roy O. Disney, for just $1. The first real customer was actually David MacPherson.
MacPherson woke up at 2 am to get in line with 6,000 others who patiently waited to get into Disneyland. He was the first guest to enter the park and received a lifetime pass as a reward. Today, people pay about $100 for a day pass to Disneyland.
Quadricycle for Two
Things were very different in the 1800s. People dressed in fancy clothes for everyday outings, even when they were riding their quadricycles. This smartly dressed couple posed on their quadricycle outside the White House in Washington DC in 1886. So much has changed since then.
About 12 years after this photo, the tandem bicycle was invented, allowing both passengers to peddle. However, we can’t imagine this woman being able to peddle with such a long and heavy dress. It would probably get stuck in the wheels.
Galileo’s Drawings of the Moon
Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei is considered the “father” of observational astronomy, modern physics, the scientific method, and modern science. Among many of his famous drawings are his water-colored phases of the moon. In the fall of 1609, he observed the moon through a telescope.
Galileo’s drawings represent the first realistic depiction of the moon in history. Due to his training in art and understanding of shading, he understood the shadows were mountains and craters. They might not be the same as the pictures of the moon today, but the drawings are impressive.
Usually, people (and pilots) stay inside the plane when it is up in the air, but not this daring stunt pilot. In 1946, Merle Larson demonstrated his signature stunt during an air show. He stopped the engine mid-air, climbed out of the plane, and manually restarted the propeller.
There was a pilot in the backseat that people couldn’t see, and Larson had his leg hooked inside the plane. Larson was a WWII B-24 pilot and celebrated his 100th birthday in 2018. He became passionate about planes after seeing Charles Lindbergh fly across the ocean in 1927.
He Only Drove One Car
When M. Allen Swift graduated college, his father gifted him with a 1928 Rolls Royce Phantom. It was the only car he ever drove, clocking more than 172,000 miles until his death in 2005 at the age of 102. Swift maintained the stunning mint green vehicle in perfect condition.
Shortly before his death, Swift donated $1 million to the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. The money was used to care for his beloved car and tell the story of Rolls Royce manufacturing in Springfield. His car is still on display in the town’s museum.
The Harlem Hell-Fighters
Over 100 years ago, the Harlem Hell fighters bravely led the US into WWI. As part of the 369th Infantry Regiment, these African American soldiers were hailed as heroes even though they faced discrimination at home. The men were the first Americans to win the French Croix de Guerre.
The men proudly displayed their medals and battled their enemies longer than any other American troop. The origin of their nickname is unknown, but most of the men in the infantry came from Harlem. These men were true heroes, even if they didn’t get proper credit back then.
Although witch hysteria died down hundreds of years earlier, people still believed in witches in the 1800s. These Victorian “witches” posed for a picture in 1875, dressed in the finest clothes. However, no one knows whether these women were witches or just older, unmarried women.
If this were a photo from the 1600s, they would have probably been burnt at the stake, but not so much in 1875. Additionally, a witch probably wouldn’t carry a dustpan with her broom like the woman on the left. However, the bird is a bit suspicious.
The Twin Towers Under Construction
The World Trade Center complex was conceived to help rejuvenate lower Manhattan. After many discussions about the location, New York and New Jersey’s governors settled on a site on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. Construction on the North Tower began in August 1968.
In 1969, construction began on the South Tower. Each tower had 110 floors and was an iconic part of the NYC skyline. During construction, someone captured the sunrise shining through the buildings. The first tenants moved into the towers in 1970 and 1972.
In 1962, Operation Dominic regularly lit up the sky over the Pacific Ocean as the US staged several atmospheric nuclear tests. Some tests were 700 times the size of the weapon that leveled Hiroshima. Operation Dominic required more than 100 aircrafts, 40 warships, and 28,000 service members.
On May 11, 1962, an underwater weapon called Swordfish was detonated. The test involved anti-submarine missiles and W44 nuclear depth charges designed to explode enemy submarines. It was just one of 31 tests before an atmospheric test ban was signed in 1963.
Wilbur Wright and Lady Liberty
Six years after successfully inventing the airplane with his brother, Wilbur Wright made a seven-minute flight around the Statue of Liberty on September 29, 1909. His flight was part of the New York Hudson-Fulton Celebration. The flight was short, but it made a big impact.
The photo made the front page of Harper’s Weekly. More than one million New Yorkers witnessed Wilbur’s flight, and many others got to see this historic moment because of the photographs. He circled the statue a second time on October 4 during another flight.
High-Wheeling Down the Capitol Steps
There have been many strange versions of the bicycle throughout history, including the American Star Bicycle high wheeler. It was designed with a small front wheel to prevent it from tipping forward. In 1885, Will Robertson of the Washington Bicycle Club test the design.
