12 of the Most Captivating Photographs from History

12 of the Most Captivating Photographs from History

In 1911, American newspaper editor Arthur Brisbane coined the phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words”. He was right, since pictures are capable of taking us back through time to relive a moment. Historical photos can especially be captivating since they tell stories about the historical figures or events that they represent. This is a selection of photographs of some of the most important or famous historical events that have occurred since the camera was invented. Scroll through our list of some rare historical photos.




1. The first photograph of a human being, Paris, France, 1838.

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Image: Louis Daguerre/Wikimedia

This picture is the earliest known photograph to include a recognizable human form. Taken in 1838 by Louis Daguerre in Paris, France, the person can be seen standing in the bottom-left of the photograph, on the pavement by the curve in the road, having his shoes shined. Although only one man can be clearly seen in the photograph, there are others in the picture. They can’t be seen though, due to the fact that exposure time for the image was around seven minutes.

Even though the street could have been filled with activity, the picture appears deserted, because everything moving was too fast to register on the plate. The man getting his shoes shined was the exception, as he was standing still for a considerable amount of time

2. Woman with a gas-resistant pram, England, 1938.

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Image: Nationaal Archief/Flickr

Here’s a photo of a woman pushing her baby in a gas resistant pram in 1938, the year that Germany occupied the Sudetenland. The general consensus was that war was on the horizon and the public wanted to be prepared. However, the gas resistant pram, which resembled a coffin more than a baby carriage, never really took off.

3. Nikola Tesla sitting with his magnifying transmitter, which can produce millions of volts of electricity. Here the discharge is 22 feet long. (1899)

Nikola Tesla, science, facts, electricity, history, captivating
Image: Wellcome Images

Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist, is well-known for his contributions to what we know as the alternating current (AC) electricity supply system. After arriving in the U.S. in 1884, he worked under Thomas Edison. Later in life, he set up labs in New York and Colorado to conduct a plethora of electrical device experiments that led to the birth of the AC induction motor. The image above, taken in 1899, shows Tesla at his experimental station in Colorado Springs. The device is a magnifying transmitter that is capable of producing millions of volts of electricity.

The image was captured by photographer Dickenson Alley, who took 68 multiple exposures in order to achieve this result. Tesla initially moved to Colorado Springs in 1899 because he had associates who were willing to give him all the power he needed to conduct his experiments. He kept a diary at his lab, consisting of 500 pages of notes and nearly 200 drawings, recorded chronologically between June 1, 1899 and January 7, 1900.




4. Elvis Presley being sworn into army, 1958.

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Image: Wikimedia

While Elvis Presley was the King, he was also a sergeant. 61 years ago, in 1957, Elvis was drafted into the Army. On December 20, 1957, he received his draft notice, requesting him to report for duty. “It’s a duty I’ve got to fill and I’m going to do it”, he said. Initially ordered to report for duty January 20, he received a deferment for the filming of ‘King Creole’ (at that time titled ‘Sing, You, Sinners’) which was already in pre-production. The deferment was granted and Elvis was inducted March 24, 1958.

His service began at what was arguably the height of his career on March 24, 1958, a day dubbed by the media as “Black Monday”. He left active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 5, 1960, and received his discharge from the Army Reserve on March 23, 1964. During his active military career, Mr. Presley served as a member of two different armor battalions.

5. Testing a new bulletproof vest, 1923.

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Image: Library of Congress

As humans were perfecting their creations, one of the crucial steps of proving that their invention really worked was to do a live demonstration. The first soft ballistic vest was produced by a tailor in Dublin, Ireland in the 1840’s. In 1901, the Polish inventor Jan Szczepanik created the first ballistic vest using silk. In 1901, the US military explored the use of soft body armor. By September of 1923, the Protective Garment Corporation of New York manufactured a lightweight vest for police use, and they held a live demonstration in DC.

The two men, demonstrating their company’s newest creation, are WH Murphy and his assistant, who is wearing the vest. On the right, the DC area police are waiting to see if the vests do in fact work and save lives. The demonstration was a success and since then, law enforcement agencies looked to vests as a viable method of protecting officers and agents.

6. Looking down Sacramento Street, San Francisco, 1906.

Sacramento, earthquake, life, people, facts, history
Image: Arnold Genthe/Wikimedia

This photo was taken on April 18th, 1906, by local photographer Arnold Genthe. It shows the results of an earthquake, the beginning of a fire and the attitude of the people. On the morning of April 18, 1906, San Francisco suffered a massive earthquake. During the  earthquake, Arnold Genthe’s cameras were severely damaged, but he was determined to capture the moment.

“I found that my hand cameras had been so damaged by the falling plaster as to be rendered useless. I went to Montgomery Street to the shop of George Kahn, my dealer, and asked him to lend me a camera. ‘Take anything you want. This place is going to burn up anyway.’ I selected the best small camera, a 3A Kodak Special. I stuffed my pockets with films and started out…. Of the pictures I had made during the fire, there are several, I believe, that will be of lasting interest.

