While it’s incredible to look back on any photo and see a glimpse of history, it is even more incredible to see that same photo in color. Often times, a black and white photo can make the past seem distant and hard to relate to. Once that film is in color, it’s possible to see just how much the people in the past were (and sometimes weren’t) like us.
We’ve been able to make color photos and film since about the 1880s but it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that it became common. These photos from before that time have been colorized and completely redefine what we know about history. It’s downright creepy to finally see the piercing blue eyes of John F. Kennedy’s assassin.
Einstein Takes A Break From Physics To Play The Violin
Albert Einstein is usually remembered for his groundbreaking theory of relativity, his famous equation E = mc2, and of course helping out with the whole nuclear bomb thing. Einstein was also a bit quirky and loved music. He even said that if he were not a physicist, he “would probably be a musician.”
Those close with Einstein could often hear him playing multiple instruments in his spare time. Usually in his fuzzy slippers.
Unpacking The Mona Lisa After World War Two
Much like Einstein, Adolf Hitler also had a secret passion for the arts that many did not know about. As the Nazi’s made their way through Europe, they were instructed to take all the best art from famous collections. Many countries quickly learned about this and hid their art away from the Nazis.
Here you can see the iconic moment of people unpacking the Mona Lisa in 1945 after the liberation of France.
The Infamous Migrant Mother Photo From The Great Depression
This photo of a homeless mother holding two of her children is one of the most famous in history. It was taken in February 1936 at the height of The Great Depression. The photographer, Dorothea Lange, snapped the photo in Nipomo, California.
The 32-year-old mother of seven, Florence Owens Thompson, had been picking frozen beets and peas to survive. The makeshift tent she was living in was part of a camp of nearly 3,000 migrants left homeless.
Suffragists In A Parade
Any student in their classroom has had the chance to see old black and white photographs of suffragists, politicians, and activists, but adding color makes all the difference. A vehicle decked out with flags and signs in the iconic red, white, and blue that signifies America would have been hard to ignore.
This photo was taken sometime between 1910 and 1915. Women would finally gain the right to vote in 1920.
General Custer And His Soldiers Taking A Break
Taken on May 20, 1862, this photo shows General Custer and some of his troops taking a break from the action. Custer was a military prodigy. He was only 21 when he participated in the First Battle of Bull Run in 1961.
He was quickly promoted to general just before the infamous Battle of Gettysburg, and would be present when General Lee surrendered to General Grant in 1865.
Helen Keller Meeting Charlie Chaplin
Two great figures from the early 1900s finally met in 1919. Helen Keller, known for being both deaf and blind, is seen here feeling actor and director Charlie Chaplin’s face.
Many people know that the iconic mustache Chaplin was known for distorted what he looked like in real life. In fact, Chaplin is practically unrecognizable without the toothbrush mustache. Keller feeling the mustache likely wouldn’t recognize Chaplin without it either.
Orville Wright Glides Over The North Carolina Dunes
You wouldn’t have been able to take that vacation to Europe or fly down to see relatives in Florida without Orville and Wilbur Wright’s invention. Here, they are seen testing their glider in North Carolina in 1902.
Within a year, they would make the first controlled, sustained flight of a “heavier-than-air” aircraft. In this photo, Orville is in command of the glider, but likely had no control over where he was heading.
An African-American Man Drinking At A Segregated Water Fountain
For many people, the sight of a colored water fountain and colored restrooms isn’t so removed from history. Although segregation was federally made illegal after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, it was still in practice in many places.
This photo was taken in the summer of 1939 in Oklahoma City. The state would officially desegregate in the 1950s but one controversial ruling in 1991 effectively allowed for re-segregation.
A Winner Is Crowned In An Old Boxing Match
If you’re shocked to see all the blood in this photo, you are not alone. Back in the day, boxing used to include more rounds and fewer rules. The referees also rarely stepped in to stop the fighters unless someone was knocked unconscious.
Nowadays, this much blood would have been way too shocking for patrons. Looking at the men in the crowd, they don’t seem to be phased one bit.