He rode the high wheeler down the steps of the US Capitol building. This daring move might have been to prove that the bike wouldn’t tip forward, or Robertson was just another well-dressed daredevil. We wonder if he got in trouble for riding on the stairs.
The Queen Mary Full of Troops
Due to its speed and record-breaking size, the Queen Mary was turned into a troop ship during WWII. It had previously been used as a passenger ocean liner. The ship was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost,” hauling as many as 15,000 men at a time.
The massive ship is seen bringing thousands of men back to the New York harbor after V-Day in 1945. The ship was packed to capacity because the troops had been complaining about the slow rate with which they were returning home, so they piled on to get home.
Lady Liberty in Pieces
Most people have seen the Statue of Liberty standing tall in the Hudson River, but she wasn’t always there. In June 1885, a French steamer arrived in New York with crates holding the disassembled statue. The gift from the French still needed a pedestal to stand on.
The US needed to raise $300,000 to build the pedestal, and even after a successful fund drive, the pedestal was not complete until April 1886. Then, the construction of Lady Liberty began, being completed on October 28, 1886. The head was previously displayed at the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris.
End of Prohibition
On December 5, 1933, the 18th Amendment was repealed, and Prohibition ended. People naturally celebrated by drinking freely after not being able to legally drink, buy, or sell alcohol for 13 years. These men delivered beer in a truck with a sign telling people how to call for delivery.
Upon the announcement of the end of Prohibition, the President said, “I trust in the good sense of the American people that they will not bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquors, to the detriment of health, morals, and social integrity.”
Jet Goes Transonic
Have you ever seen a jet fly close to the speed of sound? Well, now you have because this photo is of an F-18 Super Hornet going transonic, so part of the plane is supersonic while the other remains subsonic. The cloud around it is known as a vapor cone.
Shock waves and water condensation show the achievements of high-speed travel. The first supersonic flight happened in October 1947 when a Bell X-1s reached a speed of 700 miles per hour. The picture is an homage to how far technology has come.
Originally created by British designer Benjamin Bowden in 1946, the Bowden Spacelander bicycle was designed to be highly streamlined. He first submitted the design for the exhibition Britain Can Make It. Unfortunately, it took another decade for production to begin.
Many were amazed when they saw the initial designs, but a decade later, people weren’t as interested. Only 500 were actually made, and it became one of the most bizarre and rare bicycles ever created. By the 1980s, it became a collector’s item.
Motorola Remote Control
Today, we are used to controlling our TVs with our voices or smart assistants, but there was a time when remote controls were an amazing invention. Before Motorola introduced the first remote in 1956, people had to change the channel or volume with dials on the TV.
Zenith Radio Corporation released the first remote control in 1950 before Motorola. It was the kickoff for improvements in convenience. This advertisement showed that remotes were a luxury for people to “pamper” themselves. All it did was change the volume and channels.
LAN Party Mode
Before people had high-speed internet, PC gamers had to bring their clunky monitors together for a LAN (local area network) party. This group of gamers got together in 1998 for a Quake II competition. The first-person shooter game was first released in 1997.
These LAN parties were serious business; if someone’s little sister interrupted, it was like the end of the world. Today people can play games with friends and strangers anywhere in the world. However, nothing will even be the same as gathering your computers in someone’s basement.
Long before the COVID pandemic, people feared the plague in the early 1900s. The bubonic plague hit the world in three waves between the 1300s and 1900s. People wore strange things to protect themselves from the plague over the years, including these over-the-top masks.
After the San Francisco plague epidemic in 1900, scientists conducted experiments with the plague. These researchers in the Philippines took every precaution during their experiments in 1912. It’s terrifying, but their research helped people understand how the plague mutated and spread.
When Lightning Strikes
It’s not easy to take pictures of lightning, but William Jennings did it for the first time in history in 1882. He snapped the first photo of lightning, a historic moment for photographers. It looks like someone drew a white line on black paper.
The grainy photo shows how far photography has come since the 1800s. In the following years, Jennings captured a few more lightning strikes. He must have been amazed to photograph the power of nature. The Franklin Institute of Pennsylvania confirmed it was the first photo.
Cigarettes in the Hospital
It wasn’t that long ago that candy stripers sold cigarettes to patients in the hospital. It seems counterproductive because cigarettes can cause so many health issues. Nurses used to smoke at the nurse’s station and asked patients if they had an extra cigarette.
Today, you can’t even smoke on most hospital grounds. There is no way people would ever be able to buy or smoke cigarettes in a hospital. The 1950s were a different time, and doctors have learned a lot about the negative effects of smoking.
Nikola Tesla and His Equipment
Serbian American inventor Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest minds of his time. He was best known for his contributions to the design of the electricity supply system. In the photo from 1899, Tesla sat taking notes next to his equipment for producing high-frequency alternating currents.
