Fascinating Old World Photos That Show How Life Used To Be


We’ve all heard the expression, “Life is a journey.” Like any journey, life is best appreciated and easily understood when we look back at the ground that has already been covered. Doing so can also help us better prepare ourselves for whatever challenges may lie ahead.

These old pictures, taken long before the era of smartphones and social media, serve to remind us of the way the world used to be. While some of these images may now seem rather odd or inconceivable, it’s worth looking back to see how far the world has come since then.

1. Women Firefighters in London, 1926

The person in the photo is not a Roman soldier but a member of the Achille Serre Ladies Brigade in action. Achille Serre, a Frenchman who came to England with his wife Eugenie in 1870, pioneered the “dry cleaning” method in the UK.

At its peak, Serre’s dry cleaning business, Achille Serre Limited, had more than 1,700 employees and over 400 outlets across the UK. The company even had a fire brigade that was staffed primarily by women.


2. Moving An Entire House in San Francisco

This photo shows an entire house being relocated, a fairly common practice in the United States in the late 19th century up to the early 20th century. Some families resorted to doing this as they lacked the resources to build a new house where they moved.

Life was tough for many people at the time, even for those living in major cities like San Francisco. Problems like crop failure, famine, high taxes, and job shortages often led to much movement between cities or states as people searched for a better life.


3. Shortage of Nylon Stockings in the 1940s

As women’s hemlines rose in the 20th century, so did the demand for stockings. In the 1920s and 1930s, stockings were typically made of silk or rayon. By the early 1940s, however, nylon stockings had become more popular.

After the United States joined the Second World War, the production of nylon was diverted for military use, resulting in a shortage of nylon stockings. As a solution, women had their legs painted to replicate the appearance of stockings, a trend that continued even after the war.


4. Waking People Up For a Living

During the Industrial Revolution when alarm clocks were neither affordable nor reliable, many people in Britain and Ireland relied on men and women known as “knocker-uppers” to wake them up every morning so they wouldn’t be late for work.

Knocker-uppers knocked on people’s windows using either batons, short sticks, or long bamboo sticks. Knocker-uppers, who were typically paid a pence a week, had largely disappeared by the 1950s, though some neighborhoods in England still had them until the early 1970s.


5. Old-Fashioned Swimming Lessons

Learning how to swim requires lots of patience and hard work, not just on the part of the student but the teacher’s as well. Any parent who’s ever taught their child how to swim can surely attest to that.

This photo, taken in the early 1900s, shows a father using a rather unusual method to teach his child how to swim. This method has two major benefits: first, he can avoid getting wet; second, he can easily pull his child out of the water in case something goes wrong.


6. A Baby in a Baby Cage

Many people would be horrified by this sight today, but babies in cages suspended from city apartment windows were a fairly common sight in many large cities across America and in the UK in the first half of the 20th century.

These so-called baby cages, or health cages, were intended to allow babies to enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. However, the popularity of baby cages declined by the mid-1900s, likely due to safety concerns, and high pollution levels caused by an increase in automobile traffic.


7. Flying Southwest in the 1970s

The airline industry has evolved so much over the years. For one, stewards and stewardesses are now usually referred to as flight attendants. Flight attendants’ age restrictions have also been modified, and policies that prohibited marriage and pregnancies have largely disappeared. 

In the 1970s, Southwest Airlines’ female flight attendants were made to wear hot pants and go-go boots as part of their uniform, something that probably wouldn’t fly today (pun intended). At the time, the airline also served drinks with suggestive names like “Love Potion” and “Passion Punch.”


8. Women at a Hair Salon, 1937

The first hair dryer was invented by French stylist Alexander Godefroy in 1890. His invention – which consisted of a bonnet that was attached to the chimney pipe of a gas stove – required several hours of use to achieve the desired effect.

Handheld hairdryers first hit the market in 1920. Nevertheless, large hairdryers – particularly the rigid-hood hairdryers that were first introduced in the 1950s – are still a common sight at hair salons around the world.


9. A Robot Vacuum From 1959

The Robo-Vac, a precursor to today’s autonomous vacuum cleaners, was unveiled in 1959 as part of Whirpool’s Miracle Kitchen of the Future display at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. Like today’s robot vacuums, the Robo-Vac uses sensors to find its way around a room.

The American National Exhibition was held from the 25th of July to the 4th of September, 1959. The Cold War event, which attracted more than three million visitors, was an opportunity for American companies to showcase their products, which included anything from home appliances to cars and farm equipment.


10. The Morrison Shelter

During the Second World War, the United Kingdom experienced frequent bombings and air raids by the Germans. Most of these attacks took place at night, which made it unsafe for many people to sleep in their own beds.