Lee Harvey Oswald Being Detained
Sadly, there have been many political assassinations in American history, but few rocked the public like when Lee Harvey Oswald shot and killed President John F. Kennedy. To this day, many people still throw around conspiracy theories about Oswald being part of a greater conspiracy.
Whether or not Oswald was a lone gunman or a pawn in the bigger plan, seeing this photo of him after being detained is still chilling. Who would have guessed he had such piercing blue eyes?
Jackie Robinson Checking Out The Game Ball
Jackie Robinson played in the MLB for a decade and impacted an entire society. This photo of the legendary player was taken at some point in the 1950s.
Not only was Robinson the man who integrated major league baseball, but he also had an exceptional baseball career. He played with the Brooklyn Dodgers for all ten years and led the team to the World Series championship in 1955. Not too bad for the first African-American player.
Louis Armstrong Playing For His Wife In Egypt
By the 1950s, Louis Armstrong was one of the most beloved musicians in America. That’s why it made sense for the American government to choose Louis to become a “Jazz Ambassador” for them. The U.S. was worried after WWII that the Soviet Union would use America’s race issues against them.
Armstrong and his wife were sent around the world to paint a picture that there weren’t any race issues in America because an African-American man was one of the most popular musicians.
Richard And Mildred Loving Before Interracial Marriages Were Legal
This colorized photo shows Richard and Mildred Loving. The two were from Virginia where in the 1950s, it was illegal for “white” citizens to marry “colored” citizens. The two traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, but were arrested when they returned to Virginia.
The Lovings ended up bringing their case against their arrest to the Supreme Court. The court agreed the law was incorrect. Their case ended up bringing many other states to remove their racial marriage laws.
Testing The Bulletproof Vest
The idea of something wearable that will protect you from bullets or harm isn’t exactly a new concept. Hello, that was the entire point of wearing armor in war. With the invention of guns, metal armor quickly became kind of useless.
This incredible colorized image from October 13, 1923, shows W.H. Murphy showing off his vest for police. He even designed it to look fashion-forward and wearable with color and buttons.
A Photographer Using His Own Backdrop In Poland
Taken in Warsaw, Poland in November 1946, this photographer was forced to use his own backdrop for a photo because many of the buildings were still in ruin from World War Two.
Warsaw was one of the most damaged cities in all of Europe from the bombing campaign from the German army. In all, 84% of Warsaw was damaged. For comparison, only 60% of London was damaged during the Blitz in WWII.
The Titanic Being Built In Her Shipyard
This photo of the infamous RMH Titanic was taken only a few weeks before it would set sail On April 15, 1912. The ocean liner was poised to set every record imaginable, but as most of us know, it would never reach its final destination.
The colorized version of the photo better shows just how massive the ocean liner was. Color truly brings this ship back to life and represents its importance in history.
Building The Statue Of Liberty In Paris
This photo shows French workers constructing the book-bearing hand of the Statue of Liberty in 1881. The iconic American statue was a gift from France. It was built in pieces in Paris, shipped overseas, and then assembled on Liberty Island.
If you’ve seen the equally-good sequel National Treasure 2, then you’ll also know the Statue of Liberty has a twin sister in France that was constructed as a gift from the United States.
Lou Gehrig Just Before His Career Was Cut Short Because Of ALS
This photo of iconic American baseball player Lou Gehrig was taken only two years before he’d have to end his baseball career. Gehrig was diagnosed with ALS after “mysteriously” losing all his strength. He was only 36 when diagnosed and died one year later.
During his time in baseball, he was nicknamed “The Iron Horse” and that nickname followed him as he battled ALS. Today, most Americans know ALS as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Pablo Picasso Admiring A Revolver Gifted To Him
Artist Pablo Picasso is one of those historical figures that many people forget lived until a relatively modern time. Picasso died in 1973 and was still painting and partying right up until the end. In fact, Picasso even lived long enough to appear in several feature films.
Here, he is seen holding up a revolver in Cannes, France while on vacation. The revolver was a gift from actor Gary Cooper.
John F. Kennedy At His Harvard Graduation
Here is a look at a young, fresh John F. Kennedy at his Harvard graduation in 1940. He graduated with a degree in government and international affairs, something that would definitely come in handy later on.
