We can all agree that the photographic camera is one of the greatest inventions in history. The ability to be able to capture anything we want is incredible. Today, almost everyone has a smartphone equipped with a high-resolution camera. But it hasn’t always been like that.
In fact, it hasn’t been 30 years since the first phone with a camera was released. But long before phones were a thing, cameras were also rare, which is why pictures of historical events are special. We’ve compiled a list of some of the rarest historical photos that you never knew existed.
Pictures of Holocaust Survivors
In 1944, Werner Reich and Walter Spier were held captive in Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest German Nazi concentration camp during World War II. Millions of men, women, and children died in Auschwitz, the only camp to tattoo Jewish prisoners immediately. Interestingly, Werner and Walter arrived on the same day.
Their tattoos were 10 numbers apart—A1828 and A1838—but never met until this reunion, 70 years later. Werner and Walter met with the third man, another Holocaust and Auschwitz survivor, for the Last Witness project, which is devoted to preserving and sharing the experiences of Holocaust survivors.
At Last, a Smiling Picture
We really love these pictures of a couple laughing in 1890, especially since it’s rare to see “outtakes” of historical photographs. Nowadays, technological improvements allow us to take multiple photos in seconds (and we still end up deleting most). But in the early days of photography, every shot was valuable.
Besides the rarity of these photos, you’ll notice that this couple is smiling at the camera! In those days, the camera’s exposure time was long, sometimes up to 15 minutes. So, it was almost impossible to hold a smile. That’s why we often see gloomy and unsmiling portraits of historical figures.
The Woman That Made Apollo 11 Possible
The woman in this historical photo from 1969 is Margaret Hamilton. She was a software engineer long before it was a thing. Hamilton spearheaded the NASA team that took Apollo astronauts to the moon. In this picture, she is standing next to the code that made that space mission possible.
How did history skip her? Dr. Teasel Muir-Harmony, a curator at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, explained, “She was a pioneer in software engineering development and a pioneer as a woman in the workplace by contributing to these types of programs and taking on these types of roles.”
Keeping Their Love Under the Radar
This rare image is featured in Hugh Nini and Neal Treadwell’s 2020 book “A Photographic History of Men in Love, 1850-1950”. It is a compilation of touching images of couples throughout that era in history when it was forbidden to love another man, some of which were taken in secret.
The images give insights into their private lives, which they were forced to keep hidden. “These photos have stood the test of time for between 70 and 170 years, and we were now the custodians of these unlikely survivors of a world that is just beginning to catch up,” they write.
The Italian Marilyn Monroe
The award-winning Italian actress Sophia Loren is famous for both her talents and curves. When Loren first appeared on the Hollywood scene in 1957, she was dubbed the “Italian Marilyn Monroe” and became known for her famous quote, “I’d rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0.”
Although her looks and body overshadowed her talent, her long career is proof of her commitment to her work. Sophia Loren earned the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Two Women.” She went on to garner innumerable accolades and nominations during her career, including five Golden Globes.
Bernie Sanders in Birmingham
This man caught on camera during a protest in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, went on to become a U.S. Senator and a Democratic Presidential candidate. A young Bernie Sanders is being dragged by police for participating in a nonviolent protest in Birmingham in the early 1960s.
The movement had support from Dr. Martin Luther King when the city was still racially segregated. When segregation restrictions were abolished in Birmingham, MLK and the nonviolent movement came to an end. This wouldn’t have been possible but for marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and the support of the international media.
Tough as a Rock, but Soft on the Inside
Punks are human, too. The young man in this picture kneels at the request of a kid who wants to feel his jacket’s spikes – to show us that his “tough as a rock” reputation is a front. We love this photo for all the obvious reasons.
The boy’s eager smile and the seemingly tough man’s gentle eyes make this photograph, which was taken at a Pride event in 2009. While wearing a spiky leather jacket, boots, and a mohawk, this punk shows that our exterior is just the surface. The real human is inside.
An Image of Strength and Perseverance
This is one story you don’t hear often. Leonid Rogozov, a surgeon on a Soviet Antarctic expedition, started to feel unwell. Being a doctor, he recognized the symptoms as acute appendicitis. Since the only way to leave Antarctica was by air, Rogozov knew the only option was to have surgery.