However, the image was edited through a double exposure process. The sparks of electricity were photographed in a darkened room when Tesla wasn’t there. He was sitting next to the machines when they weren’t on. It’s impressive for many reasons.
A Child at Work
In the early 1900s, mills in South Carolina secretly employed children. This young girl was a worker, and when the photographer asked about her, the overseer said, “She just happened in.” However, that was a lie because plenty of children were in the mill.
The head of the mill would say that children wandered in or were helping their siblings. The young workers were shorter than the machines, which were dangerous for children. The mills were no place for children, but they had jobs to support their families.
A Suffragette Arrested
In 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the women’s suffrage movement in the UK, was arrested outside Buckingham Palace. She attempted to deliver a petition to King George V, but police stopped her before she could even get close to the gates.
Pankhurst’s efforts weren’t wasted because women later got the right to vote in 1918. However, the photo shows the hardships women faced while fighting for basic rights in society. She did radical things, but she thought it was the only way to spread her message.
Remains of the Twin Towers
On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers collapsed after two planes flew into them and exploded. The attacks on these monumental buildings changed the course of history in many ways, from airport security measures to international relations. It also left a hole in the NYC skyline.
The photo taken in late September 2001 from a Cessna jet shows the remains of the Twin Towers as they were still burning. Despite efforts to extinguish the blaze, the debris burned for three months following the attacks until most of the rubble was removed.
Monk on Fire
In the 1960s, Buddhists were persecuted by the South Vietnamese government. As part of a protest, Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Mahayana Buddhist monk, burned himself to death at a busy Saigon intersection. The crisis ended later in 1963, after almost six months.
When the news spread about Đức, the first lady said, “Let them burn, and we shall clap our hands.” The Buddhist crisis began after nine unarmed people were shot while protesting the ban of the Buddhist flag. The image is one of many historic moments from the crisis.
Hellcat Crash Landing
This picture is one of the most iconic images from WWII. An F6F-3 Hellcat crash-landed on the USS Enterprise. The pilot developed engine trouble and requested an emergency landing, but they waived him off three times. The pilot couldn’t maintain control and slammed onto the deck.
The pilot got stuck in the plane, and it lit on fire as the fuel leaked. Luckily, someone was brave enough to step on the burning plane and rescue him. The pilot miraculously survived despite the burning plane. His rescuer received an award for his bravery.
The Longest Exposure Photograph
In 2012, Regina Valkenborgh from the University of Hertfordshire set up a pinhole camera using a beer can lined with photographic paper. For eight years, the camera captured a view of the sun arcing back and forth in the sky.
In September 2020, the camera was recovered, resulting in the longest exposure photograph in history. The photo shows the sun moving across the sky every day for eight years. Who knew a beer can and photo paper could create a masterpiece that set a world record?
M3 Tank Training
In 1942, an American M3 Lee tank was captured conducting training exercises in Kentucky. It was fairly obsolete before being used by the army. The tank has a small main cannon which is highly visible to enemies. It also has weak armor, making it ineffective in most situations.
Tank technology advanced quickly throughout the years, making it easy for their enemies to have more advanced technology than brand new tanks. The M3 Lee was outdated before it even got into the field. It was brand new and couldn’t stand up to opposing tanks.
Since Apple was established in 1976, the company has created innovative products that are ahead of their time. There have been some good ideas and some flops, but, overall, Apple is usually ahead of the trends. However, there was a time in the ‘80s when they offered the most random product.
In the ‘80s, the tech brand sold branded apparel like these crew neck sweatshirts. The company’s loyal supporters snatched up the clothes. Today these sweatshirts probably sell for well over $100 because they are vintage and rare.
NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter
The Mars Helicopter, Ingenuity, nicknamed Ginny, launched on July 30, 2020, as part of NASA’s Mars program. It took its first flight from the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021, marking a historic moment because it was the first unmanned flight on another planet.
It was supposed to take another flight this year, but it was postponed because of Mars’ dust and the winter season. Ginny is scheduled to take flight again this month. The photos of Ginny were incredible because they gave us earthlings a better view of the red planet.
Surprisingly, many historic moments captured on camera are either war or space-related. This photo shows the successful landing of SpaceX’s SN15 Starship, which completed a high-altitude takeoff and landing. Previous attempts didn’t end so well, with some resulting in explosions.
Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, SpaceX was intended to lower space transportation costs to allow the colonization of Mars. Since May 2020, SpaceX has successfully sent 22 people to orbit with its crew. You can also book a SpaceX flight if you are willing to pay the reported $55 million for a ticket.
Annette Kellerman’s Swimsuit
Believe it or not, there was a time when women were expected to wear dresses to swim. However, Annette Kellerman, an Australian professional swimmer, wanted to break that rule in the early 1900s by being the first woman to wear a one-piece swimsuit.
