If the camera had been around longer than the known existence of humans, we’d have a lot more historical pictures to view, study, and dissect. Unfortunately, the camera is barely 100 years old, meaning a huge portion of our history is left only to the descriptions our ancestors left us with. The portraits and paintings we have left to study can’t always be reliable or accurate.
Fortunately enough, however, we’ve still managed to capture an incredible amount of our history ever since the very first photograph was captured. Nowadays, it’s a lot more difficult to try and surprise audiences and shock viewers with graphic content. We have the ability to see pretty much anything we want at any time we want with the use of our smartphones, tablets, and laptops. It’s hard to find a picture you haven’t seen before, especially one that’ll surprise you.
However, there still exists plenty of photographs that can do just that: shock. Throughout our time in elementary and high school, we were taught some basic things about history that we all know to be true. But there is certainly a lot of information that was not told to us and plenty of details to various stories that were left out. But, with our list today, we’re guaranteed to show you some shocking historical photographs that you probably haven’t seen before, and the backstories that go along with them!
Here are 15 shocking historical photos and the backstories behind them:
15. Before Versus After The Hiroshima Bomb Was Dropped
Some see the United States’ decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima as a brave and noble act of war. Others believe that this bombing, which cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, is an embarrassing and horrific scar left on our war record. But the photograph itself speaks for itself. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the bombing or just the act of war in general, there’s no denying the results are devastating, as seen in the photograph above. The picture on the left exhibits Hiroshima, a bustling city, moments before dropping the bomb. The photograph on the right shows what is left. It’s a shocking image of just how effective an atomic bomb is.
14. Soviet Soldiers Stare At Human Ashes At The Majdanek Concentration Camp
The Holocaust is seen as one of the most horrendous genocides throughout recorded human history. Many of us are still baffled as to how something like this could have possibly happened, and you can see on the faces of the Soviet Soldiers in the photograph above that they are probably thinking the same thing. The pile of ashes they are looking at are the ashes of murdered prisoners, burned alive simply because of the way they look and what they believed in. There’s no way all of the ashes could ever be identified and given to the relatives if there are any left to give to. Who knows how many people there could have been before they became a pile of ashes. Looking at the pile, you may not even know that they were the ashes of humans without being told so.
13. German Prisoners Of War Are Forced To Watch Footage From A Concentration Camp
Looking back and studying the Holocaust now, it’s easy to see that not everyone who was in Hitler’s army was quite aware of just how evil the man was. He was a persuasive talker and gave passionate speeches. Not everyone who followed him necessarily knew of the terror he was capable of. Some people got in and were unable to get out before they knew it, but that doesn’t mean they still shouldn’t suffer for the harm that they caused, knowingly or not. The above photograph features German prisoners of war being shown footage taken at various concentration camps. Many of them show obvious signs of remorse for the terror that they were a part of. Others look rather detached. Perhaps they’d seen images like this before. Perhaps they just simply didn’t care. All of the prisoners look different and show different reactions. What they should show is gratitude for not being treated like the prisoners they’re being shown.
12. Checking To Make Sure The Swimsuits Were Long Enough
If you went to the beach right now, depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you’d see plenty of girls wearing clothes more revealing than their own underwear. This isn’t uncommon and not many people think anything of it. However, there was a time when, if a girl’s bathing suit wasn’t long enough, she could run the risk of being arrested! The women in the photograph above are having their suits tested to make sure that they’re long enough! They definitely look long enough to us, so it wouldn’t surprise us if this beach monitor just enjoyed getting the opportunity to get close to women’s bodies. Whatever the reality may be, both men and women are happy enough with the loose regulations we have nowadays on our public beaches. Before we know it, public nudity will be common on beaches as well, leaving pictures like these far in the past.
11. A Man In Debt Threatening A Banker
The man in the photograph above holding the gun is Anthony Kiritsis; the man with the gun to his head, Richard Hall. Anthony took out a property loan from Richard Hall, and when Anthony fell behind on payments, Richard did not show any leniency. Anthony felt this was because Richard wanted the property that Anthony had the loan on. In order to seek revenge, he held a gun to Richard’s head. Not only did he threaten him in this way, he also wired the gun to his finger so should the police interfere, Richard would die. Anthony held Richard this way for over 60 hours, one of the longest public hostage situations. The entire ordeal was televised live; this photograph being taken in the process. You can see the anger on Anthony’s face, as well as the exhaustion on Richard’s. Anthony eventually gave in, only to be sent to a mental facility for over a decade.
10. A Mother With No Other Options
If we saw a mother attempting to sell her four children on the street today, the children would be taken away and the mother would be publicly shunned for eternity. However, selling your children was not completely uncommon during the Depression. Birth control was much harder to access, not even being legal or available for women and abortions weren’t a legal or safe option either. This particular mother also happened to be pregnant with her fifth child at the time. Selling them was the only way to ensure she would have the finances she needed to carry on the pregnancy, as well as make sure her children didn’t starve to death. Two of the children ended up being purchased and raised as a couple’s own children. The other two were purchased more like slaves, sent to live a life of abuse on a farm. Fortunately, this reality horror isn’t something we have to worry about today, at least in the United States.
9. The First Atomic Bomb
The devastating effects from the photograph we first saw of Hiroshima was not the first atomic bomb to ever exist. First, there had to be different versions and prototypes to get the perfect destructive bomb. The one in the photograph above is the very first one ever created. The man sitting next to it looks as though he’s aware just how destructive the piece of equipment next to him has the potential to be. It looks as though it’s a computer or robot made for a sci-fi movie. In reality, it was created by our government in an attempt to see just how destructive we can really make our weapons. An invention like this should have never been created, but unfortunately, we have plenty of photographic evidence showing that it was. At least now you know what one looks like in case you ever run into one out in the open.
