Explore a journey through time with some of the world's oldest photographs. Photography, since its invention in the 19th century, has profoundly impacted our lives, allowing us to preserve moments that might otherwise have faded into history. In the process, it has documented humanity's evolution from its earliest steps to monumental achievements. Join us as we delve into these historic images that narrate our story.
The World's First Photograph
Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, considered the father of photography, pioneered the world's earliest surviving photograph in either 1826 or 1827. "View from the Window at Le Gras" used his innovative heliography technique, which consists of crafting this unique image on a metal plate treated with light-sensitive chemicals.
At first glance, "View from the Window at Le Gras" may not dazzle – a gray-hued pewter plate, showcasing blurred outlines of trees and buildings. Digital enhancements helped in enhancing the details. Despite its unassuming facade, this photograph played a pivotal role in shaping modern photography.
Oldest Photo Taken In Barbados
In the 1850s, a rare photograph emerged, offering a glimpse into the life of Nancy Daniels. Born in West Africa around 1751 or 1755, she left for Barbados, and endured the harrowing Middle Passage, the harrowing voyage that forcibly transported enslaved Africans to the Americas. In her life, she witnessed and survived the Bridgetown Fire of 1766, a devastating hurricane in 1780 known to be the deadliest in history, and the Bussa revolt of 1816.
Little is known of her life, but we do know she served the Daniels family as both an enslaved woman and later as a domestic servant after Emancipation. Nancy's remarkable journey continued until she died at the age of 120. Her story and the image captured in the 1850s remain as testaments to her enduring legacy as one of Barbados' oldest and most resilient individuals.
The First Photo Of Earth, Taken From The Moon
The Lunar Orbiter 1, on its 16th orbit around the moon, unexpectedly captured a momentous image on August 23, 1966. This historic photograph marked the very first occasion that humankind gazed upon our Earth from the vicinity of the moon.
The mission, aimed at mapping lunar surfaces, accidentally snapped upon this captivating view of our planet, hidden in the void of space. This unplanned snapshot forever altered the world's perspective, inspiring awe and a profound sense of connection to the pale blue dot we call home.
A Native American Tribe In Alaska
This historical photograph was taken by Eadweard Muybridge, who was one of the earliest and most successful photographers of the time. He was on a trip to Fort Tongass in 1968 when he took this photo of a group of Native Americans in their home. The group was part of the Tlingit People.
At that time, the territory still belonged to the Native American community and was not deemed part of the United States. The Tlingit People had lived in the area for centuries and were known for having very strong family values while following a matrilineal bloodline.
The First “Selfie”
In a groundbreaking moment of photographic history, Robert Cornelius, an American pioneer, achieved a milestone in 1839 by creating the world's inaugural self-portrait photograph. This historic image materialized behind the confines of the family store nestled in Center City, Philadelphia.
With remarkable patience, he sat poised in front of the early camera for over a minute, eventually concluding the exposure by manually covering the lens. In this humble setting and with a pioneering spirit, Cornelius forever etched his name into the annals of photography, marking the birth of the self-portrait genre, a practice that has since become an integral part of our visual storytelling.
The Oldest Photo Taken in the United States
Behold, the earliest photograph of Philadelphia, and also the oldest surviving image ever taken in the United States. Captured in 1839, this historical gem is credited to Joseph Saxton, a local inventor and enthusiastic photographer.
In this captivating snapshot, we glimpse Central High School, nestled at the juncture of Juniper and Walnut streets. A testament to the infancy of photography, this exposure required a staggering 10 minutes, explaining the absence of any humans within its frame.
In the fascinating year of 1882, British photographers embarked on an ambitious journey that would lead to the establishment of one of India's most renowned photography studios. Johnston & Hoffmann's photographic pursuits extended to the far reaches of the Himalayan region, casting a lens on the enigmatic landscapes of Sikkim, Tibet, and beyond.
Yet, they also directed their cameras towards Nepal, a distant and little-explored region during the early days of photography. Among their intriguing photographs, a captivating image from Nepal stands out, cloaked in mystery. While it may not have been intended for ethnographic purposes, the photograph carries the aura of an official portrait.