The Morrison shelter was a type of air raid shelter measuring 6 feet 6 inches long, 4 feet wide, and 2 feet 6 inches high. It was named after Herbert Morrison, who was then the UK’s Minister of Home Security. Morrison shelters were provided for free to households with a combined annual income of less than £400.


11. Tupperware Party in the 1950s

Tupperware is a brand of kitchen products – mainly plastic food containers – developed by Earl Silas Tupper in 1946. In the 1950s, Brownie Wise, a single mother from Florida, started throwing “Tupperware parties” to promote and sell Tupperware products to friends and neighbors. This caught the attention of Tupper, who then made Wise Tupperware’s vice president of marketing.

At a time when a woman’s role was generally tied to the home, Tupperware parties became a way to empower women as it allowed them to build a career in sales. The tradition of throwing Tupperware parties continues to this day.


12. Hauling Barges and Other Vessels in Russia

From the 17th to 20th centuries, landless or poor peasants in Russia would crowd along river banks to await the arrival of barges or mid-sized vessels. These peasants known as burlaks would then be paid a small amount to haul the boats upstream using their bodyweight.

Burlaks were often part of an artel (a cooperative association) with four to six other burlaks, though some artels were composed of as many as 150 burlaks. The number of burlaks started to decline at the start of the Industrial Revolution. By the beginning of the 20th century, burlaks had practically disappeared.


13. A Drive-in Cinema in the 1950s

Drive-in cinemas may be an uncommon sight these days, but they were a vital part of American culture in the 1950s. Drive-ins offered customers the ability to watch a movie from the privacy and comfort of their cars. The first drive-in cinema was opened in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1915.

Drive-ins are relatively easy to set up. All that is needed is a large lot, a projector, a wall that’s painted white, and large speakers, though some drive-ins also use individual speakers placed beside each parked car.


14. Roller Skates From 1910

Roller skates were first introduced in 1760 by Belgian inventor John Joseph Merlin, but it wasn’t until the invention of the “rocking” skate by American James Plimpton a century later that roller skating became a popular activity.

Roller skates have had numerous iterations over the years. In the 1900s, Swedish inventor Edvard Petrini invented the Takypod, a type of roller skate that is driven by pedaling. While Takypods could have been a great alternative to the bicycle, these were never mass-produced.


15. Milkmen in the 1960s

Milkmen were once a common sight in neighborhoods throughout the US, much like paperboys or mailmen. Close to 30 percent of US consumers opted to have milk delivered to their homes in the early 1960s.

However, the need for milk delivery decreased over the years as household refrigerators became more common. By 1975, less than seven percent of consumers had milk delivered. By 2005, this number dropped further to 0.4 percent. These days, only a handful of companies still offer milk delivery services in the US.


16. How New York City’s Tunnels Were Monitored

Before traffic cameras became commonplace, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) used little cars known as catwalk cars to patrol New York City’s tunnels. Pictured here is a catwalk car in the Lincoln Tunnel, which connects New Jersey and Midtown Manhattan.

The catwalk cars had a dedicated track and could reach speeds of up to 35 mph. These zippy little cars were first used in 1955 and were retired in 2011. By that point, catwalk cars were mostly being used for maintenance purposes.


17. The Boombox

Decades before Apple introduced the iPod in the early 2000s, companies like General Electric, Marantz, Panasonic, and Sony produced a device known as the boombox. These transistorized portable music players delivered sound through their large speakers and an amplifier.

First introduced in the 1970s, the boombox quickly became a symbol of urban society in the United States, particularly African American and Hispanic youth in large metropolitan areas like New York and Los Angeles. The boombox also became associated with hip hop culture and played a key role in the rise of hip hop music.


18. First Video Game Tournament Hosted by Atari

Video games have come a long way since the launch of the first consumer video game, Computer Space, in the early 1970s. What was once a niche hobby has now become a highly-profitable industry, with estimated annual revenues of well over $100 billion.

American video game developer Atari, Inc. hosted the first-ever large-scale video game tournament, the Space Invaders Championship, in 1980. The tournament attracted over 10,000 registered participants from across the United States, helping push competitive gaming into the mainstream.


19. A Radio Program in the 1940s

Before television was invented, the radio was the dominant home entertainment medium. During the so-called Golden Age of Radio from the early 1920s to the 1950s, families gathered to listen to the radio in the evening.

The invention of the radio gave rise to a host of new entertainment genres and formats, many of which would migrate to television later on. Radio dramas, which relied on dialogue, sound effects, and music to help listeners imagine the story and the characters, enjoyed widespread popularity from the 1930s until the 1960s.


20. Stockholm’s Gigantic Telephone Tower

In 1886, Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, had more telephones than any other major city in the world. A year later, Stockholms Allmänna Telefon AB ordered the construction of an 80-meter telephone tower in the city, allowing the connection of 5,500 telephone lines.

By 1913, the tower was made obsolete by the increasing use of underground cables in urban areas. The tower was severely damaged by a fire in July of 1952 and was demolished a year later on safety grounds.