8. A Patient With Smallpox
The man in the photograph above is a patient at a New York hospital suffering from Smallpox. The results of this disease are obviously devastating. Luckily for us, we never have to know anyone who has the disease, as vaccinations have been able to completely eradicate this once very serious threat. Unfortunately, many people all over the world still don’t understand the importance of vaccination. They believe that vaccinating kids might cause problems like autism or other learning disabilities and mental health issues. There is no scientific evidence that vaccines do anything other than protect us. Many people still fail to see this, however, putting unvaccinated children at risk for something we almost completely got rid of. I don’t know about you, but after looking at this photograph, many people would much prefer to have their child have autism than a horrifying disease like the one the man in the photograph is suffering from.
7. The Last Public Execution
Public Executions have become a thing of the past for our society. What was once a great pastime, a chance to throw rocks at someone you hate, and a time to boo an evil person before they were gone forever, is now just a distant memory in our long history. The photograph above showcases the last public execution of a man who was convicted of rape and murder. While no one would ever disagree that this man deserved punishment, it seems a bit savage that so many people would take time out of their day to come to watch a person get hanged. But who are we to judge, we’re the ones writing about such experiences. If public executions were still around today, do you think you would be in attendance, even if you knew nothing about the person being hanged?
6. A Racist Hotel Owner Pouring Acid In The Pool To Make The African Americans Leave
America has a long and dirty history with racism against African Americans, and we have plenty of pictures to prove it. This photograph is just one of them, which captures the owner of a prestigious hotel dumping acid into one of his pools in order to kick the African American swimmers out. Sure, perhaps they were trespassing at the time, but what’s the problem with simply asking them to leave? The fact that he was quick to grab a bucket of acid rather than call the police to remove the swimmers proves that this wasn’t about getting justice for trespassing or illegal activity, rather, taking the opportunity to physically harm and emotionally scar a few people who were just looking for the opportunity to cool off and have some fun with each other. What this man did was disgusting, but luckily the swimmers were unharmed.
5. A Peaceful Protester Is Shot At Kent State University
In 1970, a group of peaceful protesters decided to gather and rally against the invasion of Cambodia planned by the United States Government. What was supposed to be a quiet and safe demonstration became violent and bloody after the national guard, who was there to protect the protesters and civilians, unleashed fire on all of them. One protester, lying on the ground above, was named Jeffrey Miller. He was a student at the time he was shot, a flower he was holding during the protest laying in front of him. Two other civilians who weren’t even participating in the protest were murdered as well. The photograph above won a Pulitzer prize after showcasing a crying young woman, outraged that the situation had come to violence. The events were tragic, but they were a reminder of just how ready the police force is when we try to stand up and use our voice.
4. A Pyramid Of Alcohol Barrels To Be Burned During Prohibition
We’ve discussed a lot of tragedy on the list so far, but one thing that was still tragic in our recent history was the Prohibition Era, making alcohol sales and consumption illegal in our country. The photograph above showcases barrels of alcohol that were seized and set to be destroyed. There were no casualties in this scenario, and no one was physically harmed. But for a lot of us, seeing all that alcohol being destroyed for no reason other than that some people didn’t agree with consuming it is a bit emotionally scarring to us. In all seriousness, it’s pretty incredible that they would go so far as to stack all of the barrels on top of each other. What we’d really like to see is the photograph after, when all of the alcohol came pouring out and set the surrounding area on fire.
3. A Mass Grave Of Slaughtered American Bison Skulls
Animals are rapidly going extinct every day, and many people are doing everything they can to save what little number we have left of certain species. At one point in time, species that are now extinct weren’t, which is true for the American Bison. In the 1800s, millions of Bison were seen roaming this beautiful country. Once humans got ahold of the species, they were able to quickly drop that number below 1,000, using the animal for leather, fertilizer, and anything else they found useful in the parts of the dead animal. In the photographs above, we can see just how many bones are laid out of the animal, ready to be ground and put in sugar and fertilizer.
2. Border Patrol Seizing A 5-Year-Old-Boy
Right now, people can’t seem to stop talking about immigration and illegal aliens sneaking into our country. This problem isn’t anything new to us. People have been sneaking past our borders before the U.S. even had borders. Many people are just looking for a safe space to raise their family and live a happy life. That was true for Elian Gonzalez, the five-year-old boy looking terrified in the photograph. He came to America with his family, hoping to find a better life. Instead, he found himself in the middle of a bitter custody battle between his father and his relatives, one of which is photographed, who are legal citizens. Being that Elian came here illegally, he was wanted by the border patrol, who, as you can see in the photograph above, was able to seize Elian. It seems a little embarrassing that an adult trained in combat feels it necessary to point an assault rifle at an innocent child.
1. The First Dog In Outer Space Who Never Returned
Laika, the perfectly adorable pup in the photograph above, was chosen to be the first animal to ever completely orbit the Earth. Laika’s mission was successful, but tragically enough, she never returned home. While the technology to orbit the Earth had been invented, the technology to de-orbit had not, and it was not expected that Laika would be able to return home safely. The people who sent Laika out did so knowing there was no possible or safe way she could return home. Laika died in the shuttle, the Sputnik 2, after overheating. Laika was meant to be poisoned after the mission was successful, but the overheating came first, possibly due to her stress level or the build of the craft. Either way, she’ll always be remembered as one of the bravest creatures to ever be launched into space. May she orbit in peace.