The First Picture Showing A Living Person
In 1838, Louis Daguerre gifted the world a captivating glimpse of history with his remarkable photograph of the bustling Boulevard du Temple in Paris. But there's a hidden tale within this image. Amidst the city's lively hustle and bustle, one small corner holds a secret. Look closely at the bottom left, and you'll spot a man in the act of having his boots polished by a diligent shoeshiner.
At that time, photography demanded patience. Exposure times were lengthy, and fast-moving figures vanished into the annals of time. Yet, in this captivating snapshot, we witness a rare moment of stillness, where only the boot-wearer and the diligent boot polisher held their ground long enough to be immortalized.
A Dead Crocodile on the Nile River, Egypt
In a remarkable historical twist, we encounter what might just be the world's earliest traveler's snapshot. This photographic gem was captured on the deck of a traditional Nile vessel back in 1852, a time when handheld cameras, shutters, and high-speed film were but distant dreams.
Its aura is tinged with a subtle mystique, distinct from the usual Egyptian scenes of women carrying water pots or palm trees. In Benecke's, the photographers lens, Egypt reveals itself as more than a postcard cliché; it emerges as a place of depth and intrigue, preserving moments that defy time's grasp.
The Oldest News Photograph
In the year 1847, an unknown photographer in France captured an intriguing scene: a man being arrested. While we don't know who this man is or why he found himself in this situation, his posture suggests a sense of defiance.
This photograph holds a special place in history as the oldest known news picture. It marked a turning point in how news was shared with the public, even though the people in the photo likely didn't realize its significance at the time. This momentous image began a transformation in the way we receive news, making it an important part of our media history.
The First Image of The Californian Landscape
Though it's known that this photograph was taken sometime during the 1860s, it is still unknown who took it. In fact, for the longest time, this photo was described as the “mysterious landscape”. After some investigation though, we now know that the photograph was taken of the Los Angeles Plaza by a person who must have climbed all the way up to Fort Moore Hill.
Though there aren’t really any other details about it, the picture still dates as one of the oldest photographs taken in the state.
Hawaii's Last Ever Princess
During the early 1880s, a number of photographers made some visits to Hawaii when it was still an independent kingdom. Some of the most striking photographs of the Kingdom were taken in the early 1890s though, including this one. This striking portrait, for instance, was taken in 1893 and pictures Princess Kaiulani.
The photo was taken by Elmer Chickering, just a few years before the US ambushed the Kingdom with a coup, overthrowing its monarchical government. Princess Kaiulani was the last royal Princess of the Kingdom before Hawaii was annexed to the US in 1898.
The Oldest Photo Taken Of Oregon
Two years following the conclusion of the Civil War, in 1867, the globally renowned landscape photographer Carleton Watkins turned his lens towards Oregon. He embarked on a journey along the Columbia River Gorge aboard a steamship, meticulously documenting this awe-inspiring 100-mile stretch.
This is the oldest known photograph of Oregon, and Watkins's ingenuity made him the first American landscape photographer capable of producing such large negatives.
The First Photography of Athens, Greece
This mesmerizing photograph, taken in 1842, unveils the majestic Temple of Zeus, an iconic monument nestled in the heart of Athens, Greece. In the early days of photography, pioneering artists sought to immortalize the world's ancient treasures, and this image stands as a testament to their ambition.
Dedicated to the mighty god Zeus, this grand temple is a relic from the fifth century B.C., a symbol of enduring human craftsmanship and devotion to the divine.
The Oldest Surviving Aerial Photo
In 1860, James Wallace Black embarked on a photographic adventure on a hot air balloon high above Boston. From a dizzying height of 2,000 feet, he captured an astonishing aerial photograph of the city, offering a bird's-eye view like never before.
What's even more intriguing is that Black's photograph wasn't the first of its kind. In 1858, Felix Tournachon, also known as Nadar, soared above the Bievre Valley in France, snapping the world's inaugural aerial photo from a tethered balloon. Regrettably, no copies of this pioneering picture survive, making Black's 1860 snapshot a remarkable testament to the early days of aerial photography.