21. Supersonic Airliner

Flying via the Concorde aircraft was expensive, but it could take you to your destination in style. The aircraft also traveled at twice the speed of sound. This means that a traveler from London could easily get to New York in just three hours, much faster than the seven hours it would take to travel between the two cities on other aircrafts.

However, the global downturn in air travel following the September 11 attacks, the crash of Air France Flight 4590, and the lack of maintenance support led to the aircraft’s retirement in 2003. The only other supersonic aircraft to operate commercially was the Soviet-built Tupolev TU-144.


22. Detecting Threats Before Radar

Radar has been an absolute game-changer in terms of helping defense forces prepare for and respond to an attack by enemies. Thanks to radar, it has become much easier to know the location and speed of an incoming object, whether it’s aircraft, ships, or even missiles.

Before radar became widely used, defense forces had to rely on listening devices that looked like giant trumpets. These devices, which helped detect approaching aircrafts by amplifying sounds in the air, were first used by Britain and France during the First World War.


23. A 1930s Mickey Mouse Costume

Mickey Mouse is a cartoon character that was created by Walt Disney in 1928. Mickey, created as a replacement for another Disney character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, has since become one of the world’s most beloved fictional characters and has long been a popular fixture at Disney theme parks.

The Mickey Mouse costume has gone through several design changes over the years. Earlier versions, like the ones from the 1930s, have often been described as “creepy” or “unsettling,” a far cry from the friendlier-looking costumes that we see now.


24. The Texaco Doodlebug

In the 1930s, Texaco introduced the Texaco Doodlebug, a futuristic-looking tanker truck. While the Doodlebugs did what they were supposed to do – carry gasoline to and from gas stations – they were also a publicity stunt to modernize Texaco’s brand look.

The exact number of Doodlebugs produced is unknown, though some sources claim that only six units were ever made. Due to its shape, some people at the time said that the Doodlebug reminded them of either a pill or a loaf of bread.


25. Electric-Powered Street Cleaners

In the early 20th century, the streets of the city of Berlin were cleaned with the help of electric-powered heavy-duty wagons that roamed the city. Believe it or not, electric-powered vehicles have been around a lot longer than you think.

Since the 19th century, electric vehicles have been a known and viable mode of transport, though they were not necessarily the fastest. Electric vehicles eventually fell out of favor as consumers shifted to cheaper, oil-powered cars. It wasn’t until decades later that electric cars would become popular again.


26. Lancia Stratos Zero in Turin, Italy

The Lancia Stratos Zero was a concept car by Italian car manufacturer Lancia. First unveiled at the Turin Motor Show in 1970, the Stratos Zero was designed by famed car designer Marcello Gandini and featured a 1.6 L Lancia Fulvia V4 engine.

The car’s odd design captured the attention of car enthusiasts worldwide. It was even featured in the 1988 movie Moonwalker, which starred Michael Jackson. However, the car was thought to be too dangerous due to its size and shape, so it was rarely seen on the road.


27. Early Diving Suits

The first individual diving suits were designed in the early 18th century when ships carrying valuable treasures were often lost to the ocean on dangerous journeys. By the early 20th century, diving suits had become more sophisticated, making it possible for explorers to dive deeper into the ocean. 

In the 1920s, German company Neufeldt and Kuhnke built metal diving suits that were used to recover gold and silver bullion from the wreck of SS Egypt, a British ship that sank in the Celtic Sea in 1922. 


28. Unveiling An Airship

In the early 20th century, airships were believed to be the future of commercial air travel. The US, Germany, and Britain developed large airships that were equipped with amenities like lounges, dining areas, and passenger cabins.

Unfortunately, a series of high-profile incidents, like the 1930 crash of the R101, the 1933 crash of the USS Akron, and the 1937 Hindenburg disaster led to the decline in the airship’s popularity. These days, airships and blimps are mainly used for other purposes like advertising, sightseeing, and research.


29. A Monocycle From the 1930s

A monocycle is a motorized version of the monowheel, a single-track vehicle that was invented in the late 19th century. Rather than sitting above the wheel as in unicycles, the rider is seated either within the wheel or right beside it.

Monowheels and monocycles were once thought to be a viable mode of transport, but there were several problems inherent in their design that couldn’t be overcome, like the lack of stability, visibility issues, and the risk of “gerbiling.” These days, monowheels and monocycles are generally built and used for entertainment.


30. Fiat’s Factory in Turin, Italy

The Lingotto building in Turin, Italy was inaugurated in 1923 and originally housed a Fiat factory. The cars were built on an assembly line that went up through the building. Finished cars were then tested on the test track at the building’s rooftop level.

The factory was closed in 1982, and the building was later transformed into a modern complex with two hotels, concert halls, a convention center, offices, and retail space. In 1997, Fiat moved its administrative headquarters to the building.


