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Photographs capture a brief moment in time that can be looked back on decades later. Sometimes an image is so powerful it causes one to stop and reflect not only on the image itself, but of the historical context surrounded that image. It makes you think of the time period the picture was taken, the culture and environment surrounding the subject, and lets you imagine what life was like for those who have been immortalized on film. Listed here are 51 historical moments caught on black and white film that may cause you to do just that.
1967- Sweden changes from driving on the left to driving on the right.
The change was made due to the fact that it’s two closest neighbors, Finland and Norway, drove on the right, which caused great confusion at border crossings. Vehicles in Sweden were also LHD’s (Left Hand Driving) and Sweden saw a sharp decline in car accidents after the switch as drivers could see the road ahead of them much more clearly.
1922- Policeman Bill Norton measures bathing suits to ensure they are no more than 6 inches above knee at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.
Women who broke this rule were fined, kicked off the beach, or even arrested, depending on the severity of the infraction.
1963- Alcatraz Island known as the "The Rock" is located 1.5 miles off shore in San Francisco Bay and was a federal prison from 1933 until 1963.
In this photo you are shown prisoners leaving Alcatraz at the end its run in 1963.
1879- The only known photograph of the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid, whose real name was Henry Antrim.
He is best known for participating in the Lincoln County war, a range war in the New Mexico territory.
1961- Ham the chimp successfully returns from his trip to space.
Ham was the first Hominid launched into outer space. His name comes from the acronym Holloman Aerospace Medical Center, which was the lab that prepared him for his historic mission into space.
Date Unknown- Jesse James is one of the most infamous outlaws, known for robbing banks and trains and for the many murders he committed in the state of Missouri.
He went into a life of crime after the Civil War after he acted as a guerilla soldier for the Confederates.
1929- When an illegal distillery was discovered by Prohibition agents in Detroit all the alcohol was poured out the windows of this three story building.
Prohibition in the United States from 1921 to 1933 and constituted the complete ban on all alcoholic products.
1927- Christopher Robin Milne and his teddy bear inspired his father A. A. Milne to write the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.
Real life Christopher Robin was born in London in 1920 and died in 1996 at the age of 75 in Devon. The stories that he inspired live on to this day.
1928- Three women participate in a beach fashion show in the roaring 20’s.
They highlight the best fashion of the era in the warm sun on this open air catwalk.
1949- A Sun tan vending machine?! Move over claustrophobic modern day tanning beds!
During the annual Vending Machine Convention of January 19, 1949 this invention was considered something that would be used at swimming pools, tennis courts, and beaches. For this convenience you would be charged 10 cents and get a 30 second spray tan!
1940- A person reads in front of a bookstore destroyed during a London air raid.
The London Blitz lasted from September 7th 1940 through May 21st 1941. More than 100 tonnes of explosives were dropped and London was attacked 71 separate times in the 37 week period.
1920’s – A lifeguard standing at the beach in the roaring 20’s.
Restrictions regarding what could be worn at the beach during this time period was strict. Bathing suits for women could be no more than six inches above the knee, couldn’t be form fitting, and one-piece suits were completely banned. Men had to wear shirts.
1944- Soldier on Saipan in the Mariana Islands in World War II shares a banana with a goat during battle.
The battle lasted from June 15th to July 9th, though small pockets of Japanese resistance continued for many more months.
1965- This unidentified soldier in Vietnam on June 18th wears “War is Hell” on his cap.
The war lasted for almost 20 years from 1955 to 1975, with US combat troops entering the battle in 1965. American involvement peaked in 1968 at the time of the Tet Offensive.
1930- Mannequin’s damaged after a fire in Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London.
Though London is the original and the largest Madame Tussauds, there are over a dozen locations throughout Europe, the United States, Europe, Australia, and Asia. They feature wax figures of historical figures, celebrities, royalty, and other famous people.
WWII- Atrabrine, an antimalarial drug, was being advertised at the 363rd Station Hospital in Papua New Guinea.