The First Coloured Landscape Photo
Imagine waiting 15 long years after the debut of color photography to witness the world in all its colorful glory. In 1877, French photographer Louis Arthur Ducos du Hauron achieved this milestone by employing a unique process to capture what would become renowned as the "View of Agen" or "Landscape of Southern France."
Louis harnessed the innovative dye sensitization technique, which had been pioneered by Hermann Wilhelm Vogel in 1873. This method allowed him to breathe life into his early color photographs, and through his lens, we gained our first vibrant glimpse of landscapes painted by nature itself.
The Oldest Presidential Portrait
In the year 1843, a big shift occurred in the way the United States presidents were immortalized. Until then, none, from George Washington to James Monroe, had ever been captured by photography. The game-changer? John Quincy Adams.
What makes this photograph intriguing is that it was taken after Adams had already left office. During his post-presidential years, John Tyler held the presidential seat, but he was depicted through traditional paintings, not the lens.
The First Photograph of Lightning
In the early days of photography, the first natural phenomenon to be frozen in time was the electrifying power of lightning. On September 2, 1882, pioneering photographer William Jennings, armed with a film camera, went on a quest to capture this awe-inspiring spectacle.
Facing the elements, he trained his lens on the stormy skies and, with impeccable timing, managed to seize the elusive lightning bolt in a single frame.
The Oldest Photograph of New York City
Behold, a window to New York City's past – the oldest known photograph, a daguerreotype, believed to date back to 1848. This solitary home atop an Upper West Side hill, a testament to the city's transformation.
What's intriguing is that the road dominating the foreground is Broadway, albeit known as "a continuation of Broadway" in that era. Before its assimilation into Broadway, it bore the name Bloomingdale Road.
Indiana - Confederate Prisoners In Indiana
This photograph captured by Eben P. Cutter was taken sometime during the Civil War. Back then, Camp Morton was actually used as a military training ground prior to the eruption of the war. In 1861, the first Union soldiers arrived at the camp, probably just a number of years before the oldest photo was taken.
Later, it became a camp for prisoners, seeing tons of Confederate soldiers being held for years during the war. Cutter, captured a group of rebel confederate prisoners before they were finally liberated in 1865.
The Rarest Photos From History
Before the internet and social media were a thing, photos were harder to come by. Now, we are exposed to hundreds of images every day; so much so that one might think that photography has lost its wow factor. But, taken all over the world, these photos really show how humans have developed - how far our culture, technology, and politics have come...
Ivan Unger and Gladys Roy - Extreme Sports
Back in the days when flying was a luxury only a few could experience, many more people were confused and worried about how these heavy metal objects would remain airborne. But, daredevil athletes like these two clearly believed that they could make the whole experience even more exciting by showcasing a death-defying stunt.
Ivan Unger and Gladys Roy were the two responsible for this jaw-dropping stunt on the wings of a biplane in 1925. The two were successful in playing what has to have been the most dangerous game of tennis ever played and, as biplanes are a thing of the past, a stunt like this is unlikely ever to be pulled off again.
A Hip Ride at the Circus
Native to Sub-Saharan Africa, hippos are deadly, violent animals easily capable of outrunning a human and biting one's arm off. But that didn’t stop the entertainment industry from trying to make use of them during the 1920s.
This image depicts a trained circus performer riding a hippo. Although today, most of us find the use of wild animals in this way to be upsetting and we are no doubt more informed over the risks, you have to admit this has to have been a spectacular show.
Gas! Gas! Quick Boys!
World War I brought many horrors into the world and one of those that terrified the inhabitants of England the most was poison gas. The whole nation was dreading the next war and taking all the precautions they could to prepare for any type of attack.
This stunning image, taken in Britain in 1939, is clear evidence of the post-war paranoia that still persists to this day to some degree. Still eight months before the start of World War II, people were preparing for the worst.
Lepa Radić's Defiant Last Stand
Lepa Radić was only 17 years old when this photo was taken and her life was ended. Born in 1925, this photo taken on February 8th, 1943 shows her last moments as she was hanged for her involvement in the resistance against the Axis powers in World War II.
