20 Rare Historical Photos That Will Leave You Speechless

20 Rare Historical Photos That Will Leave You Speechless

These amazing and rare historical photos were taken by photographers who were eyewitnesses of the atomic bomb creation, all the horrors of military conflicts, construction of iconic buildings in many parts of the world.

20 Rare Historical Photos

In this article, you will not read boring and long historical descriptions. You will see with your own eyes the iconic and important moments in mankind’s history which were captured with a camera lens.

1. The Horse in Motion - Eadweard Muybridge (1878)

rare historical pictures
Taken by Eadweard Muybridge photographer

When a horse is trotting or galloping, does it come off completely from the ground? Photographer Edward Maybridge and railroad tycoon and former California governor Leland Stanford sought an answer to this question in 1878.

Stanford was convinced of a positive answer. This one of the rarest photos in history was taken to prove Stanford’s idea. Maybridge came up with a way to take photographs with an exposure lasting a split second. He invited journalists as witnesses and placed 12 cameras along the racetrack at Stanford's estate.

When the horse ran past, it touched the wires connected to the cameras. As a result, they took 12 photos in succession.

Thus, the photographer managed to find out the truth about the horse’s movement. Moreover, he also developed the first form of animation which was used in the film industry decades later.

2. View from the Window - Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1826 or 1827)

first history photos
Taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce photographer

The “View from the window” is considered the first-ever photograph that has been persevered to our days. It was created by French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 (according to other sources – in 1827) on a plate covered with a layer of bitumen.

Niépce took one of the rarest photos in history with a pinhole camera by exposing it on a 16.2×20.2 cm platter of puter coated with Syrian asphalt.

Because of the low photosensitivity, the exposure lasted at least 8 hours in bright sunlight. This fact is proved with the lightning of opposite buildings’ walls.

It is possible only with the daily movement of the Sun. According to more modern studies, the exposure of this could last several days.

3. A Man on the Moon - Neil Armstrong, NASA (1969)

famous historical photos
Taken by Neil Armstrong

The next historical picture was taken on July 20, 1969. In this photo, Buzz Aldrin is captured on the surface of the moon.

Looking at this iconic photo, everyone understands how important for the whole of mankind the moment of space exploration, flight to the moon, and a man’s step on another planet were.

In this image, we see not only Aldrin standing in one of the millions of craters, but Armstrong was also reflected in the glass of the helmet. This double portrait is published more often than any other photograph from all Apollo missions.

4. Earthrise - William Anders, NASA (1968)

rare photos from history
Taken by William Anders photographer

This was the first sunrise of the Earth – a phenomenon that has never been observed by mankind before. It is one of the most famous if not iconic history photos. The Earthrise is numbered AS8-14-2383 in the NASA catalogs.

It is the first picture of the Earth taken from the orbit of the moon on December 24, 1968, during the flight of the Apollo 8 ship.

The Apollo 8 expedition started on December 21, 1968, from the spaceport in Florida. The spacecraft was launched by a super-heavy Saturn V rocket with a height of more than 110 meters. It flew into space only twice before and never in a manned version.

5. The Statue of Liberty under Construction (1884)

amazing photos from history
Photo via Library of Congress

The Statue of Liberty, the emblem of New York and a symbol of freedom and democracy, was presented to the United States by France as a gesture of goodwill between the two countries.

Although you can find many cool historical photos of the finished statue, as well as pictures taken after its installation, this one is unique. It shows the construction process itself.

The photographer captured the workers who are building the statue in the warehouse of Bartholdy in Paris. You will notice the first model, left hand, and quarter-size head. This example of rare historical photos was taken in winter 1882.

6. First Cell-Phone Picture - Philippe Kahn (1997)

photo history in color
Taken by Philippe Kahn photographer

In 1997, engineer Philippe Kahn was sitting in a waiting room in a maternity hospital in North Carolina. While his wife was giving birth, Kahn wondered what he could do. In the end, armed with a digital camera, a flip phone, and a laptop, he revolutionized data transfer technology.

Kahn connected the camera to the phone, the phone to the laptop and synchronized them using the program code that he wrote there.

When his wife gave birth, Philippe photographed the baby. The phone immediately sent the photo to two thousand people. This was the first-ever picture shared using a mobile phone.

7. Nikola Tesla Surrounded by Lightning Strikes (1899)

cool historical photos
Taken by Ellie Dickenson photographer

In this photo, a well-known inventor modestly sits on a chair while terrible lightning is flashing around. One of the rare photos of history was taken in the American town of Colorado Springs where the scientist arrived for new experiments.

