As the world around us changes rapidly, it can be difficult to picture what life was like many decades ago. Society has gone through such enormous evolutions in the relatively short time humans have inhabited the Earth, but we often get too wrapped up in our own lives to notice.
We often like to refer to the “good old days,” but sometimes, a different perspective on a story you’ve heard before can be enough to make you reexamine things. When it comes to history, all it takes is a photograph! In these 20 images, you’ll see the world depicted in a much different way…
1. This picture, which was taken in 1949, shows Princess Elizabeth II—before she was a queen—inspecting the Women’s Royal Army Guard at a Royal Agricultural Society show. Little does she know, the woman on the end was so nervous she fainted.
2. Prohibition made alcohol illegal in the United States, and the black market trade exploded as a result. All of the illegal deliveries were made at night to avoid run-ins with police; smugglers wore these “cow shoes”—designed to look like hoof prints—to disguise their actual footprints.
3. Chess was so popular in the Soviet Union that, after World War II, a Soviet School of Chess was built. The game was considered a sport; this picture shows a human chess match watched by a large crowd.
4. This young boy is reading a book in front of a London bookshop that was demolished by an air raid in 1940. This photo speaks to the citizens’ desire to lead lives that were as normal as possible amid wartime chaos.
5. This picture was taken during the Irish Civil Wars of the 1920s. Families who could afford “machine-made bread” were usually well-off financially because it meant they could afford items at a store rather than making them cheaply at home.
6. Check out this gnarly way of traveling around town! This guy is wearing roller skates that are actually powered by a tank of gasoline worn like a backpack. This was definitely a unique invention, but not one that ever caught on (thank goodness).
7. Not long after the Berlin Wall was erected, a 20-year-old man named Heinz Meixner completed a daring escape into West Berlin with his future wife and mother-in-law smuggled inside his vehicle.
8. The man in this photo is Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, and he was the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade. He was smuggled into the country illegally from Togo, West Africa, in 1959; fortunately, he gained his freedom a few years later.
9. Here is a group of people imbibing alcohol shortly after Prohibition laws were repealed. It was the first time in 13 years that alcohol could be sold legally, and everyone was eager to indulge without fear of prosecution.
10. When the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, it separated communities, friends, and families. In this picture, parents hold up their children to “visit” with grandparents on the other side of the wall.
11. This is a photo of the massive Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Ireland, in 1910. Amazingly, Ireland is no longer the largest consumer of Guinness. In 2007, the sales in Nigeria overtook Ireland!
12. A beggar runs alongside a carriage transporting King George V and his friends. Whether or not the beggar knew exactly who he was addressing is unknown, but it didn’t seem like the men had any interest in giving him a lift.
13. In March 1979, the hijab law went into effect, meaning Muslim women were required to wear their head scarves every time they left their homes. Thousands of women protested the law, but without success; the law still exists in many Muslim countries today.
14. Here, a janitor sweeps up paper at the New York Stock Exchange immediately after Black Tuesday, the day of the Wall Street crash in 1929; it would lead to the Great Depression soon after.
15. Before the Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970, pollution in New York City was at an all-time high. This picture was taken in 1966 when a three-day smog set in that claimed the lives of 168 people.
16. This incredibly upsetting picture shows a wooden crate full of wedding bands from Holocaust victims. It’s nearly impossible to fully grasp just how devastating the event was for all—but especially Jewish—civilians.
17. Joseph Stalin was a dictator known for bloodshed and repression, so after he died, people everywhere were relieved. This restaurant located in Washington, D.C., gave away free borscht, a traditional eastern European dish, in honor of his passing.
18. During the 1950s, the United States carried out atomic tests in the Nevada desert just 65 miles away from Las Vegas. Here, a group of people enjoying a warm summer day can actually see a mushroom cloud forming in the distance.
19. Even though the Civil Rights Movement in 1963 allowed for African Americans to vote, many white police officers still used intimidation tactics to dissuade them. Here, an officer snaps photos of voters in Mississippi in order to intimidate them.
20. This group of people was displaced by the 1937 Ohio River flood, and they’re lining up to receive assistance. Meanwhile, behind them stands an incredibly ironic sign advertising how amazing it is to live in America.
Looking at these pictures and taking a step back into history is amazing. It’s hard to imagine what it was like to live during these times!