Mind you; there was no general anesthesia. He ensured he had attendants, the equipment was sterile, and that he had a plan in case he passed out. Although the operation took nearly two hours, Rogozov was successful. He is hailed as the embodiment of strength and perseverance in Russia.
Extreme Starvation in Uganda
In this picture, a starving Ugandan boy, believed to be around 4 years old, is held by a Catholic missionary. During the 1980 famine, 60% of children in Uganda’s Karamoja died. Despite winning the World Press Photo of the Year, Mike Wells claims he was ashamed to take the picture.
Around 1980, when Uganda was at war with every one of its neighboring countries, food scarcity began to happen in the Karamoja region of the country. The famine, one of the deadliest in recorded history, was brought on by a lack of food and resources.
A Monument to Heroes Past
In this picture, you can see 60 pairs of iron shoes on the banks of the Danube River. This is a monument to the Jews of Budapest killed during World War II. After taking power in 1944, Arrow Cross, the nationalist-socialist political party, aligned itself with Hitler’s Nazi party.
Then, they started deporting thousands of Jews to concentration camps. They murdered 600 Jews just a few days into their regime, the majority of whom were shot on the banks of the Danube. Over 100,000 Budapest Jews died during the Holocaust, more than 50% of the Jewish community.
The Hour of Death
Héctor Rondón captured this touching Pulitzer Prize-winning image in 1962, during a revolt in Venezuela in South America. Chaplain Luis Mara Padilla is pictured holding a soldier who was severely injured during the notorious “El Porteazo” rebellion. He was among the 700 people hurt during the brief uprising.
The revolt also claimed 400 lives. The government was not overthrown by the insurrection. Both the 1962 World Press Photo of the Year and the 1963 Pulitzer Prize for Photography went to Rondón for his image, which he named “Ayuda del Padre.” The effects of violence can be catastrophic.
Anne and Margot Frank
This photo shows the Frank sisters on the beach in 1940 at Zandvoort, a Dutch coastal resort. Two years later, their lives changed drastically. The first laws concerning Jews went into effect, including the yellow star, travel restrictions, termination from employment, and a ban on their enrollment at public schools.
The Frank family spent two years hiding in a hidden annex behind their father’s offices in Amsterdam. After the Nazi party learned of their whereabouts, they were transferred to Westerbork and later to Auschwitz, where their mother starved to death. The girls’ death was recorded in Bergen-Belsen in 1944.
Freddie Mercury and Mary Austin
Freddie Mercury is undeniably a rock legend. He will be revered for his songs and his charismatic stage presence. He is regarded as a gay icon today, more than 30 years after his passing, but this wasn’t always the case. Queen’s leader was engaged to Mary Austin for several years.
Their relationship came to an end when he told her he was gay in 1976, but they remained close until he died in 1994. Mercury never talked about his personal life in public and hid the fact that he had AIDS up until a few days before his death.
Lunch Time After Pearl Harbor
This adorable picture of two kids was shot during a terrible and dark time in American history. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President Roosevelt issued an order for the internment of all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast, regardless of whether they were U.S. citizens.
Dorothea Lange captured the children in “Lunch Time” at the Raphael Weill School in San Francisco just before their internment. The camps received over 112,000 Japanese Americans who were removed from their homes. Some endured challenging living situations like the loss of their homes, employment, and friends for up to three years.
The Kiss of Life
You never know when you’ll need to do CPR. In this amazing image, named “The Kiss of Life,” two coworkers, Randall G. Champion and J.D. Thomspon, are seen in 1967, maintaining power lines. Champion fell unconscious after unintentionally brushing up against a low-voltage line. His harness kept him on the pole.
His companion, who had remained below, climbed up and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Photographer Rocco Morabito, who was on his way somewhere, phoned an ambulance while also capturing this picture. Thompson saved Champion’s life, and Morabito was awarded the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for News Photography.
Who Is Dolly Parton’s Husband?