If you think he looks extra tired in this colorized photo, it’s not because of exam stress. It would take another ten years, but Kennedy would eventually be diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and would require three personal doctors during his time as President.
An Early Car Factory Worker
Sometimes colorized photographs can be a window into how bright the world truly is, or it can show you how mundane it always was. This photo shows an old Ford car being constructed. Ford was revolutionary for creating the assembly line factory for mass production that would be copied worldwide.
Ford’s revolutionary invention changed the American economy and how factories were run, but it made for boring and mundane work that wasn’t exactly colorful.
An Oklahoma Family Trying To Survive The Dust Bowl
The Dust Bowl was a period of nearly five years that ravaged the Great Plains of America. Dust storm after dust storm ruined crops, houses, and many family’s livelihoods.
Most photos from the Dust Bowl show a grey and colorless desert. This photo, taken in August 1939, shows how despite the grim outlook, some items like clothing weren’t completely overtaken by the dust storms. However, you can still see the toll it took on the family.
Female Ice Cutters Delivering Blocks
Ice cutting has become a lost art since the invention of refrigeration. Before Frigidaire launched their first self-contained unit in 1923, most families were forced to order in ice blocks to keep any perishables fresh.
These two girls are delivering ice blocks on September 16, 1918, to families. If you received a few of these, you’d likely set them down in a cellar underground and store you meats and dairy on it.
Claude Monet Stands In Front Of His Paintings
Monet was one of the most influential impressionist painters in history. He spent most of his time painting nature scenes. This photo, taken in 1923, shows Monet standing in front of his artwork, likely from the Water Lillies series.
What is interesting though is that these paintings are either lost or unknown. They are likely from the series but could contain wildly different colors than shown here. We may never know the truth.
A Man Sells His Groceries In 1939
A small shop owner is shown here in 1939 trying to sell goods towards the end of the Great Depression. The prices may look cheap, but when you run the numbers through an inflation calculator, you realize the prices are pretty average.
Five cents in 1939 would equal out to 91 cents today. One dollar for some candy isn’t too bad! Ten cents for grapes would equal out to $1.82, which sounds pretty average in a grocery store today.
Construction Begins On The Golden Gate Bridge
Construction on the Golden Gate Bridge started in 1933 and would finally be completed in 1937. For many Californians, it’s hard to imagine San Francisco without the iconic bridge.
Before the bridge was built, you could only reach the other side of the Bay by taking a ferry. Over the course of construction, eleven men were killed. The number would have been much higher if it wasn’t for a net hung underneath that saved the lives of many.
The “Austrian Oak” Showing Off His Muscles
We all know what Arnold Schwarzenegger looks like now in living color, but when he entered the spotlight in the early 1960s, all of his photos were black and white. Mind you, the black and white photos show off Arnold’s muscles and tones better.
This photo of a babyfaced Arnold was taken at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London in 1968. He had served in the Austrian army just three years before, and after he was discharged, went straight into his bodybuilding career.
Sailor Gets A Classic Ship Tattoo
Tattoos are just as controversial today as they were back in the day. This photo, taken in 1947, shows the famous tattoo artist Ole Hansen. Here, he’s working on a classic ship tattoo.
Hansen was known for much more than ship tattoos. He famously did tattoo work on Frederick IX, King of Denmark. Hansen’s tattoo shop is also known today to be the oldest functioning tattoo shop in the world.
An Eleven-Year-Old Coal Miner Takes A Break
If you’ve ever felt like the 15-year-old taking your order at McDonald’s is too young to be working, take a look at this 11-year-old coal miner. This colorized photo shows the grim conditions that kids were forced to work in during the early 1900s.
Before any laws were passed that made child labor illegal, many kids took jobs in coal mines to support themselves or their entire families. Their small size made them ideal workers.
Ice Skating In Tuxedo Park, New York
Ice skating back in 1904 was a little different than ice skating today. If you went over to your public park today, you’d find parents with helmets and kids bundled up in snowsuits to cushion the fall.
Either these people were expert skaters, or they looked ridiculous if they fell. I don’t enjoy the woman having to clean off her fancy furs after getting them covered with slush, but I guess it was a simpler time.