31. The Fairchild K-17 Camera

The Fairchild K-17 was a large camera designed by Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation and manufactured under license by Folmer Graflex for the US Air Force. These cameras were mainly used to do aerial photography during the Second World War.

A Fairchild K-17 camera with a 12” lens cone and full magazine weighed around 55 pounds, while a K-17 with a 24” lens weighed a whopping 75 pounds. Another camera that was used for a similar purpose in the 1940s was the Kodak K-24.


32. Riding the Rotor

The Rotor is an amusement park ride that was designed and patented by Ernst Hoffmeister, a German engineer, in the late 1940s. The ride is a large barrel that is rotated at 33 revolutions per minute. Once the barrel reaches its full speed, the floor retracts, leaving the riders stuck to the wall due to the force.

Rotors have been built at numerous amusement parks in Australia and the US since the 1950s, including this one at Kennywood in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania. This photo was taken in 1955.


33. Michelin Man on Tour

Bibendum, also known in English as the Michelin Man or Michelin Tyre Man, is the official mascot of the French tire manufacturing company Michelin. First unveiled to the public in 1898, Bibendum was created by French cartoonist Marius Rossillon, also known as O’Galop.

This photo shows Bibendum on tour in 1926. Before televisions became common and billboards were a rare sight outside of city centers, businesses like Michelin would go on tour to advertise their products. Mascots like Bibendum were an integral part of the tour, often to attract young children.


34. Two Daredevils Play Tennis

This photo of two people playing tennis on the wings of an airplane may seem fake, but this did happen. Two daredevils, Gladys Roy and Ivan Unger, performed this stunt 3,280 feet above Los Angeles in November of 1925.

Both Roy and Unger were “wing walkers” or “barnstormers” who regularly performed similar stunts at various events across the United States. This particular stunt was performed on the wings of a Curtiss JN Jenny plane piloted by Jack Tomac.


35. Portable Changing Booths, 1938

There’s nothing like a nice swim at the beach to cool off on a hot summer’s day. Unfortunately, this is also when beaches tend to get super busy. Changing rooms are most likely overcrowded, and the ones that aren’t are probably too far away.

These two women at Coney Island in New York City seem to have found a solution: portable changing booths. These portable changing booths are lightweight and easy to set up, allowing anyone using them to get changed anywhere while maintaining some privacy.


36. Healing Through Mechanotherapy

Swedish physician and orthopedist Dr. Gustav Zander envisioned a world where physical injuries or diseases could be rehabilitated and healed through mechanical means, going against the notion that the use of drugs was necessary for treatment. 

In the mid-1800s, Dr. Zander developed a range of machines aimed at correcting various ailments and physical deficiencies. These machines – the predecessors of modern gym equipment would go on to win a gold medal at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.


37. The Inter Autoscooter

The microcar, the smallest type of car, first appeared on the streets of Europe after the Second World War. Microcars typically had three or four wheels and were usually equipped with an engine that was smaller than 700 cc. Microcars quickly became popular across Europe as they were cheap and had greater fuel efficiency than regular cars.

Shown here is the Inter Autoscooter, a microcar that was unveiled to the public at the 1953 Paris Motor Show. The Inter was built by SNCAN,  a state-owned French aircraft manufacturer based in Lyon.


38. Photo Editing in the 1860s

In 1860, then-presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln had a problem: many voters had no idea what he looked like, and the media and his political opponents often made fun of his looks, describing him as “vulgar,” “uneducated,” and “grotesque in appearance.” As a solution, he turned to photographer Mathew Brady to manipulate his photos that would later be distributed to the public.

Following Lincoln’s death in 1865, portrait painter Thomas Hicks superimposed the late president’s head onto the body of John C. Calhoun and created a print. For a century, no one noticed that the print was faked.


39. An Old School Arcade

Before home video game consoles took off, gamers flocked to amusement arcades where people played arcade games, including video games, pinball machines, redemption games, electro-mechanical games, claw machines, billiards, air hockey, and more.

Amusement arcades trace their origins to penny arcades – a venue for coin-operated devices for entertainment – that began to emerge in the early 1900s. Massively-popular video games like Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Pac-Man were introduced to arcades in the late 1970s to early 1980s, a period that would later be dubbed as the “Golden Era of Arcade Video Games.”


40. An Old Library Tool

Before the internet, the library was everyone’s go-to place for research. People would spend countless hours browsing the shelves and searching through books, journals, and magazines to find the information they needed.

This 300-year-old library tool, on display at the Biblioteca Palafoxiana in Puebla, Mexico, allows its users to keep multiple books open at once. Much like today’s internet browsers, anyone using it could easily switch between “tabs” (books), saving them from the hassle of having to shuffle through multiple volumes at different tables.