Have you ever heard of Dolly Parton’s husband? Well, neither have we. Photographs of them together are so rare that it’s almost unbelievable to think they actually exist. But this photo proves that Dolly’s lover exists. Carl Dean has been married to the country star for more than 50 years.
The couple is private, which could be why they’ve lasted this long! Dolly was only 18 when they met, and they married two years later. They renewed their wedding vows on their 50th anniversary, with the singer saying, “I’ll drag him kicking and screaming into the next 50 years!”
The Long Road to Freedom
This photo depicts a terrifying and hopeful moment in history. It was the beginning of the liberation of concentration camps in Poland and Germany by Allied forces after World War II. The smiles on their faces are genuine, but the camp survivors still had a long road to recovery.
Some people tried to return home and find their loved ones. They soon discovered that their so-called “neighbors” had taken advantage of their misfortune and taken their homes. Allied soldiers witnessed the Holocaust’s atrocities, and their stories revealed the full scope of the horrors of the Nazi regime.
The Only Place to be Free
This pair could express their love freely within the photo booth because they probably wouldn’t have dared outside of it. The decriminalization of same-sex relationships in Canada didn’t happen until 1969, albeit there were still a lot of limitations in place. This law was finally repealed in 2016.
But same-sex marriage became legal in Canada in 2005. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a formal apology on behalf of Canada and the Canadian government in a speech to the LGBTQ+ community in 2017. The police also made a public apology for decades of oppression in 2020.
Their Daily Dose of Milk
Farmers have benefited greatly from milking machines since they produce more milk with less labor, but how were cows milked before these machines were invented? Well, obviously by hand. This image shows a more serene time for younger audiences when farmers or milkmaids milked the cows.
Milkmaids are women who oversaw the task and made cheese. Cows were milked twice daily using mechanical pumps in the 1930s. But robotic machines allow for around 5-6 times daily. The sad part is that despite their eagerness, we are not sure milk is great for cats!
A Reminder to be Vaccinated
This is a powerful picture depicting the importance of vaccination. Before the disease was wiped out by vaccination, nine out of 10 infants died of smallpox. It was a fatal illness characterized by the widespread breakout of pus-filled blisters on the body. Those who did survive were usually left blind and with dreadful scars.
The wife of the British ambassador to Constantinople and a smallpox survivor, Mary Montagu, wrote of the Turkish “variolization” techniques she had observed. She had her two children immunized. Although British doctors later realized that this strategy worked, they continued to have no faith in the method.
The Unlikely Link We Didn’t Know
Here’s a relatively unknown fact: Rapper Snoop Dogg and actress Cameron Diaz went to the same school, Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California. Although it’s not unusual for two people from the same high school to have successful Hollywood careers, Diaz once revealed she bought weed from Snoop Dogg.
Diaz said, “We went to high school together. He was a year older than me, and, you know, I remember him there. There were a lot of kids in our school, there [were] like 3,500 kids, but I remember him. He was very tall and skinny, wore lots of ponytails [on] his head.”
Ku Klux Klan Kids
This picture says more than a thousand words. Here, a black policeman looks down at a boy dressed as a Klansman who’s staring at his reflection in the policeman’s shield. This happened in 1992 at a Ku Klux Klan rally in Georgia. The KKK was formed in 1915.
The hate group’s goal is to promote white supremacy, especially in the southern U.S. states. The organization also had groups for teenagers, girls, and boys, which were called Ku Klux Kiddies. This picture shows an innocent child close to someone he’s supposedly expected to hate.
When You’re There for Yourself
Amy Winehouse’s last concert was in Belgrade, Serbia. It was labeled her “worst performance.” But now that we all know her sad end, this picture is even more tragic. Winehouse’s musical talent shone brightly in 2006, as she won several awards and was hounded by the media.
She battled alcohol and substance abuse and eventually died of alcohol poisoning in 2011. This is one of Amy’s last photos. The Belgard audience saw her forget the lines of a song and act strangely. But this picture shows her anguish, sadness, and loneliness before she tragically passed.
Running for Millions of Girls Around the World
Kathrine Switzer had been training with her university’s men’s field team as a runner when they decided to run together in the Boston Marathon in 1967. Even though women were not allowed in the 26.2-mile race, Switzer still signed up. All was going well until an organizer got furious.