As her Nazi captors tied the noose around her neck, they offered her a chance to live should she reveal the names of her accomplices. Lepa refused, saying, "I am not a traitor of my people. Those whom you are asking about will reveal themselves when they have succeeded in wiping out all you evildoers, to the last man." She was dead minutes after this photo was snapped.
A Russian Royal Flush
To the uninformed audience, this photo could be considered nothing more than a man playing sports in his garden. Nothing out of the ordinary and certainly not worth including in the list. That is, until you realize that the man is actually one of the most famous men of the early twentieth century.
Yes, the photograph shows the last Emperor of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II. In this rare candid shot, you can see him taking some downtime from ruling his empire to blow off some steam with a friend. On closer inspection, you will see that he is still sporting his white officer’s uniform.
New Zealand - Traditional Maori Women
With coats made from the feathers of the native Kiwi bird, these native New Zealand women are dressed majestically in the traditional Maori way. Although not kitted out in their full traditional outfits, which include symbolic ink facepaint, these women are wearing ceremonial dresses.
The photo was shot in the late 19th century and displays the island's rich cultural heritage. These people arrived between 1200 and 1300 AD and their lineage lives on to this day, with about 16.5% of the population known to be direct descendants.
An All-Star Lineup Fit for a Princess
Bob Geldof, Prince Charles, David Bowie, Princess Diana, and two members of the music group Queen. What could be the reason for bringing such an eclectic selection of the rich and famous to one spectator stand? And what has inspired Diana's scolding expression?
Well, the answer to the first question is easy. It’s the great 1985 Live Aid concert, the massive non-profit festival that attracts the biggest bands in the world and still occurs to this day. As for the second question, perhaps it is something unfit for a princess to hear uttered from the lips of Bowie or the guys from Queen.
Swimming With the Stones
So... maybe not actually together with the band, but taking a dip in the Serpentine during the Rolling Stones' legendary performance in Hyde Park can be is definitely an expirience we wouldn't mind copying.
While the epic musicians were playing in the background on a sweltering summer day in July of 1969, this girl decided to enjoy life at its fullest and jumped straight into the water, keeping it cool while listening to the world's hottest band. We tip our hat to this iconic lady.
A Pregnant Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe, the timeless icon and legend, continues to captivate the world with her enigmatic life. Among the many mysteries surrounding her, the question of whether she was ever pregnant has long been a topic of intrigue. Recently, this previously unseen photograph was unveiled and sheds light on this lingering question.
These photographs were taken by Frieda Hull, Monroe's closest friend, in 1960. They suggest Marilyn's pregnancy with her then-co-star Tony Michaels, whilst married to Arthur Miller, her then-husband. With a history of miscarriages and no children, the images, which sold for only $2,240, offer a poignant glimpse into Monroe's mysterious life.
Too Regal To Smile?
Queen Victoria was once the longest-reigning monarch in British history. However, despite this, very few photos of all the royals were taken during this time. In this photo, you can see Queen Vic, the Prince of Wales, and King Edward VII, as well as his son, the future King Edward VIII.
Photography had just been invented at this time and it seems that the idea of facing the camera and smiling had not caught on - at least not with these blue bloods. Just like the portraits that came before photos like this one, nobody is smiling much despite the fact that four generations of royalty are captured in this one picture.
Conrad Schumann’s Leap Of Faith
This incredibly lucky shot captures a split second in time that defined this young soldier's life. The image captures the moment when this young man cemented his decision to change sides and cross the barrier to support his previous aggressors.
This photo was taken as the Berlin Wall was being built and its subject is 19-year-old Conrad Schumann. He, heeding the wishes of the West Germans, deserted the Communist-run East Germany and fled to the Western part of the city.
The Origins Of Body-Shaming
It is hard to imagine enjoying the beach that much if you were forced to wear ridiculous bathing suits like these. Much less if creepy bespectacled men were likely to take an interest, apparently to ensure your suit was long enough.
