In a world of selfies and duck faces, pouty lips and group photos, photography is simply part of our daily lives thanks to smart phones and modern technology. But, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the oldest photograph ever recorded dates back to 1840 by Joseph Draper of New York City and was not, by any means, a duck-faced selfie. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t until the 1950s with the advancement of technology that photography even became popular.
Think for a moment and consider the entire world of events that took place between the 1840s and 1950s: The Civil War, World War I and II, and the Great Depression, for example. These events are widely remembered but were seldom photographed, making the few and extremely rare black and white images of the era some of the most iconic photographs of all time.
But, what if these black and white photos were transformed into exquisitely colorful masterpieces? Take a look at these 18 iconic images that have been revitalized to resemble the true historic events as seen through the eyes of the storied photographers who captured their breathtaking beauty.
#18 – Dust Bowl
During the 1930s, which are also known as the Dirty Thirties, the United States and Canadian prairies were devastated by a series of intense dust storms, known as the Dust Bowl. Caused by wind erosion and drought, the storms blasted through the land and halted farming in both countries. This photograph, taken in 1936, shows a young boy from Liberal, Kansas sitting atop a mound of soil that gathered on the roof of his home. In a dust-filled land, he is guarding what remaining precious item he has left: man’s best friend, his faithful dog.
#17 – Penny Portrait
Americans should quickly recognize Honest Abe sitting under the tent canopy and surrounded by flags. One of the most important presidencies in American history, Lincoln led America through the Civil War, serving to abolish slavery and forever changing the landscape of the country. Because of his service, Lincoln’s portrait appears on the American penny and, this photograph, is where the iconic portrait originated. Here, President Lincoln meets with General McClellan in 1862 in Antietam, Maryland. McClellan later ran for President but never quite lived up to Lincoln’s tall stature.
#16 – Times Square
The iconic D-Day, when the American military landed at Normandy on June 6th, 1944, is forever entrenched as a pivotal moment in history as the allies during World War II gained momentum in the fight against Germany. In the photograph, bystanders gather in Times Square as the news of D-Day broke. With the Big Apple as merely a small blossom in the 1940s, the city’s prime time news proximity for events like D-Day forever sealed its fate as the land of dreams and opportunity.
#15 – Unsinkable
The unthinkable happened when the Titanic, the proclaimed unsinkable ship, drifted to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on its maiden voyage after colliding with an iceberg. In one of the worst tragedies in American history, the news of the Titanic spread like wildfire. Ned Parfett, a paper boy, is pictured here selling copies of the news that detailed the events of April 15th, 1912 as the doomed vessel traveling from the United Kingdom to New York City never reached its destination, causing tragic loss of life and hope for many.
#14 – Bulletproof
One of the biggest military innovations is the bulletproof or ballistic vest, which is designed to protect the wearer from extreme physical damage or death in the event of being shot at with ammunition or other projectiles. The inventor, W. H. Murphy, unveiled the idea for the vest on October 13th, 1923 in a demonstration that, in all honesty, could have been tragic. Pictured here is the debut of the invention where Murphy shot his assistant to demonstrate the vest’s safety features. That’s one dedicated assistant, wouldn’t you agree?
#13 – A Genius Vacation
A German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein is known for developing the atomic bomb, which is widely considered one of his greatest and worst ideas. As with so many iconic figures in history, Einstein had a unique look with wild grey hair and a quizzical and smiling expression. Here, Einstein is photographed in the summer of 1939 during a vacation to Nassau Point in Long Island. Well-known for his eccentricity, Einstein holds nothing back with his short shorts and laid-back look! y!
#12 – The New Bay
At 1.7 miles long, the Golden Gate Bridge is considered one of the most impressive man-made structures in the world and serves to connect the channel of the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean. Construction on the bridge began in January 1933 and was finally finished in April 1937. This photograph was taken of the bridge nearly halfway through the construction in 1935 and shows the exemplary progress made in just a matter of time on such an incredible and iconic structure!
#11 – Capital Battlefield
A gorgeous moment frozen in time, this photograph of Nashville, Tennessee reveals a gloomy, yet beautiful rose-colored sky that overwhelms the city. As the Civil War tore through the United States in battle after battle, it divided the north from the south in a fight over slavery. One of the most notable battles was the Battle of Nashville, which took place on December 15th and 16th, 1864, and led to over 6,000 casualties for the south, making this a northern victory under a gloomy pink sky.