Tesla built a special hangar at the top of the hill. He placed his construction for the wireless electricity transmission there.

The author of the picture, Ellie Dickenson, later revealed a secret: the photo was created using the double exposure technique. Firstly, giant flashes created by alternately turning the transformer on and off were photographed in a darkened empty hangar.

Then they turned off the machine and captured the inventor sitting on a chair. The combination of two images gave a spectacular picture.

8. Trying to Push out Catherine Schwitzer from the Distance (1967)

rare photos of history
Taken by Paul Connell photographer

This photo displays a landmark event for gender equality fighters. On April 19, 1967, a woman first ran the Boston Marathon from start to finish. It was a 20-year-old American student, Catherine Schwitzer.

Despite the fact that there was no clause on the gender of runners in the rules of the marathon, it was believed that only men could participate in it.

However, Schwitzer managed to register (she signed up with her initials) and competed at number 261. This number, photo, Catherine herself and the race went down in history as the "Boston incident."

9. The Burning Monk - Malcolm Browne (1963)

rare historical photos you must see
Taken by Malcolm Browne photographer

This is one of the most iconic world history pictures to help draw attention to the harrowing effects of the oppression of Buddhists in Vietnam. In the photo, you can see the last minutes of Thich Quang Duc’s life who was self-immolated on Saigon Street.

Malcolm Brown was there at that time and understood that protests against the regime of their president, Ngo Dinh Diem, would lead to terrible events. One day he saw 2 monks dousing an old man with gasoline and realized what would happen.

The photograph he took later won the Pulitzer Prize and sparked serious discussion in the United States. The martyrdom of the old monk was a symbol of the vulnerability and instability of his nation.

10. Michael Jordan – Jacobus Rentmeester (1984)

rare photos of history
Taken by Jacobus Rentmeester photographer

Here you can see a great basketball player, Michael Jordan, during his amazing jump. Rentmeester captured the sportsman hovering in the air with his hand tending to the stars. However, this silhouette could have remained unknown if Nike hadn't created a similar logo.

Sportswear manufacturer needed inspiration for its first Air Jordan sneakers. They bought this shot for $150 and soon “Jumpman” image became popular all over the world.

11. Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare (1932)

rarest photos in history
Taken by Henri Cartier-Bresson photographer

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography was based on speed and intuition. It worked better than ever in 1932 when he took one of the rarest photos in history on his Leica camera. The picture was taken in Paris' Saint-Lazare train station, and it became a triumph of artistry with form and light perfectly balanced.

A man jumping across the puddles resembles the dancers in a poster behind him, while ripples in the water around the ladder imitate the curved metal parts located not far away.

Using his 35 mm camera without flash, Cartier-Bresson managed to capture the moment when all these components got together. Nobody has replicated the success of this photo by now.

12. The Future Queen Elizabeth II (1945)

rare historical pictures
Unknown photographer

In September 1939, when the Second World War began, the future Queen Elizabeth II was just a little daughter of great and powerful King George VI. However, as soon as the princess was 18 years old, she asked her father for permission to join the British armed forces.

In 1943, the princess maintained a close relationship with the Armed Forces through regular visits. However, she wanted to leave a significant mark in history by joining the army. This happened in February 1945, when Elizabeth joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service.

There, women were trained as orderlies, mechanics, and drivers. After five months of service, the future Queen Elizabeth II became a driver-mechanic of ambulances and military trucks. Also, she attained a military rank of lieutenant.

13. Winston Churchill - Yousuf Karsh (1941)

rare photos from history of politics
Taken by Yousuf Karsh photographer

The Roaring Lion takes a decent place on this rare historical photos list. It is a famous photo of Winston Churchill that appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine in May 1945.

It was printed on millions of posters, postage stamps, and, more recently, it appeared on five-pound banknotes.

Today, it is considered the most recognizable image of the former prime minister and one of the most famous photographs in history. The author of this photo, 33-year-old Yusuf Karsh, received $100 for this picture along with the reputation of a portrait photography genius.

On December 30, 1941, the British Prime Minister visited Ottawa, and the Canadian government hired Yusuf Karsh to photograph a respectable guest after Churchill gave a speech to the Canadian Parliament.

14. Muhammad Ali Vs. Sonny Liston - Neil Leifer (1965)

world history pictures in sport
Taken by Neil Leifer photographer

To take an iconic picture is a challenging task since the photographer should be in the right place at the right time. This is exactly what happened with Neil Leifer, who visited Lewiston on May 25, 1965, to watch the fight of 23-year-old heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali and 34-year-old Sonny Liston.

One minute and 44 seconds into the first round, Ali's right fist punched Liston's chin, and the 34-year-old boxer went down.