He tried taking her number away so she would be forced to drop out. Fortunately, Switzer finished the marathon and became a women’s sports activist. Women were officially allowed to run five years later. “If I quit, women’s sport would go backward instead of forward,” she said.
Barack and Michelle Obama’s Wedding Picture
Most of us already know how Barack and Michelle Obama met and fell in love. The story appears in Michelle’s book, “My Story”. Here’s a bit of the story if you haven’t read it: Michelle worked as a summer associate at a Chicago law firm and was Barack’s adviser.
Although they’re public figures, not much is known about their wedding. But thanks to this rare picture, we do. Barack is seen removing Michelle’s wedding garter. They have the same commitment and love for each other even after 30 years of marriage.
An Incredible Picture of David Bowie and Iman
Many celebrity relationships are kept private. David Bowie and Iman’s romance was similar. The amazing thing about this casual but powerful photo of the couple is that it shows one of the rarest things you see in the world of showbiz: authenticity.
The musician and model kept their relationship absolutely private. Iman told The Guardian newspaper, “I fell in love with David Jones…I didn’t fall in love with David Bowie. Bowie is just a character.” Thanks to their hairdresser, Bowie and Iman went on a blind date and married two years later.
Just a Regular Day in Australia
Steve Irwin was a remarkable Australian zoologist and conservationist. He was gifted with the ability to work in animal care. Steve, alongside his wife Terri and his kids Bindi and Robert, became popular for their work at the Australia Zoo. This photo shows Steve and Bindi with a small crocodile.
While his love for animals was clear to see and his skills as an animal conversationist were exceptional, Steve was killed by a sudden stingray attack. It happened while he was shooting a documentary about Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. His son and daughter have continued in his wildlife conservation footsteps.
The Future President of America
This is a rare photo of a young Barack Obama having fun with his grandfather in 1966. The picture depicts the great time they were having and the beautiful relationship they had. Obama has spoken of his grandparents’ role in raising him during his mom’s studies in Indonesia.
Here’s an interesting fact: Stanley Dunham, Obama’s grandfather, was also raised by his grandparents. His mother, Obama’s great-grandmother, committed suicide, so his father sent him and his brother to live with their grandparents. What a wonderful story, but we’re sure Obama is raising his kids now!
A Safe Place in Pittsburgh
A photo gives us the chance to remember our past and speaks to us in the present. 1955 was a complex time in the United States, with segregation a big deal. It led to the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
In 1959, Pittsburgh, Penn., was arguably the only place without segregation laws, and these couples were photographed somewhere in the city while outrage went on in other states such as Mississippi. African American photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris took this picture, using his hometown of Pittsburgh as his muse.
Vikki Dougan’s 15 Minutes of Fame
Vikki Dougan may not be your typical 1950s hottie like Jayne Mansfield or Marilyn Monroe, but she had her 15 minutes of fame. After she graced the cover of Life magazine and started to draw attention, Ralph Crane captured this iconic image showing her in a backless dress in 1957.
Her acting career, however, never took off, and she never became a Hollywood celebrity, unlike other popular models of the era. On her controversial dress, Dougan said she didn’t think there was anything sexy about showing her back. “It just didn’t occur to me,” she said.
A Couple of Timeless Beauties
Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were two beauties of their time. Both were born in 1929 but had different film careers. Many people wonder if their paths ever crossed since there are almost no photos of them. While they never starred in a movie together, their paths indeed crossed.
And this picture is proof. The duo, who were successful in their own rights, were at the 1956 Oscars. This picture was taken backstage where both actresses were presenting awards. Both beauties won an Oscar for best actress. They may have had different careers, but they were incredibly successful.
Strong and Fighting the Virus
When this photo was released, this 95-year-old woman was the oldest person in Italy to recover from COVID-19. However, a 101-year-old man has since recovered from the virus, too. The world’s second-oldest living person, a French nun named Sistae André at the age of 117, also survived the virus.
However, this picture still depicts the incredible strength of the old woman and the tireless efforts of the healthcare workers. Italy has suffered severely since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in 2020, with over 165,000 deaths recorded due to the virus across the country.