Kellerman is pictured here wearing her “risqué” one-piece. She knew she could swim faster in a more streamlined bathing suit, but that went against the norms of the times. Kellerman claimed to have been arrested for sporting her revealing swimwear. The people would be horrified by the swimwear of today.
British Soldiers in Drag
World War II was a bleak time in history, to say the least. Despite how much firepower the British set up, aerial bombers always managed to get past them to bomb civilians. The troops disappointed themselves and did anything to make each other smile, like putting on drag shows.
The photo shows British soldiers operating a naval gun, still dressed in drag because their show was interrupted by an air raid. The photos were censored for decades because seeing their soldiers in dresses seemed demoralizing for the British.
Women Visiting Quarantined Family Members
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen many images of people only being able to see their family members through windows. However, this is not the first time a pandemic has separated people from their loved ones. Diseases like measles, diphtheria, tuberculosis, and cholera have put people in quarantine.
In 1905, these women were photographed looking through the windows of the Ulleval Hospital in Oslo to see their family members in quarantine. They had to stay outside to avoid being infected during a diphtheria epidemic, while the sick were forcibly admitted.
Gathering in Times Square
In case you forgot, there was a time when people didn’t have multiple TVs in their homes or phones and computers to look up information on the internet. In 1919, a massive crowd filled Times Square to “watch” the World Series being played in Cincinnati.
Everyone in the crowd closely watched a large green board with a regulation baseball diamond. It showed the baseball’s movement throughout the game, and people had to use their imaginations to visualize what was happening on the field. Surprisingly, the crowd stayed till the end.
A Record-Breaking Ship
Pamir was the world’s largest commercial sailing vessel until the ship and most of its crew were lost during a 1957 hurricane. It was a historic ship because the Pamir was the last of its kind to sail around Cape Horn, Chile, which is known for its dangerous waters.
The historic German ship was captured and held as a prize by New Zealand in 1941. The Pamir was then used for several voyages. It had an interesting history, which was sadly lost. Today, the world’s largest sail ship is the Golden Horizon.
A Bad Accident
Cars might not have been as fast or as advanced as they are today, but people driving the first automobiles still got into accidents. This photo from 1914 shows a rare accident on a street in the Netherlands. The people probably weren’t going fast, but the damage was extreme.
It seems that the cars’ wheels weren’t strong enough to withstand the weight of the body. If you look closely, you can see that the left car’s windshield is just a plastic flap. Luckily, safety features are much more advanced today.
James Webb Space Telescope Images
The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest optical telescope in space. It is designed to conduct infrared astronomy and can see objects too early, distant, or faint for the Hubble Telescope. The Webb Telescope image on the right shows interstellar gas in great detail.
The images help scientists and astronomers get more insights and data on the birth of stars and other things in space. The Webb Telescope was launched in December 2021, so there are still many things that astronomers can learn from its advanced images.
Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali was renowned for his technical skills and bizarre images. His most famous piece of work was The Persistence of Memory from 1931. He was photographed by Philippe Halsman, who always went out of his way to capture the essence of his subjects.
Dali was eccentric and thought of the strangest things to put in his paintings. Halsman brilliantly showcased the uniqueness of the great artist. His techniques were incredible, just like Dali’s paintings. The photograph must have been much simpler than what we see here.
The First Camera Phone Photo
You must have plenty of albums at home filled with your baby pictures or your children’s baby pictures. Today it is so easy for parents to snap photos of their children on their phones without having to whip out a clunky camera. This transition happened in 1997 with the introduction of the camera phone.
Philippe Kahn created the first camera phone, combining a digital camera and a mobile phone. The first photo he captured on his new invention was a picture of his newborn daughter. This picture changed photography and technology.
A First for Women
In 1965, Sister Mary Kenneth Keller made history when she became the first woman to earn a doctorate in computer science in the US. She wasn’t an ordinary woman because she pursued a higher degree at a time when women were expected to stay at home.
The photo of her is unique because the computer equipment is nothing like today’s technology. Additionally, Keller was a pioneer in computer science. She was also an educator and advocated for women in computing and the use of computers for education.
The James Webb Telescope has provided us with incredible images since it launched last year, but NASA has gotten detailed photos of space for decades. This 1998 image of Saturn’s rings shows the different chemical compositions. These images were made possible by the Voyager 2.
The chemical compositions show the vibrant colors of the different rings. If these images were from 1998, we can only imagine how incredible the photos will be from the Webb Telescope. The image is grainy, but it was a historic photo for its time.
The Nazca Lines in Peru have fascinated archeologists and researchers for decades. While people know how the ancient Nazca people created the lines, researchers still don’t know why they were created. Additionally, new images have been discovered in recent years.
In 2020, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture released the image of a giant cat carved into the side of a foothill in the Nazca Desert. The figure is 120 feet long, and it is distorted like many of the other figures found in the Nazca Lines.