Malaria was one of the biggest killers of people in the region who weren’t involved in direct conflict. It was easily spread through mosquito bites and spread rapidly. Atabrine had many side effects, though, like turning the skin yellow, but it was extremely effective in combating malaria.
1961- Employees enjoying their lunch cafeteria at Disneyland.
The park opened in 1955 in Anaheim, California and still hosts a variety of costumed characters to entertain the thousdands of daily visitors the pass through its gates.
1947- Evelyn McHale jumps from 83rd story of Empire State Building and lands on a limousine in the street below.
McHale was 23 and stated in a note that she committed suicide because she didn’t feel she would make a good wife and had “too many of my mother’s tendencies.” She is often refered to as the “most beautiful suicide,” due to her serene and peaceful appearance.
1961- Construction began on the Berlin wall in August of 1961 and divided the city in two for 28 years.
The initial portion of the wall took only 24 hours to construct, but it had reinforcements built in stages for a long period afterwards. The 96 mile barrier closed West Berlin off from the Soviet controlled East Germany. More than 5,000 people tried to escape over the wall, over 600 of which were killed in the process.
1940- A child holds her doll on the rubble of her destroyed home after bombing in London.
Many children were evacuated from London during the Blitz out to the countryside, but not all were lucky enough to escape the city. Some either simply didn’t make it out in time or had nowhere to go. Only about 50% of the youth population of London made it to safety, far less than the 80% target that the government hoped to reach.
1863- Gordon, a former slave shows the scars on his back caused by repeated whippings in Baton Rouge.
He escaped from a plantation in Mississippi and found a camp of federal soldiers who were supporting the Vicksburg campaign. After medical officers saw the scars they requested a photograph to document it. He’d been whipped so many times that scars began forming right on top of one another.
1963- The first version of Ronald McDonald is very different from the version we know today.
Originally performed by local radio personality Willard Scott, he was originally known as “Ronald McDonald the Hamburger-Happy Clown.” As the role became more well-known and the demand for appearances increased they hired many more actors. Over the decades his appearance changed numerous times, finally settling on clown that is popular today.
Date unknown- Ford Theater in Washington DC, the site of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
The theater was built in 1863 and has been hosting performances on and off all the way to the present day. It was designated a National Historic site in 1932.
1937- This zany contraption was referred to as “the baby cage” and was used to let city dwelling children get some sunshine.
These devices, patented in 1922, were popular with nannies in London to keep babies out of the way as they cleaned and let them get a bit of fresh air in the cramped urban environment. It was creative, but also weird and pretty dangerous.
1865- Abraham Lincoln’s funeral hearse was elaborate and ornate.
Lincoln’s body traveled to 180 cities in 7 states as it traveled to his home state of Illinois for burial. The hearse is now on display in the Antique Car Museum in Tallahassee Florida.
1911- This pictures captured the very rare occurrence of Niagara Falls completely freezing over.
When this happens it is referred to as “the ice bridge.” The phenomenon attracts people to walk across its frozen slopes, but when an ice break killed two tourists in 1912 this activity was banned.
1956- Baby ducks being used as therapy for a little girl undergoes a medical test.
Other animals used as therapy included puppies, kittens, piglets and hamsters. The animals helped calm children who were undergoing medical procedures.
1901- Annie Edson Taylor poses with the barrel she used to make her historic plunge over the edge of Niagara Falls.
She was the first person to survive the trip, which she performed on October 24th, her 63rd birthday.
1893- This depicts three students after a freshman vs. sophomore snowball fight at Princeton University.
The students, Darwin R. James, John P. Poe, and Arthur L. Wheeler from the class of 1895 may have been hit by snowballs containing rocks, a nasty tradition that has caused many injuries over the years. As this occurred over 120 years ago, though, nobody can be too sure.
1912- These New York city firefighters pose with their turn of the century fire engine in front of their station.
Date Unknown- German officers examine Polish children during WWII to determine if they were Aryan.
Those who were not were sentenced to die.
1907- Annette Kellerman, an Australian professional swimmer, actress, and writer, promotes the right for women to wear a one-piece fitted swimsuit.