It’s Time to Go Home
This is a picture of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, packed with American soldiers entering New York from Europe. The ship departed Scotland on Aug. 6, 1945, and reached New York on Aug. 11. The ship looks overcrowded, which could be because of the soldiers who went to witness the arrival.
Or it could be because Eisenhower decided to bring more soldier’s home. The original photo was taken in black and white. However, this colored version of the heart-warming image is credited to Royston Leonard. He has also colored many historical pictures, bringing more life to them.
The Undefeated Australian Spirit
Five malnourished and liberated Australian prisoners of war posed for pictures while reading the paper and drinking tea. The testimony afterward given by the prisoners of war about the inhumane conditions and harsh treatment they had to undergo, including hunger, beatings, abuse, and forced work, is reflected in this photograph.
Over 8,000 soldiers were killed by Japanese captors during their imprisonment in Southeast Asia. Around 22,000 Australian POWs were taken by Japan in Southeast Asia during World War II. Most of the captured soldiers were transported to Changi, Singapore, and then shipped to other labor camps from there.
An Unforgettable Physics Class
According to Edutopia, “Measuring the full value of a teacher goes well beyond their impact on test scores. Teachers who improve students’ noncognitive skills also improve long-term outcomes that include their odds of graduating from high school.” This 1970s professor obviously chose the right profession.
The passion with which he teaches his physics class is incredible. Although we have no idea who he is, the faces of his students show this will be an unforgettable class! Some teachers leave deeper impacts on their students, and they’re usually the ones who influence performance the most.
Finally Reunited with Mom
Please pass the tissues. This is a heart-breaking photo of Major Terri Gurrola reuniting with her daughter, Gaby, during the Iraq War. The photo was captured at the Atlanta airport in 2007 when the Major returned home for a two-week break after seven long months in Iraq.
Gurrola served in Iraq for two years. “Even now, seeing the photo brings tears to my eyes. It shows the true emotion of what we military parents experience,” Gurrola said in 2014. We’re not entirely sure about the original photographer, but it’s such a powerful picture.
Stephen Hawking’s Wonder Woman
Stephen Hawking’s contributions to astrophysics and his fight against amyotrophic lateral sclerosis earned him widespread recognition. His primary caregiver was Jane, his wife, and the mother of his children, even though her contributions went largely unnoticed. The couple wed in 1965, soon after Hawking’s diagnosis. They were married for 30 years.
They had three children together. According to Jane Hawking, “The truth was there were four of us in our marriage: Stephen, illness, physics, and me.” During difficult times, Jane cared for her husband and the children while completing a Ph.D., which took 12 years.
The Name Change That Changed Everything
David Jones was born with a boring and conventional name. However, the legendary pop star chose to change his last name to Bowie. It’s not unusual for artists to change their names, but David Bowie loved theatrics! He even invented alter egos: Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and The Thin White Duke.
He also performed in androgynous costumes. Not only that, but there was also another pop star named David Jones – Davy Jones, a member of the Monkees. So as not to conflict, he contemplated changing his name to Tom but finally settled on Bowie. David Bowie. A legend.
One Thing We Know About Freddie
This picture shows a rare look into the life of a private person. World-renowned musician Freddie Mercury loved cats, and at one point, he had more than 10. His cats Tiffany, Delilah, Dorothy, Goliath, Miko, Lily, Oscar, and Romeo, had a bedroom in one of his homes.
This shows how important they were to him. Freddie preferred adopting them from shelters and had a purebred cat that Mary Austin gifted him. Jim Hutton, Freddie’s long-time partner, said the cats were like his children. He even called to talk to them when he was on tour.
Love Is in the Air
We love these photos from the 1900s showing a couple cuddling up in front of the camera. It’s unclear which country they lived in, but lesbianism was never illegal in the U.K. It was in 1973 that the American Psychiatric Association excluded homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses.
The laws against homosexuality have always been against men. However, even though lesbianism was never really frowned upon in mainstream society, its existence was not acknowledged. This means the queer community had to deal with some invisibility and misogyny for several decades. These pictures are wholesome!