Neil Leifer captured the moment when Ali towered over his defeated opponent and shouted to him: "Get up and fight, sucker!". This is one of the most iconic and amazing photos from history, which shows the strength and courage of Muhammad Ali.

15. Elvis Joins the Army - Wolfgang Wild (1958)

interesting historical photos
Taken by Wolfgang Wild photographer

The king of rock and roll joined the US Army in March 1958, having already been the world-known singer and actor. On March 24, 1958, a recruit Presley took the oath at Fort Chaffee military camp in Arkansas.

Wolfgang Wild took iconic history photos while documenting the day of his induction into the army, including a pre-induction physical examination and the moment of taking an oath.

Until September, Presley was trained as a tankman in Fort Hood in Texas. Then, he was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, West Germany. On March 5, 1960, Sergeant Elvis Presley received his discharge from the US Army.

16. The Beatles Beginning - Astrid Kirchherr (1960)

beatles famous historical photos
Taken by Astrid Kirchherr photographer

This photo was taken in 1960 during the first tour of the Beatles in Hamburg. It shows the band’s first official line-up: Pete Best, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Stuart Sutcliffe.

In Hamburg, they met their first photographer, Astrid Kirchherr, who played a significant role in the band’s biography.

Soon Kirchherr became Sutcliffe's girlfriend, and it was her who asked the men to wear leather jackets. Next time The Beatles arrived in Hamburg in spring 1961, Astrid offered new hairstyles having their hair combed back.

Later, The Beatles appeared in the photos in collarless jackets without lapels. Astrid Kirchherr managed to take rare historical pictures known as the first photos of The Beatles.

17. Fort Peck Dam - Margaret Bourke-White (1936)

very old photos from woman
Taken by Margaret Bourke-White photographer

Fort Peck Dam is one of the rare photos from history that deserves special attention. From 1936 to 1972, Life magazine was published weekly. During this time, only six of its full-time photographers were women.

Nevertheless, it was Margaret Bourke-White's photo that graced the cover of Life magazine's first issue. In 1936, she took a picture of Fort Peck, the largest dam on the Missouri River.

It displays two people in the foreground that appear tiny compared to the gigantic construction behind them.

Then, this photo was used on American postage stamps. Fort Peck Dam is unique mainly because it was taken by a woman, one of the most famous film photographers worldwide. Apart from being a photojournalist, Margaret took first-class portraits and photographed at the same level as the best street photographers.

18. Untitled Film Still 21 - Cindy Sherman (1978)

rare historical photos you must see
Taken by Cindy Sherman photographer

Cindy Sherman became a legend in the world of art during her lifetime. Leading art publications call her one of the most famous and influential people in the industry. What is the cornerstone to Cindy Sherman's success and, in particular, her first significant work “Untitled Film Stills”?

The answer is simple – she was the first in this genre of photography. She didn’t have money for models, so the artist began dressing up and photographing herself.

Cindy Sherman drew attention by inventing an interesting concept. She used film stills taken from Italian neorealism or American film noir, explored the place of women in society, and followed the feminist aesthetics.

19. Marilyn Monroe - Eve Arnold (1960)

rare photos of history Marilyn Monroe
Taken by Eve Arnold photographer

Eva Arnold made her name photographing Hollywood stars and politicians, such as Marlene Dietrich, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, Malcolm X, Jacqueline Kennedy, Margaret Thatcher, Queen Elizabeth II, and others.

Nevertheless, her series of Marilyn Monroe’s portraits were especially successful. The photographer’s magnificent works reveal Monroe’s character and disclose the unknown to the public side of her life.

In the postwar years, Eva Arnold earned the unofficial title of Grand Dame of Photojournalism. She is one of the creators of the "golden age of news photography".

Moreover, her works have been featured in Life and Look magazines. Apart from having produced amazing rare photos of history, Eva Arnold is considered to be one of the best portrait photographers.

20. Child Running in the Park, NYC - Diane Arbus (1959)

rare historical photos
Taken by Diane Arbus photographer

Diana Arbus is an American photographer known for her black and white square pictures of deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus artists).

Also, she photographed ordinary people who look somewhat ugly and surreal. Her works published by Aperture magazine are still one of the most sold out in the history of photography.

Diana Arbus managed to change the deeply-rooted practices, which dictated the distance between an artist and a subject. That is why we can see the raw psychological intensity in her portraits.

This photo is valuable because it was first introduced to the world many years after Diana Arbus’ death. The rare collection of historical photos was taken during a walk in the park. These works aren’t associated with the photography genre she was engaged in.


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