Our perception of history is shaped by many of the iconic photos that were taken at the time. History has produced many stunning, horrific, fascinating, entertaining and powerful photos, but unfortunately many of these amazing images are not as well known as “Tank Man”, “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” and “Guerrillero Heroico.” Today we will be taking a look at rare historical photos which you may not have seen before. They are fascinating and give you a different perspective on many key moments throughout history. In these cases, a photo is worth more than a thousand words.
The “Hollywood” sign is iconic and symbolizes cinema, fame and glamour. This was not always the case, however. It was originally created in 1923 and was used as an advertisement for local real estate development, and in this time it was longer and read “Hollywoodland.” It was supposed to be temporary, but after the rise of American cinema during the Golden Age of Hollywood, it became a cultural sign and an internationally recognized symbol. Due to the fact it was supposed to be temporary, it soon began to deteriorate and the creator, Albert Kothe, destroyed the letter “H” with his car in the early ’40s. It was repaired and rebuilt, with “land” being removed to reflect the district. It was again restored with new letters in 1978. This rare photo, from 1923, shows the sign when it was used for its original purpose, before it became an American cultural landmark.
9. The MGM Lion
The mascot for Hollywood film studio MGM, this is a lion that has been seen millions of times. The roar has become so iconic that you’ve likely already played it in your head and pictured the footage with the gold production logo. There are several lions that have been used over the years, and this shot from 1928 shows the filming of the second lion, Jackie, who was the first lion to roar and was heard on their first sound production, White Shadows in the South Seas. The brilliant photo shows a fierce and beautiful lion on a raised platform with a microphone just in front, as well as a camera operator and sound operator working very closely to the majestic beast. In addition to being the logo in many MGM classics, Jackie also appeared in over 100 films, including the popular Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller.
8. The Beatles Play for 18 People at the Aldershot Club in 1961
This will be an all too familiar sight for many aspiring musicians, as many gigs will see you playing to a near-empty room with just a few people hardly paying attention to the music. Little did the dancing people in this photo know that in just a few years, the band would become perhaps the biggest act of all time. The band on the stage is none other than The Beatles, with the photo taken in December of 1961 in the Aldershot Club, just before “Beatlemania” began. After they reached worldwide superstardom, instead of playing to near-empty rooms, the band would be selling out venues around the world and have people losing their minds, with the deafening screams of girls overheard as they played. To say that you saw the band before this would be truly incredible, and you have to wonder if this crowd had any idea about what was to follow.
7. The Discovery of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, located in Peru, is now a hugely popular tourist site where thousands flock every year to see the Inca site situated on a mountain ridge. It is believed that the Incas built the estate around 1450 A.D. for the Inca emperor Pachacuti, but it was abandoned around a century later during the time of the Spanish Conquest. Nobody knew about the estate (aside from locals) throughout the colonial period, until it was brought to international attention by Hiram Bingham, an American historian, in 1911. Bingham was invited to explore the Inca ruins, and you can imagine his amazement to discover the incredible site which features spectacular workmanship. This photo, taken in 1911, was the very first picture taken of Machu Picchu in its untouched glory. It has since been reconstructed and restored and there are millions of photos, but none as remarkable as the first.
6. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro on a Fishing Trip
Inevitably, the mention of the name Che Guevara will instantly conjure up the “Guerrillero Heroico” image, as this is one of the most iconic images of all time and has come to symbolize revolution and rebellion. This photo shows the Marxist revolutionary with the Cuban politician Fidel Castro in a different light. Key figures in the Cuban revolution, and with the latter becoming Cuba’s Primer Minister after overthrowing Batista in 1959, we typically do not associate this pair with relaxing. This rare photo, taken in 1960, shows the famous duo relaxing on a fishing trip shortly after coming into power. Although they are “off duty,” Che he still wears his legendary and immediately recognizable hat while sunbathing with his shirt off. The photo was taken by Alberto Korda, the talent behind the “Guerrillero Heroico” image, who was a friend and the official photographer of Castro.
5. Allied Soldiers Mock Hitler
Taken on July 6th, 1945, this photo depicts the final victory over Nazi Germany as British, American and Russian soldiers mimicked Adolf Hitler on his famous balcony at the Chancellery in conquered Berlin. As the nerve center of the Third Reich, this is symbolic and they must have felt an immense sense of relief and pride which can be seen on their faces after the horrors of the war. It is American solider Corporal Russell M. Ochwad who is playing the role of Hitler atop the balcony, appropriately with a British and Russian solider on either side of him. Below, a group of Russian and American soldiers cheer on stood on rubble from the building. There are many alarming photos of Hitler at the Reich Chancellery with legions of followers, but this paints a completely different picture and signifies the fall of Nazi Germany.
4. Martin Luther King Jr. Removes a Burnt Cross
Taken in 1960, this photo shows Martin Luther King Jr. removing a burnt cross (an act of the KKK) from his front yard in Atlanta, with his young son at his side. Despite the horrible and threatening act, MLK retains his classiness as he wears a suit with one hand in his pocket, and he seems merely irked, rather than threatened, by the act. Three years after this, he would deliver his famous and inspirational “I have a dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March of Washington, with the most quoted line referencing his young son beside him in this shot—“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” In 1968, MLK was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
3. The First Photo of Earth From Space
Thanks to advances in technology, we are now used to seeing astonishing and detailed images of the Earth from space. We are even getting clear shots of Mars and photos of Pluto. We take this for granted, as not too long ago we had never seen the Earth from such a perspective. The very first photo taken of Earth from space was in 1946, with a camera mounted to a German V-2 rocket (taken following WWII) launched from a U.S. missile range in New Mexico. The rocket was launched into the air with the camera taking an image every 1.5 seconds, and it reached an altitude of 65 miles (“space” begins around 62 miles) before crashing back to Earth (the camera did not survive but the film did). This was one of the grainy images captured, showing us what our world looked like from the heavens for the very first time.
2. German Soldiers React to Footage From Concentration Camps
This incredibly powerful image, taken in 1945, shows the reactions of German soldiers, captured by Americans, as they watch footage from concentration camps. Many of the POWs have their face in their hands and are unable to watch, with a few looking like they are crying. There is a look of complete disbelief on the others’, as it clearly forced them to confront the disgraceful and horrific work of the Third Reich. This was a part of the Allies’ policy on post-war Denazification, where they looked to remove all traces of Nazi rule and completely rebuild Germany’s society and infrastructure. In addition to watching footage from concentration camps, POWs would also visit the camps and see posters displaying dead bodies in public places and other horrors. Many German soldiers were not Nazis and were unaware of what happened at the camps, but this revealed the true nature of the regime.
1. The Atomic Cloud Over Nagasaki
A haunting image, this shows the enormous atomic mushroom cloud over Nagasaki on August 9th, 1945, just 15 minutes after the bomb had detonated. Just three days earlier, the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. These remain the only use of nuclear weapons for warfare in history, and led to the Japanese surrender which effectively ended the war. The astronomical destruction that these two bombings caused marked a significant turning point in history, where we entered the nuclear age and we are all now aware of just how catastrophic this can be. Within the first two to four months, the acute effects killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people in Hiroshima and between 39,000 and 80,000 in Nagasaki, with around half occurring on the first day. Months later, many more died from burns, radiation sickness and other injuries.