The women in this image represent a very conservative time - a time where women were made to feel ugly in an arguably much less subtle way than we see in today’s media. This photo represents an interesting comment on the progression of body shaming.
Race for the Prize
As progressive as the late-1960s is thought to have been, there was still a great deal of progress needed in the future. This photo is clear evidence of some of the closed-minded thinking that the flower power generation was yet to overcome. Taken at the Boston Marathon in ‘67, the woman pictured is Kathrine Switzer, a young woman who decided to enter the race. However, as you can see, the race officials were clearly dismayed.
Nowadays, her entry would not surprise anyone. But at this time, women were not allowed to enter the race and Kathrine was making a brave act of feminist defiance. As you can see, the race official was quick to try and rip the young women's race number off her shirt but her boyfriend was even quicker to help subdue him.
The Isolator - Social Distancing of the ‘20s?
In today’s world of YouTube and social media, the average attention span has been depleted. But don’t worry, the 1920s have the answer. Yes, that’s right, this insane-looking mask is actually a machine to help you concentrate. But how is such an obviously distracting piece of apparel supposed to work?
Well, the designers believed that the machine, called The Isolator, would improve concentration pumping the mask full of oxygen. From the look of it, The Isolator could have been designed with present-day social distancing in mind.
Back in the 50s, it was decided that for longer flights there should be some special live performances for their passengers. This image was taken in January 1959 and features Birgitta Lindman inspecting the uniform of one of the new entertainment showgirls.
Birgitta worked for Swedish SAS Airlines and was known for being on the cover of "Life Magazine" after competing against 53 other stewardesses fighting for the feature which highlighted her beauty.
We Want Beer!
It’s hard to imagine a world without alcohol, but during the prohibition era in the United States, the government was trying to do just that. Banning a drink made from decaying fruit may seem like an impossible task, but as you can imagine the bootleg alcohol sold at the time was not nearly as good as a professionally brewed beer.
As you can imagine these new laws inspired a naturally passionate backlash from beer lovers. The patriotic young men shown in this photo demonstrate our dedication to having a few cold ones after a hard day. Now that is a worthy cause nearly all of us can get behind.
Gettysburg - Finally At Peace
What agreement did these rather dapper gentlemen come to and what could make this photo so significant? Well, during the American Civil War many bridges were burnt as the two armies - the Confederate and Union - clashed in infamous battles.
This photo, taken at the scene of Gettysburg on the 50th anniversary of the bloody historical battle, records an important step forward for the United States. The gentlemen are old veterans from opposing sides finally at peace with one another.
The Origins of One of the Most Famous Women of Our Time
This image shows the very origins of one of the most well-known women ever. Although the lady’s hair is different from how it is remembered by most, that perfect smile will give the game away for many fans of her work.
That’s right the image is none-other than blonde bombshell, Marilyn Monroe. Take before her career had taken off - in 1944 - the image is one of the first professional photos of the young woman. Just eighteen years old at the time, Monroe (then called Norma Jeane Dougherty) was working at a munitions factory supporting the war effort when she was discovered by a photographer.
1978: Muhammad Ali and His Paternal Instinct
Muhammad Ali is widely regarded as one of the greatest boxers in the sport's history. Born Cassius Clay in 1942, he changed his name to Muhammad Ali after converting to Islam in 1964. Over the course of his career, Ali became known for his speed, agility, and powerful punching, as well as his charismatic personality and vocal opposition to the Vietnam War. Yet as this photograph shows, even a three-time heavyweight champ finds parenting exhausting!
In this photograph, a yawn escapes the legendary boxer as he babysits two of his daughter. Nine-month-old Veronica Porche and two-year-old Hana indulge in their father’s embrace at Grosvenor House in London. How sweet!
1977: Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton is an American singer, songwriter, and actress known for her iconic blonde hair, voluptuous figure, and unique style. Throughout her long and successful career, Dolly Parton has been the subject of numerous photographs, many of which have become iconic images of the country music legend.
One of the most famous sets of photographs featuring Parton is the Dolly Parton file. These photographs are considered some of the most famous images of the blonde bombshell and have been widely reproduced and admired by fans worldwide.