#10 – Unrefreshing
Despite current events revolving around race and hate, society has come a long way since the days of Jim Crow Laws where blacks and whites were separated in everything from bathrooms and water fountains to bus seats and entrances. This photograph, taken in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma during the summer of 1939 is a closer look into America’s era of racial segregation where, during the beginning of World War II, segregation like this was widespread and considered common.
#9 – Oh, The Humanity
Departing from Frankfurt, Germany in 1937, the Hindenburg was widely praised as an unbelievable aircraft of exquisite beauty. Arriving at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst in Manchester Township, New Jersey on May 6th, 1937, tragedy soon struck. In an attempt to dock at the station, the Hindenburg caught fire, which ignited an enormous explosion that led to 36 fatalities. In this iconic image of the tragedy, it is truly remarkable that 62 others somehow managed to survive the disaster.
#8 – Prop Art
Supporting the troops in warfare has always been vital to promote morale throughout the country. During World War II, one of the easiest ways to boost morale was by creating propaganda to attract the public’s attention. Do you remember the infamous strong-armed bonnet wearing, Rosie the Riveter, the icon of American pop culture? The women pictured here have gathered to create propaganda similar to the strong-armed Rosie to incite pride in their fellow Americans. With American loyalty to the red, white and blue, we’d say their efforts and Rosie worked!
#7 – Deadly Operation
Remember the photo from Times Square releasing the news of D-Day to bystanders? Here’s the other side of D-Day and what it looked like firsthand for the souls fighting for their countries. Known as Operation Overlord, the photograph shows allies landing on Normandy in a massive battle with tank landing ships helping to unload supplies on Omaha Beach, not to mention the actual droves of tanks themselves. What is truly remarkable is that the impending battle pictured here is estimated to have produced nearly three quarter-million casualties.
#6 – Eagle Has Landed
If you have seen the HBO series, “Band of Brothers,” then you probably already know that it is based on Dick Winters and his battalion, ironically known as the Easy Company. This photograph is a picture of the group sitting at Hitler’s residence, known as the Eagle’s Nest. Dick Winters actually commented on the amazing photograph during the show and his interview was later aired for the world to appreciate this remarkable moment. Winters passed away in 2011 but, thanks to this iconic photo and his contributions to the war, his legacy will live on forever.
#5 – Soup’s On
The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1932, was the most devastating economic period of the world as the GDP of the planet fell by 15 percent. In this tragic global economic collapse, America was absolutely devastated as big cities suffered extensive damage. One of the cities most affected by the Great Depression was Chicago, which is pictured here as unemployed men line up outside the soup kitchen run by the notorious gangster, Al Capone in 1931. We at least hope he fed the men before he broke their jaws over a penny owed or a penny earned.
#4 – Dark Camp
Concentration camps were one of the most dark and disturbing aspects of World War II. Located in Germany, the Buchenwald Concentration Camp pictured here often starved people who did not fit their ideals and would quickly kill anyone at any time, without reason. Taken on April 16th, 1945, this photograph shows the devastating living conditions for these men while women and children were kept elsewhere. But, despite being fed nearly nothing and enduring such conditions, these individuals found the strength to fight for one common goal: survival.
#3 – Happy Easter
Adolf Hitler was widely hated by Americans and many other countries during the war. With many bloody battles during Hitler’s reign, most of them were fought on the ground in the trenches. Pictured here are two men who actually look pleased to be fighting Hitler in poor conditions on the Easter holiday. They actually have a special present for Hitler, himself. With the added motivation in creating Hitler’s present, we can’t help but admit that Hitler taking a bit out of one of these eggs would have surely put a smile on the world’s face!
#2 – Hollywood Icon
Audrey Hepburn was one of the earliest Hollywood icons and biggest stars in the Golden Age of entertainment. Considered by many as one of the greatest actresses of all time, Hepburn is easily one of the most beautiful. From acting to modeling, Hepburn’s talents are widespread as she is noted for film classics like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “Roman Holiday.” This photograph shows her, beautiful as ever, checking on something in the oven, lending to the dream of many to share a meal across from the most gorgeous actress of all time.
#1 – What Lies Ahead
The Russians, Americans and British were three major allies during World War II in the fight against Germany. The Brits were at the forefront in terms of proximity but even their soldiers couldn’t predict the future. On September 20th, 1939, these young British men set out with brave and smiling faces in their excitement and duty to fight the enemy, knowing they might not return home. This beautiful photograph depicts the strength of the human spirit and the power of camaraderie, making it a true iconic image that deserves to be remembered for all time as it was: in color, and in life.