There is particularly the one scene that I recorded the morning of the first day of the fire [along Sacramento Street, looking toward the Bay] which shows, in a pictorially effective composition, the results of the earthquake, the beginning of the fire and the attitude of the people. On the right is a house, the front of which had collapsed into the street. The occupants are sitting on chairs calmly watching the approach of the fire. Groups of people are standing in the street, motionless, gazing at the clouds of smoke. When the fire crept up close, they would just move up a block. It is hard to believe that such a scene actually occurred in the way the photograph represents it.”




7. Annie Edison Taylor, the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, 1901.

Annie Edson, Niagara falls, jump, captivating, images, life, people
Image: Library of Congress/Francis J. Petrie Photograph Collection

On October 24th, 1901, Annie Taylor became the first person and the first woman to go over the falls in a barrel and survive. The 63 year old school teacher from Michigan, accompanied by her cat, decided to tempt fate in an effort to gain fame and fortune. On the afternoon of October 24th, 1901, with the help of a small boat, a barrel containing Ms. Taylor and her cat was towed to the main stream of the Niagara River where it was cut loose.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. the barrel went over the edge of Niagara Falls and a minute later, was seen floating at the base of the falls. Around 15 minutes later, the barrel docked closer to the Canadian shore, where it was dragged to a rock and the lid was removed. To everyone’s amazement, Annie Taylor and her cat emerged from her barrel, dazed but triumphant. She emerged with a single cut on the forehead, which she received while being taken out of the barrel. Annie vowed to never perform the stunt again.

8. Jackie, “Leo the Lion”, at the studio that was built around his cage to record his voice for the famous MGM intro, 1928.

MGM, lion, facts, history, captivating, life
Image: P & A-Pacific and Atlantic Photos/Wikimedia

The living logo of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is one of the most iconic images in the world. It was not just one though, but rather a few different lions that have served as the MGM logo over the years; beginning with Slats in 1917. Slats, from Dublin, was the first official MGM lion, named Leo for marketing purposes. Slats retired in 1928, and Jackie took over as the face of MGM. Jackie however, changed the logo completely, since the technology to record audio was invented around the same time period.

According to his owner, Jackie did not have a pretty face, but he did have a big roar. One of the things with Jackie is that he survived numerous disasters (including a plane crash and two train crashes). The above photo shows Jackie at the studio built around his cage, to record his voice. Jackie retired in 1931.

9. Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, flying alongside the space shuttle in the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), to become the first astronaut to fly untethered from his spacecraft.

flying, astronaut, facts, NASA, space, universe
Image: NASA

McCandless, a retired U.S. Navy captain, was one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in April 1966. He was also part of the Apollo 14 mission and was backup pilot for the first crewed Skylab mission. Of his famous spacewalk, he wrote in 2015: “My wife [Bernice] was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension. I wanted to say something similar to Neil [Armstrong] when he landed on the moon, so I said, ‘It may have been a small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.’ That loosened the tension a bit”.




10. Measuring bathing suits. If they were too short, women would be fined, 1920’s.

bathing suits, collections, history, captivating, facts, life
Image: National Photo Company Collection

It wasn’t so long ago that that the beach police existed in many of our cities and monitored women to ensure that no one was wearing a swimsuit of questionable length. During the 1920’s, when form-fitting clothing and swimwear became available to the public, dress codes were implemented, especially on public beaches. The beach police were on the lookout for women who weren’t covering enough of their legs. If someone was seen violating the standards, the swimsuit police would use a ruler or tape measure to measure the length of the suit.

Women who were found to be violating the codes had very few options. Some would be given a warning and asked to cover up, while others were sent home for the day. However, in some cases, the beach police would arrest them and take them to jail.

11. August Landmesser, the man behind the crossed arms who refused to salute Hitler, 1936.

August Landmesser, salute, Germany, facts, life, captivating
Image: Wikimedia

August Landmesser, the man with his arms crossed, was married to a Jewish woman. In 1934, Landmesser met Irma Eckler, a Jewish woman, and the two fell deeply in love. After being engaged to her, he was expelled from the party and their marriage application was denied under the newly enacted Nuremberg Laws. The same year, they had a baby girl, Ingrid. Believing that they had no future under their ruler, the family made a failed attempt to flee to Denmark, where they were apprehended at the border.

August was arrested and charged for “dishonoring the race,” and briefly imprisoned. In May 1938, August was acquitted for lack of evidence but was released with a severe warning that he would be punished if he repeated his offense again. A month later, August would be arrested again and sentenced to hard labor for thirty months in a concentration camp. During this time, Irma was snatched up by the Gestapo and sent to various prisons and concentration camps, where she gave birth to their second child. The kids were bounced around in various orphanages, while Irma suffered an unfortunate fate. August never saw his wife again.

12. The last photograph of a wild Barbary lion, in the Atlas Mountains, taken by Marcelin Flandrin on a flight from Casablanca to Dakar, 1925.

Atlas Lion, last, facts, captivating, life, nature
Image: Beta1618/Wikimedia

The Barbary lion was believed to have gone extinct around the 1920’s. In 1925, Marcelin Flandrin took a picture of a wild Barbary lion, which is believed to have been the last one ever witnessed by a human being. However, new research published by PLoS ONE reveals that Barbary lions may have remained alive in the wilds of Algeria and Morocco—hidden and safe from most human eyes—for several decades, possibly as late as 1965.




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