She was the first woman to wear a one-piece suit instead of the traditional pantaloons. She was arrested for indecency, but inspired many women to follower her example. Kellerman is often credited for inventing synchronized swimming.
1900- Santa Claus greets children in New York City.
The City has been known for its Christmas activities for well over a century. Nowadays it is host to one of the largest Christmas tree displays in the world at Rockefeller Center and for the Rockettes famous high kicking Christmastime performances.
1890- A young girl wears artificial legs in the UK.
They were designed by James Gillingham, a boot and shoemaker from Chard Somerset, who was inspired to make artificial limbs after a local man lost an arm in an accident with a cannon salute in 1863.
1941- Christmas dinner for Hitler’s officers and cadets in Munich.
The Christian figure of Saint Nicholas was replaced with the Norse God Odin and soldiers were urged to refer to it as a “Winter Solstice” celebration instead of “Christmas.” Swastika’s adorned the tops of trees instead of angels.
1906- This devastation was the result of the infamous 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.
More than 80% of the city was destroyed in the quake and the resulting fires and over 3,000 people lost their lives. It is one of the biggest natural disasters in US history. Earthquakes of that magnitude occur along that stretch of fault line once every 100 years or so, but the 1906 quake was the last major activity along that fault.
Date Unknown- During WWII, an Austrian boy is delighted to receive a new pair of shoes.
Date Unknown- These children are eating Christmas dinner of turnips and cabbage during the Great Depression.
The Depression started in 1929 after the stock market crash and affected much of the world through the middle of the 1940’s. Many families lost everything and a simple meal like this became a luxury.
1948- An ashamed mother puts her four children up for sale in Chicago.
Many people were forced into rather bizarre circumstances, such as Mr. and Mrs. Chalifoux, as they faced eviction and struggled to put food on the table.
1940- Adolf Hitler visits Paris with architect Albert Speer and Arno Breker.
The Germans invaded France the same year in what became known as the “Fall of France.”
1885- The head of the Statue of Liberty is unpacked in New York after being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean.
The neoclassical sculpture was a gift from France and continues to draw tourist to Liberty Island every day.
1916- This picture depicts Charlie Chaplin at the age of 27 years old before he grew his iconic mustache.
Chaplin is best known as “the Tramp” for his comedy films in the silent era.
1953- Mother and son observe the mushroom cloud from the atomic t in Las Vegas.
The bomb was set off many miles away at the Nevada Nuclear Test Site.
1861- Abraham Lincoln’s gives his first Inaugural Address on the steps of the Capitol in Washington DC.
1964- The owner of the Monson Motel pours acid in the swimming pool to force the black children out who attempted to integrate the pool.
This is the same hotel that denied entry to Martin Luther King Jr that same year. It became an important location in the St. Augustine Movement, which is a major part of the Civil Rights movement in the 60’s.
1960- Martin Luther King Jr. removes a burned cross from his yard in Atlanta, Georgia with his young son standing by.
Incidents such as this were common for the famed Civil Rights Leader and his family.
1924- This circus hippo “Lotus” was trained to wear a harness and draw a two wheeled cart behind it.
Though not a traditionally smart animal, they were known for their strength and speed, thus making them a very entertaining sideshow in circuses.
1937- The Hindenburg Disaster is one of the most iconic images of the 1930’s.
Of the 97 people onboard, 35 perished and one crewman on the ground lost his life. Many people have theorized about what caused the disaster, but it’s still a hotly disputed today. The newsreel footage featuring Herbert Morrison’s famed “oh the humanity” line is one of the most recognized pieces of historical film.
1923- This test of the bullet proof vest was performed in Washington DC.
These early models were designed to absorb impacts from small handguns with bullets traveling at 300 meters per second.
1958- Elvis Presley was one of the most well-known names in entertainment at the time of his draft into the army.
The day that he reported for duty was known as “black Monday” in the press. He served for two years before returning to his entertainment career.
1938- This woman in Hextable, England is pushing a gas resistant pram (baby carriage).
The mother also wears a gas mask to protect herself against a wartime gas attack.